Regional retail conglomerate Gulf Marketing Group (GMG) has announced further expansion and investment in Saudi Arabia with the opening of a new head office in Riyadh, the company said. Deputy Chairman and CEO Mohammad A. Baker told Al Arabiya English that the company plans to double its 1,200-strong workforce in the Kingdom.
GMG already has a strong presence in Saudi Arabia due to its nationwide network of approximately 90 outlets including its Sun and Sand Sports chain - the Middle East’s largest sports retailer - as well as being a distributor for global brands like Nike, Columbia, Vans, and others.
GMG’s head office in Riyadh follows a government announcement in February that stated that Saudi Arabia will require all government contracts to be awarded to companies with headquarters in the country. It will no longer sign contracts with foreign companies without a regional headquarters inside the Kingdom starting from 2024.
The move is one facet of a wider strategy to attract international investors to one of the Middle East’s largest economies and diversify it from its oil-heavy roots, as outlined in the Crown Prince’s Vision 2030.
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The new Riyadh HQ opened last month and the group anticipates further growth from its sports retail operations, Baker said. Boosted by its recent opening of a 23,000 square-meter mega-warehouse outside Riyadh, this is complemented by existing office and warehousing facilities in Jeddah.
“Saudi Arabia is a very important market to us with a fast-growing economy,” Baker told Arabiya English. “There is a lot we believe we can deliver and the importance of sport in the Kingdom is encouraging, thanks to the vision of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and a growing number of initiatives to improve fitness and wellness.”
GMG has already spent 15 years establishing its business in Saudi, building up a workforce of 1,200. Baker envisions this number will soon grow to 2,400.
“Having a regional HQ in Saudi is an important move for us, and one which we planned to do before the lockdown and before the announcement by the Kingdom,” he said.
“Saudi is very good for business; it has a massive population and it has always been a key market for us. Having a regional HQ in Saudi allows us to understand the consumer better, train people more efficiently and have the right presence in Saudi.”
Baker said, aside from establishing warehouses and stores in the Kingdom, GMG plans to enhance partnerships with Saudi Arabian entities to encourage sports participation.
The pandemic, believes Baker, has encouraged more people to embrace sport, fitness and wellbeing as health has become an ever-important factor in peoples’ lives.
Introducing other offerings from the GMG portfolio in Saudi Arabia, including food and healthcare brands, is also being considered, Baker said.
Meanwhile, the company is strengthening its online retail services and hosting more in-store innovations such as contactless mobile checkouts in response to changing consumer habits post-COVID-19.
“The fact that our new Riyadh headquarters is three times bigger than our old offices clearly signals the scale of our ambitions in Saudi Arabia and our commitment to invest – not only in brick-and-mortar operations but also in our people, over half of whom are Saudi citizens,” said Baker.
“Next year, we celebrate 15 years in Saudi Arabia, and strengthening our presence in the Kingdom is essential if we are to realize the next phase of our growth in the region’s largest economy and one of the fastest-growing retail markets.”
“We believe Saudi Arabia has immense untapped potential. The government’s recent initiative calling upon the international private sector to further invest in the Kingdom is to be welcomed, particularly because it will pave the way for further job creation.”
According to a recent Euromonitor report, sales of premium sports brands such as Nike performed strongly towards the end of last year in Saudi Arabia, and this trend is set to continue with consumer spending expected to rebound quickly once the social restrictions imposed by the pandemic start to ease.
Baker added that the group is eager to ramp up its community engagement in Saudi Arabia.
As the official Nike distributor in the Kingdom, GMG already works closely with the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) to promote participation in sports at all levels, and more active lifestyles in a country where diabetes and obesity rates exceed the global average.
“Steady progress has been made over the past decade, but there is much more to be done and we are eager to be a partner, working with young people especially, to make regular exercise part of their daily routine,” said Baker.