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Feb / Mar 2014
Big Time

WRITER: Nicolas Shammas

The stratospheric rise of Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons is tied to the rise of Dubai. Now the world’s ninth biggest importer of Swiss watches with a portfolio of over 50 brands, the company has grown from modest beginnings.


When the late Ahmed Seddiqi founded his company in Bur Dubai in the 1940s, the idea of selling high-end watches was not really considered a viable business. Rather, it was more of a hobby.

“My father started out as a General Manager in the Khoury company - not Khoury from Lebanon but Khoury from Dubai. He would deal in foodstuffs and heavy machinery for boats, like Lister and Blackstone,” says Abdul Hamid Seddiqi, the founder’s son and current Vice Chairman. He adds that in those days, his father had three watch brands - West End, Rolex and Omega - and kept a small selection of each in his desk drawer.

“In the beginning, he would sell only a few pieces but then things grew. The company grew, the family grew, Dubai grew,” Seddiqi continues. “Nowadays, as Dubai is a window to all the Middle East, we have many visitors, Arabs, Chinese, African, Indians. There are also the Europeans, for many of whom, Dubai is their first step into the region.”

Abdul Hamid, the last of three brothers, started working in his father’s business straight out of university in 1978. Shortly after, he opened his first shop – the company’s third – in Deira Tower. “At that time there was nothing to do, there were no cinemas, no amusement parks, nothing,” he recalls. “Sometimes, we would go and play football but otherwise, our entertainment was to go to our shops.”

Today, Seddiqi & Sons has 65 showrooms in Dubai, 14 in Abu Dhabi and includes members of the family’s fourth generation within its ranks. It is now increasingly managed by the third generation but as you’d expect in such a family affair, it is the founder’s sons – Abdul Majid and Abdul Hamid, the Chairman and Vice Chairman, respectively - who are very much at the helm.

“We are a family-owned business but we are also a family-run business. This allows us to create a direct relationship with our customers and I believe it is this personal touch that differentiates us,” the VC tells me, as we speak on the sidelines of a press conference to announce the opening of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG). In something of a coup for both the Emirate and Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons, the prestigious global watch exhibition brought its global road show to the Middle East and Dubai for the first time last October.

A sort of Oscars for watches, the GPHG is the only globally recognised independent international awards show for excellence in watchmaking. “To have the GPHG in Dubai is a great honour and a positive sign of great things to come,” Seddiqi says, somewhat cryptically.

Intrigued, I press and he tells me something that no member of his company has ever said publically before. “Naturally, we aim for both growth in the business and growth in the market share and as one of the largest watch dealers in the world we must first of all maintain what we have in the UAE but we must also look beyond our borders. I’m not saying this will happen today but it will happen eventually so we must prepare ourselves for that day.”

The reason that this statement is interesting is that the brands Seddiqi deals with already have their retailers and dealers in every Arab country. So for Seddiqi to grow beyond its borders would require one of two options: mergers or acquisitions, both of which will certainly cause the company’s competitors to lose sleep.

n the meantime, there are changes underfoot that will directly benefit the Middle Eastern consumer. Seddiqi explains that one of the ways in which customers judge a retailer is by their after-sales capabilities and in this regard, his company is investing tremendously. Their watch workshop, already one of the biggest in the region, is being doubled in size. What’s more, a new manager – a Swiss expert – has been hired to head the department and make sure it’s comparable to anything you might find in Switzerland. “We are planning to become the centre for all after-sales services in the Middle East. We’d also like to offer restoration services for older pieces, so this workshop is very important for us.”

If Seddiqi is successful, this will mean faster, cheaper and better repairs for all your Swiss timepieces, regardless of their age or condition. It all makes perfect sense, especially as last time I travelled to Geneva to service my Rolex, I arrived to discover the head of repairs was Lebanese.

I ask if, besides after-sales service, the easiest way to a customer’s heart isn’t simply to sell for less than any other retailer. “Price is not such an important factor because there is very little variance between markets. The only real reason a price might differ is if a dealer foregoes his margins in order to achieve higher volumes,” Seddiqi replies. “But people have become better educated with watches. We see more and more customers go for the high-end watches from Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Cartier, Breguet and in my opinion, what really matters more than price is the availability of products, especially when many of these watches are so limited in quantity. In this domain, we’re able to beat almost any other retailer because we get large allocations, given the importance of our market.”

As we wrap up our meeting and I go to shake Mr. Seddiqi’s hand, I notice for the first time that like the late great Nicolas Hayek of Swatch, he too wears a watch on each wrist. I do not ask him why for I would like to believe that given his aim of building a bridge between Switzerland and the Arab world, perhaps one of the Vice Chairman’s watches tells the time in Dubai and the other in Geneva.

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