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Fit for a queen but can a venerable British store succeed in the Middle East?

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Story highlights

  • Fortnum and Mason has opened its first ever standalone store outside the UK
  • Dubai was chosen as the location for the 9,400 square foot outlet
  • Fortnum CEO says it is possible the company may add other stores in the Middle East

After almost three centuries at the heart of London's busy Piccadilly retail district, Fortnum and Mason is broadening its horizons.

The upscale British store, which is a favorite of the Queen Elizabeth, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge, opened its first ever standalone store outside of the UK in Dubai last month.

Located directly opposite the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, the sparkling new 9,400 square feet outlet aims to offer a slice of the vintage London retail experience in the Gulf.

The new site includes all the trademark Fortnum and Mason features such as an English tea salon and ice cream parlor as well as stocking the wicker hampers and luxury food items the company is most famous for.

But what's the business thinking behind the move and why was Dubai chosen as the location for Fortnum's first big foray into foreign markets?

CNN's John Defterios sat down with Fortnum and Mason CEO, Ewan Venters, to find out.

John Defterios (JD): Why has Fortnum and Mason decided to move into the region?

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Ewan Venters (EV): Fortnum and Mason is 300 years old and over the decades the business has had to change and evolve all the time.

So, here we are in downtown Dubai with lots of the traditional aspects of the Fortnum's business but in a more contemporized way of presentation.

JD: Would you say it's a risk taking a very traditional brand into a modern setting without wanting to undermine the brand at the same time?

EV: One of the key requisites of the strategy is that we said we must have a standalone site. Dubai is an extremely important commercial center for luxury retail but we were never taking Fortnum and Mason into a shopping mall.

We're only here because this site is possibly the finest retail site in Dubai.

JD: Do you see other safe harbors in the Middle East?

EV: I think we'll keep everything under watch and review.

Our first priority is establishing ourselves in Dubai in this 9,500 square foot store. But beyond the opening of the store, later in the year we'll launch our website so we'll actively develop our online strategy throughout the region.

I don't suppose we'll ever be in multiple sites across the region, maybe one or two additional sites.

JD: You have a Gulf base of customers, can you take me through what you can offer them to help you expand?

EV: One of the original attractions of coming to the Middle East was that after water the second most popular drink is tea.

We've been tea merchants for 300 years. So it's kind of an exciting opportunity just from a tea point of view. Tea will be at the cornerstone of the product offer and also at the restaurant.

But beyond that the hamper business (and) the wicker business that Fortnum and Mason is most famous for across the globe ... the UAE (and) Dubai in particular are very gifting cultures and orientated towards gifting.

Of course the wicker basket and hamper is a perfect gifting solution.

See also: The Middle East's new king of hotels

See also: Iraq's oil ambitions

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