Tan Sri Zainul Azman, owner of Dimensi Eksklusif has been responsible for some of the region’s most outstanding travel retail innovations. “The sun has set. The dragons have been slain. The tigers have become extinct.” With those stirring words in his speech at the Duty Free Asia Pacific Conference in Hong Kong, Tan Sri Zainul Azman, one of Asia’s most dynamic travel-retailers, beseeched the industry to look for alternative and original solutions. “This is the age of the idea”, said Tan Sri Azman.
Tan Sri Azman had his education at Penang Free School and the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), Manila. He joined as a cadet executive with a British multinational and served for 18 years in various capacities including Company Head of its marketing subsidiary dealing in branded lifestyle products. He has attended many Management Programmes conducted by various management schools abroad.
During his tenure with the British multinational, he opened several boutiques in Kuala Lumpur including Salvatore Ferragamo, Rolex, Timberland, Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon, Lancome Salon, Sheaffer and Cross pens galleries. His portfolio ranges from baby care products like diapers to perfumeries and cosmetics and fast moving consumer products including chocolates. He was the first Malay to be involved in downtown branded lifestyle retailing in the mid 1970s when Ampang Park, Mun Loong, Lin Ho and Weld Supermarket were the top stores in Kuala Lumpur.
In 1994, with his wife Puan Sri Nora Shariff they set up Dimensi Eksklusif dealing in branded lifestyle products for the travel retail sector. The stand alone retail stores at the then Subang International Airport sold perfumes and cosmetics, Davidoff cigars and Christian Dior fashion. In 1998, when the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) opened, Dimensi Eksklusif won bids to operate stand alone retail stores for perfumes and cosmetics, cigars, Christian Dior fashion, Salvatore Ferragamo fashion and later added watches and timepieces and Ralph Lauren fashion. It also operated outlets selling perfumeries, cosmetics and chocolates at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal and the Penang International Airport. Dimensi has about 150 staff largely in sales and being front liners engaging with foreign tourists, they are conversant in several languages like Japanese, Korean and Arabic besides Bahasa Malaysia, English and Mandarin.
Year on year they hit their targets and the company rewards the entire team including all levels of employees with incentive trips to Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam. Everyone is rewarded irrespective of their positions because the company believes it is team work that delivers the results. During these incentive trips, they not only do sight-seeing but also visit departmental stores and observe the trading service and mannerisms of their counterparts in these countries especially the Japanese. They then apply the good traits back home. Time spent at airports are often very short, so the sales staff are specially trained to close purchases with speed and accuracy as it involves dealing with foreign currencies and GST claims.
Dimensi’s mission statement is to be number one for customer service and customer satisfaction and create a total customer experience and respond rapidly to market opportunities. Its vision is to be an aggressive company offering innovative marketing and create a world class travel retailing experience. Over the past two decades, Dimensi Eksklusif has won numerous international awards in travel retail and the KLIA Best Retailer Award eight times in a row. Winning awards has become a norm.
From young, Tan Sri Azman excels in sports and was Captain of the Penang Free School soccer team. His adage has been ‘Play to Win’ and to this date, he applies the same principle to his business. Coming from Penang, he is never afraid to compete. “At any given moment, you have the power to say this is not how the story is going to end. Life is short and fragile. Falling down is part of life. It happens to the best of us. What matters is getting back up. Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up. You must have the will to win and the desire to succeed.”
Dimensi Eksklusif is trading with more than 100 international Principals. They have been with the company during good and bad times. Tan Sri Azman believes trust is an important trait and loyalty develops over the years and honesty comes into play. Travelling abroad and seeing various Principals for meetings provide a better insight into their workings and culture. Dealing with fashion items can be a tedious task because it entails a lot of learning curves due to its seasonal collections. A wrong buy can be disastrous in terms of stocks as inventories will have to be cleared at high discounts. Every season collection buy for fashion and shoes in Florence and New York is an experience because it involves colours, sizing, styles and materials. And these have to be procured six months ahead before their launch. Thus, only an experienced buyer will be able to know what the local market wants and minimize errors in purchasing.
Likewise, the yearly visits to Havana in Cuba and Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic to procure the best hand-rolled cigars for the Malaysian market is a joy because the countries itself are magical. Visits to the tobacco farms, seeing how cigars are rolled and produced is simply wonderful. While there, Tan Sri Azman get to experience life like the locals, eating steamed tapioca and drinking sugar cane water. He points out that the workers are lowly paid yet they are steadfast and loyal to the country. They are given weekly coupons to get the food rations and their monthly wage is about RM30!
At the other end of the scale are the buying trips for watches and timepieces in Geneva and Basel in Switzerland with its fanfare and glamorous models showcasing the new collections and food at Michelin star restaurants. Tan Sri Azman said his children and staff get to experience the two extremes and the exposure will show them the realities of life.
The challenge for the company is to compete with online purchasing of similar brands and products which are easily accessible and price competitive. Distributors have to be more creative to retain their customers to ensure they refrain buying their favourite items online.
As owners of the company, Tan Sri Azman and Puan Sri Nora Shariff feel a joy seeing staff’s economic status improving like being able to own houses and cars, invest and go on holidays. When the company does well, it rewards its staff handsomely. So much so, its entire staff strength has been with the company since inception.
Both parents are mentoring their children Zairin, Zainul Azrin and Aznita into business. The children have decided to venture into online fashion and grooming. They believe online purchases are going to grow very big as the young are savvy at handling street jargon, applications and trending.
Tan Sri Azman sits on several Government advisory panels to assist young entrepreneurs. In addition, he is often invited to give talks to university students preparing to enter the job market. He also sits on several NGOs and charitable organisations. Both he and his wife have adopted 10 Palestinian children who are placed at a refugee camp in Lebanon. All lost their parents due to the long on-going feud. Enroute to Jerusalem Tan Sri Azman has made several visits to the camp in Lebanon to see the plight of the children. The children keep him posted about their well-being through mails once a year.
For services rendered to the state and country, he was conferred a Dato’ Seri from Penang in 2014 and Tan Sri from His Majesty Yang diPertuan Agong in 2016.