All photos by Chantelle D’mello
After months of delays, Chinese megastore Dragon Mart has finally opened its doors to the public with the launch of its office and furniture department.
The opening took place on Wednesday, and comes after a long struggle to work out the logistics of the business.
In May, Dragon Mart officials confirmed that they had finally gained Civil Defense approval and the necessary permits to open. The complex is located on Industrial Area Road in Barwa Commercial Avenue.
This had taken longer than expected because fire safety rules were made more strict after the deadly 2012 Villaggio mall blaze, Dragon Mart’s manager previously said.
Over the last two months, the complex has been preparing for this week’s opening by bringing in staff, and working to free their boxes from customs.
Speaking to Doha News today, Zhong Wang, a manager at the furniture division, said:
“We’ve been trying to open for the last year and a half, but issues with company registration, civil defense contracts and Baladiya approval have stalled us.
The furniture that you see now was moved from China a year ago, but has been sitting at the port awaiting licensing. We’ve only just managed to get some of the merchandise into our warehouse. A lot of it is still at the port.”
Part of the holdup is due to the shorter hours that port officials are working during Ramadan.
Speaking to Doha News, Yang Qi, manager of Marketing and Logistics elaborated:
“Unlike Villaggio or City Center, 70 percent of our containers come from outside the country – from Italy, Dubai, and China. While most of our containers are at the port, some are still at sea, making their journey here. Because of Ramadan, even some of our trucks driving in from Dubai are taking time to come in.”
About 15 stores are currently open.
Aside from furniture (mainly office and outdoor pieces), which is one of Dragon Mart’s largest divisions, other stalls selling hair and phone accessories, lighting, glassware, stoneworks, undergarments, sports equipment, building materials, camping gear and kids clothes have also opened.
At the back of the massive complex, a small store selling Chinese foodstuff has also opened.
The one catch to shopping at Dragon Mart: purchases are done purely in cash.
“We only do business in bills,” said Feng Jiang, one of Dragon Mart’s partners. “Once we open fully, we will have ATMs around the mall, but we trade in cash. No cards. Never.”
One of the big draws of the shopping complex, which has a larger version in Dubai, is its low prices. Wang said an office table that could retail for thousands of riyals elsewhere would cost half the price at Dragon Mart.
Many stores continue to be under renovation, with tarps and plastic sheets covering a good portion of the some 200 shops that are expected to open.
A full “official” launch is expected in a month’s time, added Jiang.
To get there, patrons should take the Doha Expressway onto E-Ring Road. Turn right at the signal onto the Industrial Area Road. Go straight from the first roundabout, and take the slip road before the second roundabout.
Some 100 stores on the ground floor are taking priority during the launch, said Qi, adding that over 60 shops are expected to open within the next two weeks.
So far, business has been good, Wang said.
“We don’t have too many customers at the moment, but those who come in generally all buy something. They read about the store in the papers, and then they come to see what it’s about. For a start, it’s been great!”
Chinatown in Doha
The majority of Dragon Mart staff hail from the Far East.
Most of the complex’s staff, like Qi, Wang and Jiang, are all Chinese, as are all upper management members.
“This is a Chinese store. We do business the Chinese way, so we wanted most of our people to be Chinese,” Jiang said.
He added that difficulties obtaining visas for staff has also been a problem.
Currently, there are 300 people employed. Over 200 more are expected to arrive in the coming months. Eventually, more than 3,000 people are expected to be employed at Dragon Mart, managers said.
The store, which was first launched in the Shangdong province of China, has a massive presence in Dubai, with a 150,000km space housing around 4,000 shops.