In conversation with Tehzeeb Ahmed on curating unique retail experiences which go beyond the normal scope of pop-up shows to ‘destination retail’ experiences where shopping comes with large scoops of fun.
In 30 seconds….
Passionate about curating memorable experiences, Dubai-based curator Tehzeeb Ahmed thinks of her pop-up shops as a grown-up version of children’s day-out. Created around strong themes which combine food, fashion and indulgent pampering her shows are as much about shopping as they are about having fun.
Who should go and why?
Cool-hunters, lovers of unique objects and experiences as well as those those looking to simply let their hair down is usually the crowd seen at a Buzzy-Bee event. Whether it be a floating art-gallery, themed event or a designer trunk show, one thing constant at a Tehzeeb show is experiencing the fabulous.
Meet Tehzeeb Ahmed and Buzzy Bee Events
Tehzeeb Ahmed, or Tez, is best known for her refreshing enthusiasm, child-like curiosity, distinct taste and her ability to imagine creative scenarios at the speed of light. Her constant and tireless pursuit of eclectic design, high-art and unusual experiences is the reason why she’s fondly referred to as Dubai-800. It’s simple – if Tez doesn’t know something it’s very likely not worth exploring. Certainly not in Dubai.
After more than 10 years of advertising experience in Dubai and Brussels, Tez decided to join hands with her talented graphics-designer brother Iskander Ahmed and open Buzzy Bee communications which is primarily a PR company. When designers started to approach Buzzy Bee to showcase their products, Tez – who is born and raised in Dubai – used her deep understanding of this otherwise transient city, its people and their shopping habits to create unique experiences with a strong thematic to beat Dubai’s overwhelming retail scene.
Depending on the collection and theme, Tez chooses location, props, display and a variety of activities to create a 360-degree retail experience. Targeted mostly to the affluent & discerning diaspora from the sub-continent, which is a fairly large community in Dubai, Buzzy Bee has been creating successful (read : sell out) shows since 2015 – be it a high-end designer or jewellery trunk show, thematic pop-up or anything in between.
In conversation with Tehzeeb Ahmed on curating experiential retail
CC : What inspired you to set up your pop-up shops? With an overwhelming retail scene in Dubai, how do your shows remain different?
TA : At Buzzy Bee, our mantra is to build, brand and buzz about your business and this is essentially what we do for pop ups too. When designers approached us initially, we realised that there are tons of pop up shops or exhibitions in the region. It made me ask myself, how should we distinguish ourselves? And that’s how I arrived at the idea of creating ‘destination pop-ups’.
I started to create events which puts people in a mood to indulge and have fun. People come because they are intrigued – be it by a theme, by collections or simply by the mood we create to draw them in. And more often than not, this mood inspires our guests to buy a few things, or many as is normally the case.
Apart from the event experience itself, I believe Buzzy Bee’s ability to market the event is also a major strong-point. My brother Iskander – who is also my business partner – and I have a strong background in building brands and therefore we understand the importance of branding and packaging all our events. We invest a lot of time and work in the pre-event marketing & collateral of any of our events which I believe is an absolute must for a successful pop-up.
CC : Give me some examples of these experiential, destination pop-ups?
TA : All our shows are special. Having said that, the three I am particularly proud of are –
1) Indulge – Where food met Fashion – One of our first pop ups . 3 designers in a cute boho cafe experience in the heart of the city. We had food master classes, meal special and shopping. We even had a coffee cup reader!
2) The Art of Polki. Done for a reputable jeweller in Dubai. A beautiful venue. All the jewellery on the day was transformed into an art experience.
3) Mandarin Monday – Vesimi – 3 seasons so far for a local store. The first was themed around the colour Mandarin. The second around the love of shoes and the third which just happened showcased some edgy denim collections hot off the catwalks of fashion week in India. It was titled ‘I dream in Denim’ The experience was made complete with kadak chai, pop corn, denim cookies, and a ‘oomph your old denim station’
CC : What kind of brands use Buzzy Bee pop-ups?
TA : Generally brands that aren’t available or have limited availability in the region and no store presence or are exploring getting into a market. Also brands with a seasonal appeal – who have clearly identified key buying seasons, christmas, diwali etc.
CC: Over the last three years what would you say are the top trends in the design pop-ups? And how have you seen them change ?
TA : There are more and more well known pop up experiences out of India, Pakistan, Europe etc that enter the UAE fashion scene. Some have ventured into other GCC countries. There are a number of really cool home grown brands too e.g. ‘Market OTB’ and the ‘Good Vibes’ market that are changing the way people see pop-ups. The trend tends to be either a very exclusive high profile experiences or a high foot fall large life style exhibitions. Very few people curate a smaller sampling of brands. Even retail stores are opting for cool themed pop ups to draw in new audiences and create a buzz. Luckily for us, we are already ahead of this ‘new’ trend of small & heavily curated pop-ups, with a strong catalogue of shows we’ve done since 2015.
CC: What would be your advice for Indian designers who’d like to show & sell their creations in Dubai?
TA : If you are exhibiting for the first time , it may be a good idea to use larger exhibitions to create awareness and build a database. They are also more cost-effective than solo shows or smaller curated pop-ups. Smaller events are best done with a collective of designers who don’t conflict with each other. Pricing is key – know the market and know what’s available here before you venture out. Mystery shopping is a great exercise. Build great relationships with those who like your brand and can then become ‘social influencers ‘ and help spread the message when you are ready to do your event. Reward loyalty. Get to know bloggers, local influencers and members of the press whenever the opportunity presents itself.
CC: Your personal dressing style is exceptionally eclectic – how does it translate to your pop-ups?
TA : (Laughs loudly) Actually sometimes it doesn’t! I have now learnt that one mans food is another man’s poison. Style is a personal choice and really subjective. My motto be to remain open minded and always put myself in the buyers shoes – not your own – when curating an experience.
CC: If you had the chance to chase one dream, what would it be?
TA : I would love to travel the world with a kick a** pop up concept that I’m working on. A body-mind-soul concept with something to address every aspect of your-being and excludes no one!
A parting note
In a city-state where retail is an epitome of aggressive competition and a sophisticated audience Dubai is far from easy for either pop-ups, solo shows or young designers. In such a scenario Buzzy Bee has used creative thinking and a clever approach for creating a unique concept of ‘destination shopping’ for discerning buyers and hand-picked designers. Check out their Facebook page to visit Buzzy Bee’s next show – a perfect recipe for a fun filled & indulgent day.
Here’s to out-of-the-box-thinking, engagement-rich retail, discerning buyers and cool-hunters. Salut!
Previously in the “A Curated Life” series : Aarti Patkar of The Vintage Garden on timeless design and alternative retail