Jashanmals: Dubai Pioneering Retailer
Yashica cameras, Clarks boots, Elizabeth Arden cosmetics, these brands and many more were brought to Dubai by Jashanmal in 1950s and sold from his original Store located in Deira Square. Jashanmals was Dubai's first Departmental Store and its pioneering retailers. Modern Dubai now has many Departement Stores and Shopping Malls but Jashanmals was the first and still operating after more than 90 years since Jashanmals opened their first store in Basra in 1919.
Jashanmal: Master of Retail - A Brief History
The group's founder, Rao Sahib Jashanmal, a businessman of Indian origin, launched a retail store in 1919 in Basra. At that time, Basra was a bustling trading hub, and Jashanmal offered his consumers household items, men's clothing, stationery, as well as books and newspapers in a region where convenience stores weren't very common at all and goods used to be traded or bartered at souqs or bazaars. In those days, such a shop was a novelty, as the region was not very developed," Batra said. "People traveled even from Kuwait to Basra to shop at our outlet. Rao Jashanmal, looking for opportunities outside India, obviously made the right choice. As the store in Basra proved extraordinarily successful, he decided to expand to Kuwait in 1934. Kuwait, at that time, was an independent principality under British protection. "There was nothing [in terms of store retail] in Kuwait those days," Batra said. Rao Jashanmal received permission from the then British political agent in Kuwait, Harold Dickson, to open a store at Safaat Square, Kuwait City. He was the first to import canned food, bottled fruit juice concentrate and items such as ginger beer, "which became very popular", as Batra puts it. There was no supply of such goods at all at that time,Batra said. In those days, Safaat Square was the destination of camel caravans from Saudi Arabia. Shoppers had to make their way among camels resting in the square to reach the Jashanmal store, he said. Encouraged by the successful business launch in Kuwait, Jashanmal set his sights on expanding into Bahrain, where his eldest son Narain established the next store in 1935.
Basra Store was closed down after communism was implemented in Iraq in 1958. There were so many restrictions, for example, it was no longer allowed to import goods from Western Europe, that Jashanmals decided to close down the store. So Jashanmals left Iraq.
Next Stop Bahrain
This seemed only natural, as Bahrain was the region's only destination of British Airways at that time, being a hub for travelers," Batra said. "We had no competition in those days, which made the launch of new stores even easier. However, as time went by, other retail groups discovered the opportunities of the region, such as Barakat from Lebanon and eventually British supermarket chain Spinney's. This was the moment, in the 1950s, when Jashanmal stepped out of the food business. Batra Jashanmal joined the group in 1953, when Jashanmal started to restructure its portfolio and set up new divisions to sell an extended range of consumer goods.
In 1956, the first store in Dubai opened, followed by another one in Abu Dhabi, when the Abu Dhabi Marine Exploration Company approached Jashanmal with the offer of a facility on Das Island. "This was when oil exploration started in Abu Dhabi. The customers came from the oil companies, and we received our store supply from Bahrain," said Batra. The first Jashanmal store in Dubai was opened at Al Nasr Square, known as Baniyas Square today. Everybody came to Al Nasr Square for shopping, even from Abu Dhabi. Dubai was very different from what it is now, there where no tall buildings and no road congestion. One could even see the Airport Road from Al Nasr Square. Travelers, regional shoppers, and merchants from the nearby Dubai Creek port were the majority of Jashanmal's customers of those days in Dubai, which was the region's hub for imports and re-exports due to its low customs tariffs.
Establishing a Corporate Identity
At that time, Jashanmal hadn't given much thought to establishing a corporate identity. All the stores looked different and not even modern. B ut the region and especially Dubai was growing, and Jashanmal was growing with it. Stores soon got a facelift and the group's brand name was emphasised. Besides the retail business, Jashanmal started to supply the region with a broad range of major international consumer brands on a wholesale basis. A warehouse was built, and the company started to act as franchisee for selected international brands. In 1998, for example, Jashanmal was appointed exclusive regional distributor for Clarks Shoes, and launched a shoe warehouse in the Jebel Ali Free Zone. In November 1998, Jashanmal entered into an agreement with US-based Warnaco for the exclusive regional distribution of Calvin Klein underwear and leather accessories for men. In 1999, Jashanmal acquired Carlton Cards Gulf, the regional franchisee of American Greetings, the largest greeting cards company in the world. In the meantime, Jashanmal had been opening stores in Oman, expanding its business range to four countries (UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman).
Where Jashanmals didn't go!
Jashanmal never expanded to Saudi Arabia, which — at first sight — seems incomprehensible as the kingdom is the region's largest economy. Jashanmals would have had to struggle with legal restrictions. For example, for a ladies boutique, customers can only be served by women and men are not allowed to enter. For this and other reasons Jashanmals decided against an expansion to Saudi Arabia. Today, Jashanmal runs 116 shops and employs more than 1,000 people in various divisions. In the UAE alone, Jashanmal operates seven department stores and dozens of franchise stores and bookshops. However, the global economic crisis did not pass by unnoticed. Jashanmals' growth has been well but the economic crunch had its impact. Business dropped off.
1971: A Jashanmal Memory
Dubai's communication with the "outside" world was poor in 1971. Local newspapers had yet to appear; television was in a "start up" phase; radio was limited to local services. Getting news of "home" was difficult. Jashanmal's imported a range of foreign newspapers. Driving from Jumeirah to Jashanmal's via Al Maktoum Bridge and Al Maktoum Street to buy a copy of UK's Daily Telegraph became a routine event. But often it was a wasted journey. Either the newspaper delivery was late or, more often, censorship had made the newspaper unreadable and not worth buying.
Jashanmal's Store back then did not match the standard of Jashanmal's modern stores today. The Store layout was simple. Goods were displayed on shelves. Some looked as if they had been on display for a long time! Everything seemed to be covered in a fine dust which was not surprising given the Store's proximity to the sand and dust of Al Nasr Square. But if you looked hard enough you could probably find what you were looking for!
Len Chapman Jashanmal Customer 1971
Photos provided by Dubai Department of Tourism