China’s investment set to see increased demand and success for all Pakistan sectors
Interview with Mian Muhammad Kashif Ashfaq – Chief Executive Officer of ChenOne
PAGE: What inspired you to open a lifestyle store?
Muhammad Kashif Ashfaq: I have always been interested in complex structures and a lifestyle store is one of the most expansive concepts in retail. I drew the inspiration for ChenOne from high end boutiques, festivals and malls, which bring together diverse product lines to cater to the complete customer. ChenOne has been open since 1997 and we have been going from strength to strength. It was the first store of its kind in Pakistan offering a complete range of clothing, accessories, shoes, bed and bath linen, soft furnishings, kitchen accessories and furniture. As of December 2015, we had 34 stores across Pakistan with a wide range of cosmopolitan product lines including everything from furniture to footwear. The truth is that I feel that the customer deserves choices that demonstrate the retailer’s commitment to his or her wellbeing.
PAGE: What makes a shopping experience at ChenOne unique?
Muhammad Kashif Ashfaq: Our shopping experience is so unique because of the personal touch we provide for our customers. At ChenOne we recognize that people approach lifestyle in a very different way now. Consumers fall in love with a brand for a number of reasons including quality and variety but it is important for a brand to develop and stretch itself to provide for the evolving needs of their consumers. At all our stores we facilitate our loyal consumers’ ability to create the lifestyle of their choice by giving them access to international quality products with unparalleled service. This I believe makes the shopping experience at ChenOne unique.
PAGE: How would you describe the ChenOne style?
Muhammad Kashif Ashfaq: I think the phrase I would use is chic with a classic twist. It is important for us to remain in touch with the colours, cuts, designs and preferences of the season but at the same time we have a commitment to providing good quality that survives the rigours of daily life – particularly in linens, furnishings and furniture.
The ChenOne customer is aware of trends and not afraid to express their individuality but the quality of the products means that they last. The ChenOne appeal is for the successful, intelligent consumer who wants to show their character through their clothes and their home.
PAGE: What brands do you carry?
Muhammad Kashif Ashfaq: For men we carry ChenOne Man, Damask, Canclini and Pre-end – covering eastern and western wear. For women, we carry ChenOne Woman, Pareesa, Bonita and PrettyFit. We also have children’s clothing and footwear under the labels of ChenOne Kids, Pareesa Girl and Beppi. Our ChenOne Home brand contains bed linen, furniture, fillings, home, kitchen and bath accessories, and decorative lamps. We also carry Premier Houseware, a brand from UK and F. lli Garziano, a bed linen brand from Italy. We regularly add to the product lines we carry to ensure that a ChenOne store had the best available of style and versatility.
PAGE: What is your vision of what ChenOne’s should look like in the future and how do you plan to get there?
Muhammad Kashif Ashfaq: When I started ChenOne in the 1990s I had a clear vision of creating a unique lifestyle store in Pakistan, which we started with a single store in Islamabad. Today, ChenOne is a recognized lifestyle store across the country but others have of course entered the market. As the premier store, however, we intend to carry on being visionaries in the Pakistan market and to spread our brand to other international markets. Our model is simple to provide a relevant, meaningful and distinctive shopping experience to an aware consumer.
The vision is to not only be the premier lifestyle store in Pakistan but to be the premier lifestyle store of choice for those customers who are used to accessing the best and latest. This means ensuring that we are constantly innovating and expanding to make every visit to a ChenOne store an experience.
With the expanding online purchasing domain, the role of the store has to evolve. You can purchase anything, sitting anywhere online but a visit to a store to browse, search, look and try before purchasing is now an experience that we are committed to making as pleasurable and rewarding as possible.
PAGE: At the end of the day, what thoughts would you wish to come to consumers’ minds at the mention of the name ChenOne?
Muhammad Kashif Ashfaq: The dream is that they should think of it at par with any lifestyle store, anywhere in the world. The customer should look forward to a trip to ChenOne despite having a thousand other time consuming commitments. They should think of it as value for time and value for money so the experience should be enjoyable enough to justify having spent their time and the products should be contemporary, stylish and qualitatively so that they provide value for money.
PAGE: You are also the CEO of the Pakistan Furniture Council, is the furniture industry a significant one in Pakistan?
Muhammad Kashif Ashfaq: Historically, manufacturing furniture for export had remained firmly in the hands of the industrialized nations. Furniture-making by nature is one of the very basic and labour-intensive manufacturing segments that have existed in all cultures as a domestic and household craft. Consequently, the entry barrier to start this industry is fairly low. More recently, many developing economies have followed the previous paths and phases of the more developed economies in developing their furniture for exports. Countries like China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Mexico and Brazil have gradually industrialized and expanded their furniture industry’s operational scales better suited for the main markets, i.e. the United States and the European Union.
The purpose of the PFC is to establish the Pakistan furniture industry as a significant player in the global furniture trade. We use the opportunity to raise awareness of the Pakistani expertise in furniture making, create linkages, and to promote what we all know to be true that Pakistan craftsmen are exemplary.
The fact remains that the furniture industry in Pakistan is still in its nascence in terms of scale in the international markets. Exports exist but are comparatively very small given the capacity and skill of producers – from the handmade, bespoke products made by the cottage industry and the high end luxury designers to the large scale players providing structure to the industry.
PAGE: What are some of the advantages that you see in and for the existing furniture industry?
Muhammad Kashif Ashfaq: Pakistan’s wood industry is well developed and captures 95% of the country’s total market for furniture. The country has more than 700 units of wooden furniture with Chiniot, Gujrat, Peshawar, Lahore and Karachi being important centres. The market is divided into home use and contract markets, constituting supplies to hotels, restaurants, offices and public facilities.
The potential, however, is largely untapped. There is room for diversification and the market beyond Pakistani borders is substantially larger than the local market. The Pakistan Furniture Council is a stepping stone to achieving this potential. We are focusing on capacity building, skill development and human resource management which are important issues for most industries in Pakistan. The end goal is to improve the quality of the products so that are consistent and standardized while retaining the ability to produce exquisite bespoke pieces.
PAGE: What do you foresee in the economic future for Pakistan?
Muhammad Kashif Ashfaq: I think the most obviously positive aspect of international relations and economy for Pakistan is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the fifty plus memoranda of understandings that were signed between China and Pakistan during visit of Chinese president to Pakistan on 20 April 2015. These agreements herald closer ties and a brighter future for the cooperation between both countries. As China takes a leading role in a range of sectors and visions on the world stage, Pakistan is poised to benefit from both the longstanding friendship between our countries and from the geographical proximity.
PAGE: Do you see any benefits to the retail sector through increased economic cooperation with China?
Muhammad Kashif Ashfaq: In recent years, China-Pakistan business ties have been an important aspect of Sino-Pak relations and initiatives like the Free Trade Agreement between China and Pakistan and the growing economic cooperation and trade have been very positive. The Chinese government encourages leading Chinese companies to take Pakistan as a priority destination of investment and supports them in undertaking construction projects, opening factories and conducting research and development in Pakistan. China has also demonstrated its commitment to help Pakistan in key areas such as energy and resources development, information technology, infrastructure and agriculture.
Moreover given proper infrastructure, the Pakistani ports of Karachi, Port Qasim and Gwadar are nearer to the Chinese heartland than Shanghai and Hong Kong.
There are the obvious direct benefits to individual sectors such as retail where investment and wholesale purchase options benefit businesses but there is the overarching benefit that is a result of a holistic improvement in the economy of Pakistan. As more jobs are created, more opportunities flourish, people will be better off and that always translates into betterment for the retail sector.
The other possible opportunity lies in actually retailing in China since the scale of the country is massive in terms of both population and economic capacity of that population.
PAGE: What are your views on the Pakistan China relations?
Muhammad Kashif Ashfaq: The fruits of exchange and cooperation between China and Pakistan in the fields of politics, economy, culture and education have been plentiful. The friendship between our two countries has traditionally been explained as being higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, sweeter than honey, and stronger than steel. It has also been called an all-weather and time-tested relationship. Over the years, the unique friendship has transformed into a strong strategic partnership, robust economic cooperation and ever increasing people to people contacts. This relationship is based on trust, understanding and common aspirations for peace and progress for the region.
PAGE: What mutual interests do you see between China and Pakistan?
Muhammad Kashif Ashfaq: Pakistan-China relations proved to be trust bound based on convergence of multiple interests. With the passage of time this bilateral diplomatic engagement transformed in to strategic partnership. The partnership is based on wide range of mutual interests and gains. Shared benefits and commonality of goals in regional and global arena further cemented the partnership. Achievement of such common benefits demanded much cooperation and coordination. Pakistan-China relations are deeply rooted in mutual recognition of bilateral interests, which include peace and stability to foster growth and development.
PAGE: Which areas do you feel are key areas/industries of focus where China can really help Pakistan?
Muhammad Kashif Ashfaq: I think infrastructure development and energy production are two critical areas that China can help Pakistan.
PAGE: We saw Pakistan and China sign numerous agreements worth $46 billion in 2015 when the Chinese President visited Pakistan. In your opinion, which of these agreements are most crucial?
Muhammad Kashif Ashfaq: China is investing $46 billion in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and this corridor will serve as a model to all the corridors. The CPEC project will include building new roads, a 1,800-kilometre railway line and a network of oil pipelines to connect Kashgar in China’s western Xinjiang region to the port of Gwadar. The project also includes an airport at the port and a string of energy projects, special economic zones, dry ports and other infrastructure.
Pakistan is in a state of energy crisis and the projects conceived under CPEC will ease Pakistan’s energy shortages and address the problems of both power generation and transmission, which I believe will be an invaluable benefit to Pakistan.
PAGE: How beneficial can the Pakistan China Economic Corridor be to the textile and retail industry?
Muhammad Kashif Ashfaq: The CPEC promises to breathe new life into the whole region by laying the foundations of access to markets and creating the infrastructure linkages to connect suppliers with consumers and producers with other parts of the value chain. This benefit will translate into the textile and retail industry as much as it will affect all sectors. When development takes place across the country, all people will benefit. We should see increased demand because of increased prosperity!
PAGE: Are you looking to take the ChenOne Stores to China in the near future?
Muhammad Kashif Ashfaq: ChenOne is exploring the possibilities of deepening and widening business linkages with China and we should see more good news on that front soon.