Toufic Kreidieh, Executive Chairman of the Board and Group CEO, BFL Group

Toufic Kreidieh, Executive Chairman of the Board and Group CEO, knows how to win over and entice customers with the promise of exciting products and services. No wonder Brands for Less, a unique off-price business model introduced to Lebanon in 1996, has become the Middle East’s favourite multi-brand retailer renowned for its distinctive business model, innovative retail concepts, and exclusive pricing on apparel from a range of premium brands. Even the pandemic could not stop BFL’s growth. The company won the ‘Heroes of the Pandemic’ title at the Transport and Logistics Middle East Award and was recognised as a ‘Great Place to Work.’ Recently, BFL Group launched its shopping centre with two new innovative concepts – ‘Beauty For Less’ and ‘Luxury For Less.’ To learn more about BFL’s success, we caught up with Toufic Kreidieh for a deep conversation. Here are the excerpts.

From one store in Lebanon to more than 80 outlets across the Middle East and Malta, Brands for Less has redefined the retail sector. What is your secret to success?

The BFL Group was initially founded in Lebanon as a small-scale retail outlet. However, over the years, we were able to establish a distinctive retail environment, which has led to the expansion of the group across the GCC region. I will attribute this growth to our unique strategies, like the treasure hunt concept. My business partner Yasser Beydoun and I conceptualised this strategy after realising that it would be challenging to establish a long-term presence in this fiercely competitive sector without providing extraordinary shopping experiences to customers. The treasure hunt concept involves offering a constantly changing collection of finds, creating an element of surprise and mystery for customers. We have also integrated technology into every aspect of our business to meet and exceed the evolving needs of our customers – resulting in seamless, pleasant and unique shopping experience.

Unlike many others in the market, BFL Group booms in days of the crisis. How do you make it possible? What strategy can other business leaders follow to make such a difference?

Businesses must prioritise exploring and diversifying their offerings to find the most effective solutions if they want to achieve success, particularly during turmoil times. This requires an ongoing commitment to exploring innovative concepts and business strategies to stay ahead of the curve, despite hurdles. By doing so, businesses can pave the way for constant evolution and development. For example, our transition to eCommerce enabled us to overcome various obstacles and connect with our customers via an alternative channel. As a result, our customers have not only become loyal, but also integral to the company’s projected image.

What are the challenges for leaders when they move forward towards a ‘new normal’ in the post-pandemic world? What are your predictions for 2023?

Most organisations today are still adjusting to the ‘new normal’ and implementing the necessary post-pandemic changes in leadership. This is important, given how challenging it is to succeed in a constantly evolving retail market. The retail industry around the world has faced several obstacles, including difficult trading conditions brought on by consumers’ reluctance to shop in stores, limitations on the total occupancy per store and stricter hygiene guidelines, among others. However, effective leaders have been able to overcome these challenges by prioritising online communication and maintaining confidence in their teams. Given the growth of online shopping and corporate investments in eCommerce, it is fair to predict that 2023 holds great potential for the retail sector.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today? Tell us about your career so far.

Several hardships came my way, whether during my childhood or when I first launched the business. And it is only after overcoming these obstacles that I have come to truly value and appreciate my achievements. The difficulties I have faced have made me a stronger and more astute leader. As a leader, my team’s welfare is my top priority. My life experiences have taught me that there will always be highs and lows, which reminds me of the saying, “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, but to dance in the rain.” To this day, I value my downs as much as my ups because you learn a valuable lesson from every experience.

As the Executive Chairman of the Board and Group CEO of Brands for Less / BFL Group, what challenges do you face? How do you overcome those challenges?

One of the most significant challenges faced by every CEO is making difficult decisions during trying times. From personal experience, I have learned the importance of building strong relationships with your executive team and allowing them to recommend, propose, and implement their suggestions during these critical moments. This approach fosters a sense of ownership and commitment among team members, which in turn allows the business to flourish.

We have recognised the need to strike a balance between immediate changes and long- term planning as well as addressing the demand for improved efficiency in resource management. However, it is also important to acknowledge that the retail industry is expected to face numerous difficulties in the coming years due to global crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and others.

As a company, we could navigate this roadblock due to our range of offerings, which allowed us to continue operations while maintaining quality. As a result, the BFL Group strengthened its online presence by investing in social media platforms and building a robust website when other companies struggled to stay in business, let alone make significant cost reductions.

How have you changed a company culture to facilitate innovation? How would you ensure that BFL invests in and leverages the correct technology while carefully balancing cost and ROI?

In today’s business environment, modern technology has become an essential tool for growth. For the BFL Group, the first step in modernising our eCommerce platform was to set up an online fulfilment centre dedicated to fulfilling online orders.

This enhanced eCommerce channel led to significant growth for our online business and the company’s overall revenue. Similarly, our partnership with ‘IQ Robotics’ enabled faster turnarounds, resulting in the timely delivery of new stock to our branches. Backed by over 160 robots, we successfully increased the daily fulfilment to our stores, resulting in higher sales.

Tell us a little bit about your education and life as a student. What lessons have you learned in your childhood/college days that helped you become the leader you are today?

Although I was born during the Lebanese civil war, I was fortunate to have access to top-tier education. My early days were influenced by my immediate circle. I learned the importance of independence and responsibility at a young age. I started working part-time jobs at the age of 13 to support my single mother. Those jobs taught me the importance of money, hard work and learning to be resourceful at every corner.

I also learned and cherished the importance of trust and attachment when I partnered with Yasser Beydoun. We made a pact to have each other’s back through thick and thin. This pact remains to date, and our bond has only strengthened through the years!

What have been the significant milestones during these years of your professional journey? Why?

My greatest accomplishment to date has been launching my company with my best friend. In our early days, we never anticipated having as many branches as we do today. Our entire business journey has been interesting and challenging to say the least. We started out with a small store in Lebanon, and nowadays, the company is experiencing rapid expansion extending to more than 80 locations across the Middle East and Europe. By introducing innovative, consumer- focused ideas and keeping up with technological advancements, the BFL Group has established itself as a leading off-price retailer of clothing and home products globally. This is one of our biggest and proudest accomplishments.

We have also recently launched our shopping centre, along with two new innovative concepts – ‘Beauty For Less’ and ‘Luxury For Less’. The BFL Group won the ‘Heroes of the Pandemic’ title at the Transport and Logistics Middle East Award and was recognised as a ‘Great Place to Work.’ These achievements and milestones leave us humbled and excited for what the future holds for us.

What does your typical working day look like? How do you handle pressure, stay calm all day, and unplug from work?

My typical workday starts and ends with everything related to the BFL Group. Whether it is expansion plans or operation-related activities, business is always the cornerstone of my daily life. My ability to handle pressure mainly relies on the confidence that I have instilled in my team and their ability to handle their day-to-day tasks. Trust between a company’s workforce and its leadership, in my opinion, is what drives a business forward.

Regardless of how demanding my daily schedule is, I always find harmony and peace in the cocoon I call home. Spending quality time with my family is what keeps me energised. Those precious moments not only distract and destress me but also help block all the noise and stress I carry around throughout the day.

What entrepreneurial hacks have you developed to stay focused and productive daily?

The most important trait to have as an entrepreneur is your drive and hunger to learn. This learning should not be limited to one realm, as you need to know something about everything. Keep your eyes and ears open to the world around you. Sometimes, we are so consumed in our daily routine that we forget how fast the world is moving around us. Also, never fear trying new things, especially when it comes to technology. Do not be afraid to explore and test new waters; you never know how pleasantly surprised you could be.

Do you have any thoughts you would like to share about being a leader or advice for other business executives carving a top management space?

Being a leader is an ongoing process that requires constant development of skills. How you present yourself to your team, stakeholders, and business partners will shape the perception of you as a leader. Therefore, working on your image as a leader is very important. Your perception and approach during tough times can make you a stronger leader and mentor. In my opinion, being creative is also an essential leadership quality. Encouraging your team to think outside the box and strive for excellence can be a powerful motivator. Additionally, maintaining a positive outlook even in the face of adversity is crucial.

What projects or goals are you working on or leading currently?

We aim to grow and expand across the GCC region as a group. Thus, we are working relentlessly on developing and implementing new concepts to better serve our customers.

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