Lucas Jiang, general manager, TP-Link MEA FZE, talks about how the company is cementing its retail strategy, two years after the networking solutions vendor outlined a plan that would see it work with power retailers in the Middle East and Africa market.It's been over two years since TP-Link unveiled its retail strategy to focus on serving partners and their customers in this market segment. How has that strategy panned out in the Middle East?
Lucas Jiang: The focus has actually been product-oriented. We launched various new models of our SOHO and consumer networking product in 2017, but we only introduce products we believed had potential and were right for the retail market based on our understanding of the local markets in the region. Meanwhile, to ensure the good performance of all our products, we have continued to work closely with our retail partners to run promotions, keep enough products on display to ensure that the products meet the customers' expectations. Moreover, our team has kept regular visits to the retail market base to do all the necessary work required, like product training, display arrangement and enhancing the customer experience without products.What would you say is the state of the regional retail segment at the moment?
Although the retail segment is still expanding and developing fast in the Middle East, it's not as fast as before. Many new networking brands are still trying to enter the retail market and this adds more competition in a market that has fierce competitiveness.Research firm IDC is forecasting the home networking segment in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) to continue growing as more homes get connected to Internet broadband. What is TP-Link doing to ensure that its channel partners take advantage of the anticipated growth?
As the world's number one provider of WLAN products, we manufacture the products with the latest technology and features customers like so that they can in turn, enjoy a good experience with our networking products. Our channel partners will benefit from the broad array and distribution network of our products. We continue to give offers and conduct marketing activities together with our retail partners.What has been key for TP-Link as it develops its retail strategy and business in the MEA?
In as far as product sales are concerned, over 150 million of TP-Link products were sold globally in 2017. As a focused SOHO, SMB and WLAN products vendor, we have developed a very good understanding of the market demands and we are confident in our products hence the high volumes we have been selling worldwide.How many retail partners is TP-Link currently working with and in which countries do they have presence?
Currently, we are working with more than 10 major partners in the UAE, including consumer electronics chain stores and hyper markets. These major retail partners are not only present in UAE but also in some other GCC countries and the broader Middle East geography.The IT business in general this year has been slow with sales very sluggish especially in the traditional reseller channels. Has the retail segment been experiencing the same?
It's true that the IT business is challenging overall in the Middle East and Africa. However, our retail business has continued to grow steadily despite the economic and business climate prevailing in the region at present. The main drivers for growth can be attributed to the fact that demand for networking products is still strong. In addition, we launched many new models with AC technology so customers have been upgrading their old devices to enjoy better networking experiences. In addition, our smartphone array and smart home products have been gaining a lot of traction in the Middle East and that's encouraging us to do more.
The UAE and in particular Dubai is the showroom for the whole MEA theatre and business in this regional hub here is very active. We support a lot in this region from Dubai. In addition to products, promotion offers and merchandiser support that we offer, we have invested a lot in marketing and this year we will be extending our retail presence with the service providers. You can find our marketing activities in all our retail partner stores. We are trying to create more end user demand and link our customers to all the retail stores we work with in the region.The retail business in the Middle East is very seasonal. How is TP-Link striking that balance to ensure the brand continues to attract footfall in retail stores throughout the year?
There are several seasonal offers and promotions in retail like the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF), GITEX Shopper spring and autumn editions and Dubai Summer Surprises (DSS). What we have done and our approach as TP-Link in conjunction with our retail partners is to take advantage of these seasonal opportunities to sell more. During other periods of the year, we will run promotions on specific product models to balance the sales throughout the year.It's been six years that TP-Link established its regional presence in the Middle East and in that period, the brand started from scratch to emerge as one of the top five SOHO brands in the region. What would you attribute the company's rapid growth and brand acceptance to and how are you leveraging that brand appeal to enhance your SMB offerings?
We are encouraged by the fact that our brand has grown so rapidly and this can be attributed to the efforts our team and our partners have put in to gain this trust from customers. Our products are made with the highest quality and standard, however, without the efforts of our team and the trust from our partners [retailers and traditional resellers], we can't achieve the position TP-Link enjoys in the Middle East today. We really appreciate the support from our partners and hope to do more to help them and the company grow the business more going forward.TP-Link has been broadening its networking products and accessory range. What can your retail partners expect in 2018 in terms of new products in the year ahead?
A lot of new products are coming or on the way, but here in the region, we are still focusing more on networking. I can't disclose more details to our partners at the moment, but it's really worth what our partners have come to expect when the products hit the market.How is the company raising brand awareness and visibility in the retail space?
TP-Link's strategy over the last two years has been to focus on the retail market by supporting and being part of all regional retail events like: DISTREE Middle East, GITEX Shopper and Abu Dhabi Electronics Shopper (ADES). The other part, which is the branding inside retailers' shops including dedicated stands for TP-Link products, shelf branding, promoters, marketing materials like leaflets and brochures have all contributed to the 360-degree strategy of creating visibility and brand awareness. We are working hard with our focused retail distributors to develop this business further in the market.. All this coupled with the aggressive promotions from TP-Link's side along with a variety of products that cover all consumer needs from high end to mid-range to entry-level routers have given the company a much broader approach of promoting the company, brand and its portfolio offerings.What will be the company's focus in 2018 and where will majority of your retail growth come from?
In 2018 TP-Link efforts will be concentrated on brand building in the retail space especially around the smart home offerings and our smartphone range Neffos. We want to do this and achieve our goals by working with all retailers across the region. Presently, we are registered and work with all power retailers, hypermarkets and online retailers. Our aim in the year ahead is to increase the brand awareness to the ultimate level to serve our customers better, faster and efficiently. In terms of growth, our main market focus is the UAE in 2018 and we will be aggressive in the retail segment in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, where we believe the contribution from the two countries will spur our growth and strengthen our position in retail. We will also focus on promoting new networking models, smart home products and meet customers' demands to upgrade to fast performing and latest products.