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Abdulla Ajmal: The king of perfumes

Abdulla Ajmal holds the distinction of being the first of the third generation of his family to join their family business of perfumes. Having served the business in various aspects, Ajmal has worked his way up and at present holds the post of general manager of Ajmal Perfumes. His core responsibilities include managing the company sales and strategic planning for expansion of the business in retail and through export.
His mission is to introduce Ajmal Perfumes in more countries in the Gulf region, as well as in the rest of the world. Ajmal also wants to create a broader range of products for Ajmal, with a vision to evolve the range into a lifestyle brand over the years to come.
In a conversation with Arab News, Ajmal talks about his multi-award winning perfumes, and the company's latest product for youth.

Ajmal Perfumes has grown from a modest trading house into a multimillion dollar corporate entity. What was the strategy?
It was made possible by one man’s steely determination to make a difference. My grandfather, the late Haji Ajmal Ali, was the one who laid the foundation stone of Ajmal in 1951. After trying his hands at many businesses, he finally settled with Agar wood trade. It was at a nascent stage, and as time and luck would prove, it was the right choice to make. The move to Mumbai was necessitated as it was the market place for Oudh and Oudh oil in India. Our grandfather put a lot at risk by moving to Mumbai in the early sixties, leaving behind all that he knew for a prospect of a better future. All the hard work that he put in, started to show signs of prosperity. He opened our first store in Mumbai in the 60’s quickly becoming known as a quality trader of Oudh and Oudh Oil. It was in 1976 that he sent my Uncle, Fakhruddin Ajmal, to set up a store and office in the United Arab Emirates. He realized that if he was to grow further, he would have to move to where the customers were coming from. We set up our first store in 1976 in Souq Al Kabir in the UAE and today we have over 150 outlets spread across the six GCC countries and Malaysia. Honesty and integrity are two values that are engraved within each building block of Ajmal. It is the sole reason we have managed to build an empire literally out of nothing. My grandfather used to say to his clients “If you find a fault in my product, throw it in the sea and take your money back.” That is the amount of faith he had in his creations. We stand by that philosophy and endeavor to create and retail brands that we can proudly stand behind.

Why did you choose to start your business in the GCC and not in India?
As I mentioned, our formation took place in India. We only moved to the Gulf in 1976 due to a majority of our customers in India hailing from the GCC countries. The Arab traveler would frequent India, Mumbai in particular, as it was a trade hub. Through our interactions with them and through their interest in our products, we gained the confidence to move first to the UAE in 1976 and then to the rest of the Gulf countries.

Ajmal has a vast portfolio of over 300 fragrances and you recently launched a specific fragrance for youth. Please share with us the initiative behind the launch of Prose.
We had in the past created a number of products that in our view would appeal to the youth, but we never gave it a concrete push, with prose our approach was totally different where we, for the first time took a 360 degree approach to target the youth. Prose was created to form that connection from messaging to physical product.

What distinguishes prose from other youth perfumes?
It is a vibrant fragrance and appreciably loud. Fragrances that target the youth typically revolve around the same notes, fruity/floral and sometimes gourmand. What is different in this fragrance is its vitality.

Why did you want to target the youth specifically?
The GCC region is one of the youngest regions across the world with around 65 percent of its population that falls under the age of 25 years. Arab youth are not only fashion conscious but they are also big spenders on lifestyle categories like perfumery. Therefore, it was imperative that we start looking at this segment in a holistic way. We have launched a number of products in the past that talk to this segment but this is the first time we proceeded in a much more focused manner by doing an integrated marketing communications campaign exclusively targeting this segment.

What combination and mixture have you used to coincide with the youth’s tastes?
A contemporary fragrance featuring the perfect balance between fresh, younger notes, and a more mature, and earthly aroma; Prose combines hints of bright and fresh citrus fruits such as orange, melon, and apple, with a fruity trifecta of strawberry, coconut, and sugar, all a brief prelude to an invigorating base composed of a rich laden amber, vanilla, and musk. Whether these young ladies are in search for a fabulous dress or exploring the city’s charm with friends, Prose is just the ideal blend for any occasion, leaving them with a delightfully refreshing scent coupled with soothing, warm, and long-lasting undertones.

How will you stay ahead of the other competition targeting the youth? 
We have a strategy in place that we will roll out through the year. We aim to have a number of marketing activities that we will commit to over an extended period to get closer to them.

How are you planning to keep the youth interested in your future products, with the assistance of Prose?
We understand, the youth need something new to keep their interest going and we will do a number of programs through the year to work on the engagement element and create products for them that will work on the connect element.

How do you asses the demand on Ajmal youth products?
We live in region where the youth population is on the rise, the market exists and is expanding. Our current product portfolio is aimed at the slightly older generation and we understand the need to create something specifically for the younger segment. They are highly individual in their tastes; for us to be acceptable, we need to work on their taste palette and offer them something they will readily accept. As an ongoing practice, we do regular feedback with them, to understand their requirements in order to achieve a higher success percentage over the next product designed for them.

How do you assess the popularity of Ajmal youth products among the younger generation?
There is no secret formula that guarantees success. We will work toward creating fragrance by them, for them through various activities that we will do through the year. The Ajmal Young Perfumer Talent hunt is a great platform for the youth, an initiative that we started last year and we will continue to work toward making it even more lucrative and interesting for the youth.

You are the first of the third generation of Ajmals to join the family business. What did you add to this business?
I joined the family business in 1996, and brought an international outlook to the traditional way of business. Shortly after my joining we launched our French line, or Western line of fragrances. Today we have a 60:40 split in our product line, where 40 percent of all fragrances created fall in the French Category. Alhamdulillah it’s been an amazing journey so far, surrounded by talented individuals who care about the growth and success of the brand as much as I do. I feel blessed to have spent the amount of time that I have growing and learning as the brand grew and evolved as well.

What are your core responsibilities?
I started my career as an assistant manager in the sales and marketing department. We have a policy that governs family members that join the business. We must spend time in the core areas of the business, understanding and learning processes before we can progress to one department and grow over time. Today my responsibilities are looking after the sales and marketing of Ajmal perfumes in the capacity of general manager.

You ranked 37 of 100 most powerful Indians in the Gulf in Arabian Business. How do you feel about that?
I feel humbled by the report. It feels great to see Ajmal feature as a name to be reckoned with. It has everything to do with the brand and where we have reached so far. I am honored by it and hope that we can reach new heights in the future.

Where do you see Ajmal ten years from now?
Ten years from now, I would love to see Ajmal being retailed and known as a global brand.

What is your future plan for Ajmal?
Our vision, one that we are all constantly working hard to achieve, is to be a globally recognized premium brand.

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