Competition is getting as strong as ever in the creative and design industries in Egypt, particularly in light of the significant increase in demand for interior design services, as a result of the boom in the real estate industry.
The real estate market has always been seen as a safe investment to retain cash. Recently, the sector has seen more interest that ever with expats sending back their savings to invest in a property market that has become much more affordable to them after the floatation of the Egyptian Pound.
“There is a huge boom in population, massive numbers of compounds are coming up,” says Eklego founding partner Dina El Khachab.
The flourishing real estate market has had a positive impact on by-industries like interior design, furniture and many others. With this rising demand came a rising supply of services, with many firms launching in the past few years.
“Real estate has been offering lucrative investment value for many people,” says Senior Partner and Chief Designer at Alchemy Design Studio Mohamed Fares. “[And so] commercial and real estate projects such as compounds, have seen a clear surge in demand for architectural and interior services.” Similarly, Chairman and CEO of Amr Helmy Design Amr Helmy believes that the furniture segment has also seen a significant boom during the past few years. “The rise in property buying has led to more demand for furniture in general... All real estate projects are great for the furniture industry, in general.”
With every new billboard advertising for new developments in Cairo, Ain Sokhna, the North Coast and the Red Sea, a new design opportunity presents itself. A new home, even a second home, is the opportunity many owners wait for to splurge on furniture, further contributing to the growth of the interior design industry.
And while consumers tend to trust word of mouth and first-hand experiences, remaining loyal to a number of well-known firms and particular brands, experts believe there’s plenty of room for everyone to grow in the interior design business. For them, competition just fosters more growth in the industry and its supporting services.
“The guy who is paying a few hundred thousand pounds for a designer is not going to go cheap on his furniture,” says El Khachab. “There is lots of room for everyone to grow.”
The right client, in the right channel
While there’s plenty of business for everyone, capturing a share of the growing, but competitive, pie lies in marketing tactics. The trick to capitalize on this growing demand and make room for a business amidst growing competition, our experts agree, is in targeting the right market segment with the right marketing too.
Many market segments visit exhibitions and fairs like Furnex and Le Marche to seek out new trends, products and brands all under one roof. Helmy explains that the fairs “attract certain customers and put designers on the market; it is [the designers’] responsibility to stand out in the middle of so many.” As for the clients who visit, he says, “[they] have the chance to experience the products and furniture through a tactile approach which cannot be replaced by any digital form of purchase.” Fares agrees, adding that “nothing beats direct interaction.”
Although many believe in a face-to-face interaction with the client, they also know that digital marketing is essential to reach a key emerging segment - the youth.
To capitalize on that segment, many have invested in marketing schemes focusing on social media being, number one given the advent of the digital age. El Khachab is all in for the use of influencers, for instance, as a marketing tool over other more traditional channels for specific segments of their clientele. “If you have an influencer who’s talking about their beautiful home that they just finished with Eklego…it’s a much bigger audience than Furnex.”
Helmy believes that a balance of fairs and social media usage, among other marketing tools, is important. “Social media and guerilla marketing are also great methods...Everyone should have a healthy balance of all methods,” he says.
A sub-segment of the youth market that has been growing over the past five years, is young adults who have chosen to leave their family homes before marriage to live alone. “People are actually being a little bit more autonomous for moving out,” says El Khachab.
They are the ideal clientele for the global furniture brand Ikea, although the price tag that now comes with their products is no longer as affordable as the brand is in other countries around the world. An ideal coffee-table, for instance, starts at LE 5,000 in Ikea. “Here [in Egypt], Ikea is actually a luxury brand,” says El Khachab.
Helmy, a leading design firm in the market, saw this opportunity, a market gap and created his own brand ‘Designy’ to make great living accessible to a wider audience, not only the niche sector. “Designy works on making sure you can get a kitchen, dining table and sofa, all for under LE 20,000,” Helmy explains. “Competing with IKEA and other local mass manufacturers has increased attention to the efficiency of our production methods and has made us reverse engineer products to ensure they are easier to produce, transport and install.” The price tag for a coffee-table that is slightly larger than the one IKEA stocks for LE 5,000 runs upwards from LE 2,000.
While a solution for many clients’ quality-and-design-versus-price dilemma, not every Egyptian can afford a coffee table that is over half of their monthly salary, and brands like IKEA or Designy are still “not targeting the majority of the population,” El Khachab says. In today’s world, art should be made available to all, and not segregated by a price tag only for the upper class. Fares says “Owning a ‘designer item’ should not only be restricted to a financially affluent audience, but made available to every interested customer…different price points pose a number of creative challenges that are normally very enriching for a designer.”
An opportunity to grow
The floatation of the local currency has not left anyone unaffected; it has pushed consumers to look within their own market to find products needed, whether fashion items or furniture pieces. Local craftsmen have been ignored for a long time due to the perception that imported items are better. Yet now, local manufacturing has been given the opportunity to shine in the spotlight of the Egyptian shopping culture.
This hasn’t only opened doors at home, but also led producers to look internationally and compete with affordable, well-designed and crafted products.
That’s when designers started looking in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and the western regions for opportunities, competition and a wider market. In an effort to bring recognition to Egyptian talent and expose them to a larger market, Alchemy Design Studio brought the KYME space at Milan’s Salone del Mobile exhibition held during Milan Design Week to put a spotlight on Egyptian designers. “The participation in local and international fairs is very important in order to be seen by key players in the industry,” Fares says. “With it, a good branding and communication strategy are very important tools for successfully showcasing a designer’s services and products.”
Although there is no shortage in talent, there remains one in educational outlets providing the basic tools for running an efficient business.
“Without business sense [craftsmen and local businesses] don’t know how to grow, they don’t know how to get their clients, they don’t know how to market themselves … I think there is a lot of untapped potential,” El Khachab says. She admits that her firm has not started working with any of the 42,000 workshops in Damietta due to organizational issues and lack of consistency, but that there is a need to develop talents to increase exports in that field. Fares adds, “historically speaking, Egypt has always been a place with many good talents and craftsmen. This is not the issue at hand; improved manufacturing methods and programs could yield higher and more organized output, which would make locally manufactured products more interesting and available to the customer.”
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