Perfume sales are a common trade in the GCC region and while Dubai is possibly the largest market for low-cost perfumes, Qatar too has its own essence trade.
Certain locations like the souq areas of Doha comprise of a large chunk of these shops and bq had a brief tête-à-tête with one such shop owner.
Name: Hossain Perfume
Type: Perfume shop
Owner: Mehedi Hasan, Riyaz Ul Haq
Location: shop no 2/185, opposite Hasht Behesht Palace, Souq Waqif[/toggle]
bq: Tell us how you ended up in Doha…
Mehedi: It started several years ago, in 2003, when I came here to work. I initially joined my uncle’s cafeteria, since I was running one in my home country as well, before coming to Qatar. After working in the café for one and a half years, I took over completely and started running it. Taking over meant assuming responsibility for his debts, and treating them as my own. The place operated for a few years – the first two years went for paying rents and bills while making no profits. The debt kept piling on and I began to have visa issues due to my nationality. Then five years back, a friend of mine (Riyaz) and me started this venture together.
bq: Tell us more about your shop.
Mehedi: This is a four square metre shop for which we are paying a rent of QR 300. These shops actually cost less, since they’re from the government – around QR 40 per square metre, but we pay slightly more since we are renting it from our sponsor.
bq: How much did you have to invest to open it? When did you start making profits and how much?
Mehedi: We spent around QR 35,000 to open this shop, with QR 10,020 going for the trade license and QR 1,000 for the registration of our business. For this first three years, we weren’t making any profits, but in the last two years we have been doing quite well. We make around QR 3,000 a month as net profit and that’s quite decent for a shop of this size. That’s just on average, as some months, we earn much more. We sell about 100 pieces per month, with prices depending on the product and sometimes, the type of customer.
bq: What kind of products do you sell and what is the price range?
Mehedi: We are an essence wholesale and retail shop, so we sell all kinds of perfumes, incenses and oil-based scents. The prices start from QR 5 for a really tiny bottle. We sell oil based scents in customised bottles of different sizes – QR 30 for 15ml, QR 20 for 7.5ml and QR 15 for 3.75ml.
bq: Where do you source your products from? And what about payments?
Mehedi: Mostly from Dubai. In Qatar, most of these kind of perfume stores get their range of products from there. This business works on a credit system, we follow the same as well. We have a quarterly credit payment structure in place so every three months is when we clear our payments.
bq: What about the competition?
Mehedi: There is of course a lot of competition, and all these stores sell more or less the same products. It’s up to us to stock well. If a customer walks in looking for a specific perfume or essence, and we don’t have it, they will naturally move on to the next shop and search for it there. But this is an issue which all perfume shops face, so there’s not much we can do about it. We try to keep as many brands as possible, but obviously we can’t have all on offer. Then of course, it depends on us, how we sell the products and what kind of relationship we maintain with our customers. We have the ability to convince him to buy or not. We try and maintain a good and friendly relationship with whoever comes in.
bq: How do you distinguish from the perfumes in the malls and outside retail outlets?
Mehedi: Some of the local brands are manufactured locally, so we get them at low prices. Same with branded perfumes, they come from Dubai, so naturally we pay much less for them and this benefit is passed on to the customers.
bq: Did you face any problems while starting your business?
Mehedi: Yes, a lot. Mostly financial. But my friends helped out and my sponsor supported me too.
bq: And do you face any obstacles in your day-to-day functioning?
Mehedi: One of the main problems I face is customers coming to bargain. They are always unreasonable, but I give them as much discount as I can. However if they still continue to argue, I have to tell them: “Sir, this is a perfume shop, not a place for arguments”. Malls usually have fixed prices so they feel like our kind of shops are meant to be bargained at. Which is okay, we do give discounted prices. But that again depends on the customer. We decide to bargain or not, after making a visual assessment and also depending on our previously established relationship with them.
Another thing is I feel there is a lot of discrimination towards us. People are always of the opinion that since we are from poor countries, we by default fall into a lower category. An incident happened once. A customer walked in and shook my hand and greeted me and then asked “Where are you from?” As a joke, I said I’m from India. He immediately pulled his hand back and angrily said “why didn’t you tell me before?” At this point, I felt that we are always going to be victimised like this.
bq: What kind of customers do you have?
Mehedi: Mostly labourers, a lot of Pakistanis, some Egyptians and very few Indians. The only people who don’t visit me are the Bangladeshis!
bq: When, you started your career in Qatar, did you think you were going to end up here?
Mehedi: I always wanted to run my own business, and I was working towards that from the beginning. I have only completed my grade 12. But then like I said earlier, I was running a restaurant and this is a totally different field. But everything worked in our favour, and I’m happy where I am.