AKSAL drives Morocco’s retail revolution

The shopping experience in Morocco has changed and is moving away from the traditional souks towards a modern, international approach


Despite the financial crisis harming retail markets across the world over the last few years, Morocco’s retail sector has seen comparatively steady growth. Domestic consumption has grown alongside the strong economy – a positive point for a region beset by political turmoil.

Morocco’s economy has remained comparatively steady in recent years. Capitalising on its close proximity to Europe, and its relatively low labour costs, Morocco has an open, diverse economy focused on its market.

While it was heavily in debt during the 1980s, since King Mohammed VI came to power in 1999, things have stabilised and the economy has enjoyed low inflation and falling unemployment levels. Despite the economic turmoil in Europe causing a slight slowdown in growth last year, the country has weathered the storm better than most countries.

A well-positioned industry
Investment in infrastructure – particularly in the Tangier free trade zone – has meant the country is proving an attractive destination for businesses keen to dip their toes in the undeveloped North African market.

For a country popular with both the business community and tourists, it is unsurprising that the retail market has grown to the level it is at today. Representing 12.8 percent of the country’s economy, retail also employs 1.2 million people, or 13 percent of the workforce.

While the market is dominated by the 1,151 traditional souks across the country, organised retail outlets are only just starting to be the norm in Morocco. The growing middle class that represents 30 percent of the country means that this balance is changing, however, and well-known brands are creeping into the market.

For example, French retail giant Carrefour recently invested around $80m into the country through its Label’Vie franchise. Purchasing power is still relatively low, compared to Morocco’s European neighbours, and so there is still considerable development still to be done. This should, however, come as the tourism industry continues to boom.

While the country is ripe for a good deal of international investment into the retail market, there are a number of leading domestic retail players that operate in the market.
One firm that is helping transform Morocco into a retail destination is the AKSAL Group, which operates a wide range of shopping malls and retail outlets around the country.

Introducing widespread retail outlets
Founded in 1994, AKSAL has helped to revolutionise the Moroccan retail market by attracting a number of international, premium brands. In 2004 it opened the third-largest Zara store in the world in Casablanca, and the company has subsequently gone on a near-decade long acquisition spree – growing its brand across North Africa’s most metropolitan economy.

Representing 12.8 percent of the country’s economy, retail also employs 1.2 million people, or 13 percent of the workforce

AKSAL has developed a range of products and brands that cater for all aspect of the retail market. AKSAL’s director of PR, Lamiaa Adlaoui, told World Finance, “AKSAL Group, with its portfolio of 20 international brands is positioned in different markets – luxury, high-end retail, and mass market – covering all segments of consumers in the large cities of Morocco.”

The group is split into a number of different units, dedicated to different areas of the retail sector. There is AKSAL Retail, which specialises in developing existing and new retail brands in Morocco. These include the Inditex fashion partnership, as well as food outlets.
Agreements with leading international brands include Massimo Dutti, Bershka, MAC, Espacia, Pull and Bear, Zara, Zara Home, Oysho, Uterque, New Look, Banana Republic and GAP.

AKSAL Luxury is a relatively new development for the group, and is designed to spur the growth of the high-end retail market in Morocco. As the country becomes more internationalised, demand for the world’s most recognisable brands has increased too.

The company’s move into the luxury market has also led to it signing agreements with brands like Galeries Lafayette, Gucci, Fendi, Dior, Ralph Lauren and La Martina.

There is also the department store unit, where AKSAL has helped pioneer the use of such stores in Morocco through its two brand franchises, Galeries Lafayette and Fnac.

The Galeries Lafayette store has over 320 different brands, including ready-to-wear clothes, cosmetics, and accessorises. The franchising of Galeries Lafayette is the French firm’s third overseas launch, after the openings in Berlin and Dubai.

Fnac Casablanca has more than 200 brands in its store, as well as an unequalled selection of books, music, computers, audio, video and photographic equipment.

AKSAL has also got its own property division that is dedicated to helping develop the best sites for new retail outlets and malls. Its team consists of a full range of real estate specialists, including architects, engineers, project managers and foremen.

Acquisitions and franchising
Part of AKSAL’s strategy has been to acquire key pieces of land and local businesses to increase its presence across the country. Adlaoui says, “The acquisition of franchises is at the heart of the Group’s development. Before the creation of the AKSAL Group, the President had a mission to provide the Moroccan commercial landscape with prestigious brands.

“It was necessary to develop a whole sector at a time when the franchise networks were rare and the market is still relatively young. The expertise gained in the area now and successes to the public confirms this choice.”

These franchises of groups like Galeries Lafayette and Fnac – as well as signing contracts with other leading international brands – has meant that AKSAL is at the forefront of the Moroccan retail experience.

The enthusiasm for Morocco as a retail destination has been shown from many of the leading brands that are moving there. In a note on the country in 2011, Gap said of the opportunities presented to it in Casablanca and by the AKSAL Group, “Casablanca is the premier shopping destination in North Africa; Morocco’s booming retail market and increasing urban population provide Gap with a terrific opportunity.”

A major development for the company was in 2009, when it decided to create a unit dedicated towards building large shopping malls in Morocco. AKSAL malls provide the strategic link between the other main divisions of the group, with retail, luxury goods, department stores and real estate playing important roles in this new development for the firm.

The company’s flagship mall is the Casablanca-based Morocco Mall that opened in 2011 and cost €200m to build. Created in partnership with the Al Jedaie Group, the Morocco Mall marked a turning point for the retail market in North Africa.

Spread over 10 hectares and housing 350 unique stores, it is the largest mall in the whole region. The Morocco Mall offers shoppers around 600 different brands, including fashion, home décor and furniture, handicrafts, food, leisure and entertainment.

The international brands, such as Fnac, Galeries Lafayette, Gucci, Fendi, Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, Prada, IMAX and many mass market and high end brands, share the space with locally sourced goods that reflect Morocco’s unique culture.

Since opening until September 2013 more than 28 million visitors have passed through the Morocco Mall doors, enjoying a unique shopping experience that marries international brands with a local twist. In an interview when the mall opened, the Morocco Mall’s project director told the African Manager site, “Like the finest existing malls in the Middle East or North America, the Morocco Mall offers visitors a unique and magical experience, mixing shopping, leisure and catering, to be lived with friends or the family in an innovative architectural concept.

“Much more than a traditional shopping centre, the Morocco Mall is a real place to live. It seeks to position itself as an ultimate experience, worthy of the greatest fashion capitals with a wide range of shopping and recreation unique in Africa and services comparable to the most luxurious hotels.”

The company is keen to help Morocco grow as a world economy, encouraging local Moroccans to better themselves. At the beginning of 2011, it launched the AKSAL Academy, which helps to train up the next generation of business people and AKSAL employees. The idea is to train AKSAL’s future employees to international standards, as well as transforming Morocco’s retail sector into one of great professionalism.

Adlaoui says the company is eager to expand into more Moroccan cities, in both the mall and other retail segments, “More or less long term, AKSAL Group plans to expand in the market malls, more widely in Morocco; capitalising on new cities with high potential.” Although primarily focused on Morocco, she adds that they are not against the idea of expanding abroad in the future.