UAE: How Dubai-based supermarket chain Adil charged into the digital age

Thanks to the visionary leadership of the Datar brothers, Hrishikesh and Rohit, the company has gone from strength to strength

By Karishma Nandkeolyar

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Photos by Muhammad Sajjad/KT
Photos by Muhammad Sajjad/KT

Published: Thu 30 May 2024, 6:56 PM

It all began with the manning of the till. The Datar brothers, Hrishikesh and Rohit, who are now at the helm of the UAE-based Adil Supermarket chain, had their introduction to the family business with long days behind the cash register at the age of 13.

Hrishikesh, who is the current purchase manager, tells Khaleej Times in an interview that he would go during his summer vacations to a store and help people check out their groceries. The greatest challenge wasn’t battling FOMO as his other friends hung out and had fun, but the retention of bar codes and prices of wares. “I was overwhelmed. There were just so many items out there. And I had literally no idea how to sell them. And customers would come in, I didn't know what the most expensive item was. I didn't know what the cheapest item was. And then my mum was like, ‘Go around the shop, you know, ask around and [see] everything.’” And so began his real education.

He credits this discovery of things around the store for his greater understanding of Indian culture and business. “We import over 9,000 different varieties of Indian foodstuff. So, because of that, you know, I started looking into what India has to offer and the marvel that India is. Also, my job takes me to many corners of India. And Indian tradition is what I fell in love with. And that's what I actually want to spread not just in the GCC, but throughout the world.”

He explains that he learned the intricacies of sales while on the job as well. “When I was in high school, I was promoted to sales associate. I used to go out there and approach restaurants, catering companies, and all these b2b [clients]. And that was also another humbling process. That’s usually [how] you learn to accept the word no, because you get hit with it so many times. Then you find out the initial response is always no [but then] you’ve got to work your way to the yes.”

For Rohit, the marketing director, joining the company was a no-brainer. “The first supermarket was started by my grandfather, Mahadev Datar, [in 1984] and it was taken over by my father [Dhananjay Datar], who ran the company for 38 years. So it was very natural for us to be in the business,” he says.

But then, how do you take a brand that’s entrenched in the consciousness of thousands of people to the next step? How do you fulfil the expectations of superb supply that have been set over decades and then take the bar up a notch? One way perhaps is to rebrand, which is what they did about a year ago, when they dropped the ‘Al’ in ‘Al Adil’.

Rohit explains: “Dad wanted to give us our own identity… it's a newer generation, it's a newer way of doing things. And we wanted to keep that same identity, which we preserved for the last 40 years. But at the same time, we wanted to show that there [has been] a transfer of ideas, of leadership. The other thing was keeping the name was obviously very crucial for us.” The name, picked out by Mahadev Datar means ‘justice’ and ‘a good man’. “We wanted to keep those same values, same traditions. But we also wanted to bring in something newer, which is what caused this change.”

Some things however remain the same, such as the quality and prices you can expect at any of the 40 stores in the UAE. “When I took on a more senior role within the company, I wanted to make sure that when a customer comes to Adil, they never get buyer's remorse. They'll get it at the exact price, the quality that they're expecting is exactly what they will get. And the service will always, you know, remain a very, very important aspect of the business for us.”

The duo has overseen many changes since taking over the business, one of the most important of which is taking a step towards digitisation; the store has an app from which one can conveniently buy their products.

The seed of the app was first sown in Covid times. Rohit explains: “For me, Covid really did change a lot of things for us. Because, especially at the height of it, there was a lot of panic buying, but at the same time, people wanted to really take care of themselves. They didn't want to travel outside unless necessary… Another aspect was obviously how the customer can order [from us directly]? Back then we didn't have our own app, we do now. The Android app has already been launched. And the Apple iOS app is expected to launch by next month.

“We also made very strong partnerships with our delivery partners like Talabat, Noon, and grocer Instashop. They were also key in ensuring that we have all the tools that we need to serve our customers. And just like that, it was minor improvements that kept snowballing.”

These are moves that are paying off. As Hrishikesh puts it, “last year we smashed our previous records”.

“One thing that we're very proud of in 2023 is that we were able to achieve a month on month and a year-on-year increase in sales every single month. So, we're still continuously beating the previous benchmark,” Rohit smiles.

But what does it mean to have two leaders? And what happens when one brother doesn’t agree with the other? “We confront each other on issues. And whenever we do, we sit down and we share. Both of us reciprocate each other's understanding. And because of that, you know, where you come to a mutual solution,” says Hrishikesh.

“I think we fought whatever fights we needed to fight in our teenage years. We were very contentious with each other, [especially over the AC]. If we can find common ground there, we can find common ground anywhere,” laughs Rohit.

As for whether they want to raise the next generation of Adil leaders, Hrishikesh, who has a daughter, says: “My approach to raising children is like basically, you can just plant the seed and you can see what grows. And whatever grows, you can just nurture it. If she wants to be an artist, or she wants to be an entrepreneur, I'll just nurture it. But what I'm going to do is I'm going to make sure that all my family values and Indian tradition is instilled in her in her prime years. And when she's two three years old, when she can start talking since then I'm going to encourage her to make her own decisions. It's her own journey.”

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