When times are bad, enthusiasm and astute business sense will keep a company afloat, as Pamela Opie, CEO and founder of Linen Obsession, has proven this year.
Opie, a home textiles expert with more than 25 years of experience trading and representing some of the most renowned global bedding and bath linen brands, was forced to redirect and had to steer her company through the Covid-19 crisis.
The pandemic caused considerable worry because of the economic uncertainty that came with it, especially following the closure of shopping malls.
Linen Obsession’s core business remains the concession store model, where it manages the distribution and sale of around 14 brands — mostly British labels like Christy, Bedeck of Belfast, Morris & Co, DKNY and Harlequin, as well as its own Real¬ Five Star Hotel Linen range — in department stores such as Debenhams, British Home Stores (BHS), Jashanmal, and Dwell across the entire GCC region.
“We didn’t aim to make a profit or expand during Covid-19. We only aimed to cover the rent cheques and staff salaries,” said Opie.
To achieve this, the company revamped its own e-commerce site and adopted new ways of marketing through social media platforms, and messaging apps like WhatsApp.
“We also immediately launched temporary clearance locations inside supermarkets, which were the only establishments allowed to open during lockdown, to give us immediate cash flow,” she explained.
From surviving to thriving
At a time when competitors were either delaying or cancelling orders and UK department stores were closing, Linen Obsession retained its production orders. Opie credited this unconventional approach for helping the company rebound quickly when brick-and-mortar shops finally opened.
“Because of the disruption in the supply chain, we knew there was going to be a massive stock shortage once stores reopened,” she said. “We were prepared to take the risk because those orders we didn’t delay were basic products such as plain dye sheets, duvets, pillows and bath towels, which won’t go out of fashion. We knew that if stores stay closed, we can sell them next year,” added Opie.
Her foresight paid off, buffering the company against other supply chain-related issues such as longer manufacturing lead times and increased production costs. Linen Obsession was able to take additional market share in late 2020, whilst other linen brands were short of stock.
“We made that commitment to our team. We said, you look after us, we look after you. We did cut salaries by 25 per cent during Covid-19, but since we were able to more than match the 2019 sales in 2020, we returned that money to everyone and expanded our sales bonus scheme at the end of last year,” she added.
New prospects on the horizon
After working for big home textiles companies in her native Australia and supplying Gulf retailers, she decided to set up her first Dubai-based trading company 13 years ago. As her venture grew, it was rebranded into Linen Obsession, which was re-registered as a local company two years ago.
Prior to the pandemic, the company’s average annual growth stood at 50 per cent. And it has shown no sign of letting up. In 2020, Linen Obsession was named Business of the Year by the MEED Gulf Capital SME Awards.
It is poised to reach its target of having 35 concession stores (currently it has 30) by the end of 2021. By next year, it will expand its brand portfolio by launching to the region Ted Baker Homewares in February 2022, and accelerating its e-commerce business across the GCC.
So, despite the Covid-19 challenges, Opie remains passionate about her industry and her company’s growth outlook. ‘It’s a joy to work in an industry that you love and to represent a strong collection of heritage brands - those that started the home textiles revolution,” Opie stated.
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