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Vision giant Magrabi eyes IPO and global expansion

Amin Magrabi, CEO Supplied
Amin Magrabi, CEO

Magrabi Retail could be set for international expansion and an upcoming IPO, according to Amin Magrabi, CEO of the Middle Eastern ocular powerhouse. 

With 142 stores, an estimated market share of 40 percent, 1,350 employees and revenue of $220 million a year, Riyadh-headquartered Magrabi Retail plans to double in size by 2025.

“International expansion is something we are thinking about. Possibly beyond five years, but in this current period we are building the platforms, talent and technology to enable us to take that next step,” he told AGBI.

Magrabi, a third-generation director of the company, is using his background in investment banking and high finance to take the eyewear firm to the next level.

He says he has a vision to consolidate the company’s position in the region before eventually turning it into a publicly-listed company.

But first, the CEO is looking firmly to the future with a AED54 million Lens Innovation Centre in Dubai, which will be capable of producing two million lenses a year by 2025 – that’s a pair of lenses every 15 seconds.

Clothing, Apparel, Scientist
Magrabi lens innovation centre in Dubai

It’s the latest bold move by the company – which is a household name in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and across the Gulf – after launching nearly a century ago. 

The CEO’s grandfather was a Saudi-Egyptian ophthalmologist, studying in Edinburgh who moved to Saudi Arabia to become a private consultant to the King.

His father took up the baton, holding a residency at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London before returning home to open the first chain of shops.

Bricks-and-mortar and online optics

An omnichannel experience is at the heart of Magrabi’s ambitions.

“You need the bricks-and-mortar, and you need to go online – at least in the premium segment,” he said. 

“In the mainstream maybe, you can have online only but if you want to really give the ultimate experience – you want to get premium and bespoke measurements – with people who care about that kind of service. That’s difficult to do purely online.”

He added: “In the premium segment, as we stand today, we are probably the largest in the world. But there are a lot of opportunities in the next four to five years in the region, not just in terms of footprint and expansion but our strategic initiative in terms of vertical integration.

“It is critical to own that entire value chain to be able to bring your best products to your customer.”  

Magrabi’s new Dubai innovation centre has started producing its own brands to be sold alongside the designer labels for which it has become known. Its coloured contact lenses account for around 50 percent of sales in the region. Light colours, such as grey and hazel, are particularly popular.

The company boss is in no rush to take Magrabi to the rest of the world.

“We are building our own brands, exclusive brands and alliances to allow us as we enter those markets to have a really differentiated proposition,” he said. 

“Globally, you won’t see many multi-brand retailers expanding into international markets. One of the few is Sephora. They’ve done a wonderful job and that is one we learn from, the benchmark, to see how they’ve done it.”

He added: “We want to make sure our platforms are in place, we have a fully differentiated product range, and customer experience – so that when we go it is quite differentiated.”

Gender balance

Magrabi stressed that although the company leans on its family legacy, it operates “very much like a startup” and is especially keen to promote gender equality.

“Culture is very important to us,” he said. “We have taken positions around gender equity and gender balance in our region. Until recently in our markets we couldn’t even have one female colleague in the stores, for example, in Saudi Arabia.

“We feel there is a lot to do there, but also within those five years we’ll be a leading company globally on that. So, we’ll have gender equity from the top, from the board all the way down across leadership levels.”

He added that Magrabi aims to have total gender equality within a generation and is shortly to open its first female-only staffed store as part of the latest tranche of openings which included 32 new openings and the renovation and expansion of another 25 stores.

The company is not afraid to take risks for what it believes in. In 2018, it launched the “Empower Your Vision” campaign, a 60-second film showing young women playing football, painting, boxing, driving – all against an exultant soundtrack.

It resulted in millions of views on YouTube and sparked thousands of online discussions and, on rare occasions, a backlash from traditionalists.

With all eyes on the Gulf later this year with the FIFA World Cup being held in Qatar, Magrabi has established an exclusive partnership with former England captain David Beckham in which he will ‘appear’ in stores as a moving, talking hologram. 

“This is a great example of how the markets in Saudi and the Middle East have opened up and have put in place reforms and are more progressive… David Beckham is a global superstar who has a right to start something that is in the fashion sector. He’s actually a brand in his own right,” said Magrabi.

Who is Amin Magrabi?

  • When he was five, his parents sent him to a Swiss boarding school to widen his horizons.
  • In his early teens he went to an English public school where he was deputy head boy and captained the athletics team at Rugby School in Warwickshire. 
  • Amin went on to study at Brown University in the US and Richmond University back in London. 
  • He went into investment banking, spent some time in Egypt before heading back to the US to JP Morgan.

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