Thank you for taking us and introducing us to your wonderful menu. We like the idea of entrepreneurs, especially female entrepreneurs. It is very exciting to hear your business model and experience your food. How do you describe the business environment in Kuwait and how do you feel the infrastructure is set up to support people like you?
August 2015 will be 11 years since we opened. In the past 11 years it has changed a lot in a positive way. 11 years ago, the idea of starting your own business, especially in the food industry, was not very common. The idea was mostly for large corporations who were already big and established and bringing large franchises that are established all over the world here. That was the mindset. For two young female Kuwaitis starting up their own food business, it was challenging in terms of the mindset of people. Even getting a location from any of the huge malls or any of the people that were coming up and giving us a location, they would rather prioritize larger companies who are giving a name that is well established versus us coming up with our own concept. It was foreign, not known, and not something they were used to. Things have changed in terms of the people and in terms of the companies themselves, renting out, because they believe that the local concepts are doing better and that the local people obviously understand what the consumer wants even more than the franchises. The trend has changed and they have seen the potential in their own people, which is great. Financially, in terms of people who need loans, banks are very aware of the potential of small businesses. Ten or eleven years ago, banks that requested loans for small businesses that were restaurants were not very common. It might have happened, but the potential of growth would not have been as positive from a bank’s point of view, whereas now, even local banks have seen the potential of small businesses, they have seen the potential of the people here. They see that people have the ideas but just need the financial support. It has changed in a good way.
Shifting gears a little, how do you assess where Bon Group is at the moment in terms of where it is in the country and in terms of expansion plans?
We currently have five running locations in Kuwait. We are about to open our sixth. It has been a year now since we have had our central kitchen. For quality control purposes, everything comes out from one location. This was what we needed as a checklist before we move along to consider opening abroad. What we have done since we first opened is to register our logo all over, even abroad. This was something very important for us. We still have the US pending because there are quite a few other chocolate bars, so we still need to work on the name, but in all of Europe, Australia, and the Middle East, we have the chocolate bar registered. We have done our homework from the beginning.
The business has evolved. Different tools like social media have been introduced. How have your strategy and philosophy changed in these eleven years? What is your current philosophy at the moment now that you are looking at expansion in a different environment? Has it changed?
It has not changed much. What I love about our concept is that, because we are very flexible and we listen to our customers and because it is our own and not a franchise, we know what people like. If we are a franchise that would be different we would not be as in-touch with what the locals wanted. If I want to open a chocolate bar in Mexico or Europe, I will have to tweak it to the local market a little bit. We are very aware that wherever we open next we need to have the flexibility. This was the idea from the beginning. We need to be open and listen to our customers. We never get in too much over our heads. We never get into our heads. We maintained the idea of the chocolate bar and what it is.
Social media is great because you are frequently interacting with the customers. When I or my partner are here, we will give them the best service, but when not, we will not see what is going on. That is why we have mystery shoppers, a company that checks this for us. We tell them what to order and they give us feedback.
Very good. Taking a step back and talking about Kuwait again, you are a representation of the private sector. How do you see the private sector businesses here as a player in the country for economic growth?
It is very important. With people being aware of the growth potential of small businesses in the private sector, it will help the economy when more people shift from working in the government to working in the private sector. All the entrepreneurs and young people are starting to do this. I love this. Everyone has a voice now and is accessible. Now, when you see young people who have all these amazing businesses, you see that it is about passion. As long as you are passionate about it and have your own edge to it, if you believe in it, then it is much more doable in that sense than it was many years ago.
What role do you think these future generations will have in the country?
They will have a huge role as long as they are educated correctly. I love how the universities are making a lot of effort to call all these people in to share stories, to provide for them and to mentor them. These things make a huge difference. For example, two or three years ago we went to Gulf University, which is a private university here. The accounting club had asked us to come and speak and share our story. We shared it and people attended. Last year, I was out for lunch with my sister when a person approached me and told me that they were there when I spoke about my chocolate bar, that that inspired her and that now she had her own small business. This makes a difference. That is what they need. For us, it was all textbook learning and huge corporations, not people. There was nothing tangible in that sense.
There was another point you brought up earlier about the Kuwaiti private sector. What should foreign investors bring to Kuwait to help maintain this pattern?
In terms of the financial aspect, Kuwait is very stable and I hope it stays that way. In terms of what foreigners can bring, we can learn a lot from them in terms of what is lacking. For example, we could learn environmental awareness from them. That is something very important. We could be more environmentally friendly and shift our mindsets in that direction. Everywhere you travel, you see farmers supporting local concepts. We lack the awareness of the natural food, lifestyle, etc. The idea of this is to shift Kuwait. It is more of a PR thing than a financial thing. Foreign investors can assist changing how the things work in Kuwait in addition to the mindset. We are blessed to have the financial resources, but the mindset needs to change and people need to follow through with these strategies. We have the policies, but following through with them is the problem. Just because the policies and strategies are in a drawer somewhere does not mean it is done. You have to follow through and take action.
Lastly, could you summarize your vision for Kuwait? If you have a final message for people around the world for people who are looking to visit or invest in Kuwait, what would you say?
Kuwait is very interesting. Although people come and visit, the idea of Kuwait versus the reality of what it is are two very different things. We as Kuwaitis need to change that mindset. Kuwaitis travel the world, which is great, but, once they travel the world, they need to be cultured by these countries and bring it back here in a positive way. This is what is lacking. As much as we travel the world, we need to bring it back. We would love people to come and visit, to change it and break the stereotype. It is our responsibility as Kuwaitis to break this stereotype. From an economic view, it is a good start, what we are doing here. We need a lot more PR. We need people to come and visit.