Selling Luxury in Iran
Bypassed for decades by the luxury industry, Iran and its explosive market growth potential have recaptured the attention of global luxury heavyweights in the last 12 months.
After more than 30 years of isolation and austerity, the country re-entered the global economy when economic sanctions were lifted in January, something Morgan Stanley described as the biggest thing for the global economy since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
今年1月，西方国家解除对伊朗的经济制裁之后，伊朗结束30多年的孤立和紧缩，重新进入全球经济体系。摩根士丹利(Morgan Stanley)称，这是自柏林墙(Berlin Wall)倒塌之后对全球经济影响最大的事件。
Now, with an educated, surging middle-income population of almost 80 million — many of whom possess a budding appetite for high-end consumer goods and mobile phones — Western brands are sizing up the opportunities, and risks, of setting up shop in Iran.
“Iran as a prospect had interested us for some time, but once the sanctions went, we accelerated the process of setting up our boutique inside its borders,” said Renato Semerari, chief executive of Roberto Cavalli, the first sizable luxury brand to enter the market with the opening in February of its two-story boutique in Tehran’s upmarket neighborhood of Zafaraniye.
“我们对伊朗的前景产生兴趣有一段时间了，制裁一解除，我们就加快在伊朗境内开设精品店的进程，”Roberto Cavalli的首席执行官雷纳托·塞梅拉里(Renato Semerari)说。Roberto Cavalli是第一个进入伊朗市场的大型奢侈品牌，今年2月在德黑兰的Zafaraniye高档购物区开设了一个两层的时装精品店。
The popularity of the label’s glitzy, colorful aesthetic in the Middle East, he added, especially with wealthy Iranians already shopping regularly in nearby Istanbul and Dubai, underscored the importance of capitalizing promptly on demand. A 90 percent stake in Roberto Cavalli was bought last April by the Italian private equity outfit Clessidra for an estimated $430 million, giving the brand a considerable injection of capital. “We knew we had to move fast to grab a leadership position in the minds of fledgling Iranian luxury consumers,” Mr. Semerari said, “not just because it is the second richest country in the region after Saudi Arabia, but also because there are so many rivals coming in fast behind us.”
Branded cosmetics, with their accessible price points, are often perceived as gateway products to luxury spending. So news that Sephora, the LVMH-owned cosmetics chain, was widely expected to open seven stores later this year hardly raised eyebrows.
Yet expansion into Iran is not without its challenges. For a sector obsessed with controlling brand image, the country’s lack of infrastructure, from trained staff to a shortage of quality real estate, remains the biggest obstacle. Only a handful of premium shopping malls exist, although there are plans to build more in the next two to three years.
Tourism also is limited — vacation spending being a key sales contributor for most brands — and Iran’s political relationships with the West, while thawing, still remain complex, to say the least. As a result, Claudia D’Arpizio, a senior partner at Bain based in Milan, said the country was more suited to some labels than others.
“I think we will see some more mid-sized Italian players go in next, especially men’s wear groups like Zegna or Brioni, as well as watch and jewelry brands, as a taste for the latter tends to develop very rapidly in emerging markets,” she said. Historically, the larger clothing and accessories houses have been cautious about finding the right local distributors and partners, so it is likely they will take longer to establish a presence, she added.
Despite the recent flush of enthusiasm, plenty of Western luxury-branded products have been making their way into the country for some time. When the banking sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program were in place, investment coming and going from the country was essentially blocked, making it very difficult for foreign companies to get their profits out. But local third-party businesses always have imported goods into Iran by nonofficial channels, selling them at sky-high markups either in independent boutiques or in private sales behind closed doors.
Now, with more Iranians online, learning about Western luxury brands and hungry for reasonably priced goods, entrepreneurs both at home and abroad are racing to fill the vacuum.
Milad Monshipour and Hooman Damirchi are two Iranian entrepreneurs who have spent much of their professional lives working overseas before returning home to look at consumer- focused opportunities. Their luxury e-commerce site Madeleine Moda, which they say they hope to be Iran’s version of Net-a-Porter, is expected to begin business soon.
米拉德·穆恩施波(Milad Monshipour)和胡曼·达米尔齐(Hooman Damirchi)是两位伊朗企业家，他们职业生涯的很多时间都在国外工作，回国后寻找关注消费者的机会。他们的奢侈品电子商务网站Madeleine Moda有望很快开始运营。他们说，他们希望该网站成为伊朗版的Net-a-Porter。
“When we conducted market research among Iranian luxury goods consumers, we found that over 60 percent of our respondents said accessing the clothing and shoes they wanted continued to be very difficult due to supply limitations,” said Mr. Monshipour, formerly a consultant at the Boston Consulting Group who holds an M.B.A. from HEC Paris. “They know what they want, they just struggle to get it.
“我们在伊朗奢侈品消费者中进行市场调查时发现，超过60%的受访者表示，由于供应不足，他们依然很难买到自己想要的衣服和鞋子，”穆恩施波说。他曾是波士顿咨询公司(Boston Consulting Group)的顾问，拥有巴黎高等商学院(HEC Paris)的工商管理硕士学位。“他们知道自己想要什么，只是很难买到。”
“The tech-savvy consumer here is just as hungry for immediate gratification as their Western counterparts,” he noted.
Almost all Iranians have debit cards, and online players like Digikala (an Amazon-style consumer goods website) and e-Sam (an Iranian equivalent of eBay) have made millions of Iranians comfortable with shopping online. So Mr. Damirchi is as bullish as his partner about their short-term, online-focused venture, as well as the longer-term growth potential of large Western brands to establish bricks-and-mortar presences.
“This is a country where for thousands of years a sizable portion of the population has had a culture around and deep appreciation of design, art and fine things,” he said. “The winners and losers today will be those who define the notion of luxury, and know how to really appeal to the 21st century consumer.”