Whenever Emirati Abdullah Mohammad Al Shamsi is refurbishing his home or seeking out bargains for his household needs, his go-to place is the iconic Dragon Mart in Dubai.
At least 120km away from his home in Al Ain, the sprawling 1.2 kilometre-long, 150,000sq.m, dragon-shaped retail complex, along Al Awir Road towards Hatta, just off Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Road, is the largest trading hub for Chinese products outside mainland China. An adjacent sister mall, Dragon Mart 2, opened in 2015 with a hypermarket, 12-screen cinema complex, multi-storey car park and a 251-room hotel directly connected to the mall.
Dragon Mart 1 is divided into seven zones with a total of more than 3,500 outlets offering a wide variety of products, from shoes and sports apparel to office and home furnishings, equipment and electronics, building materials, machinery, medicine, novelty items, and fashion. You name it, they have probably have it.
With his wife and three-year-old child in tow, Al Shamsi, after scoring curtains, garden accessories, knick-knacks and other interior décor, told Khaleej Times that Dragon Mart means three words: “Bargain, bargain, bargain”.
“I’m impressed with the selection and, of course, the price. The total cost for all my purchase would be at least 30-40 per cent higher if I bought all these from a mall. A dimmer, for example, which I got for only Dh20, would at least be around Dh100 from a shop in a mall,” Al Shamsi said.
“But one has to know how to negotiate the price,” Al Shamsi added. “It also pays well if you know how to scour for the right product and you need to wear comfortable shoes and allocate enough time to look for whatever you need at the right price.
“Sometimes you can get carried away when you compare prices that are lower in the malls. Inspect first the product and see the quality in relation to the cost,” he advised.
Negotiating the price is sometimes a challenge not because owners are stingy but because of the language barrier. The Chinese language is also tonal, meaning varying intonation will have a difference to a word or syllable of a similar sound.
Majority, if not all, of the stalls are owned by Chinese traders and to adapt to a multicultural setting, many shops have hired Filipino, Indian, Pakistani and Arabic staff. Many Chinese traders, however, try their best to learn and communicate in conversational English.
“At least we can count numbers in English,” said Wan Joy, 28, who is originally from Nanjing, the capital of China’s eastern Jiangsu Province. She said she changed her name to Joy – her original name is Wan Jing – to make it easier for customers to remember her name.
Joy, who sells ladies apparel, said they offer the same quality of garments in the mall, at a lower price. Giving discount is also a standard procedure. She explained, in broken English, that their business mantra or the Chinese philosophy in doing commerce is to go by the volume, meaning: Sell at a little profit but make sure you sell a lot. “Even if you earn little but you sell many, you earn more,” she emphasised.
“Prices here at Dragon Mart are actually wholesale rates,” added Nelcy Lomibao, a Filipina sales staff at a cosmetics shop. “Dragon Mart is the trading hub for various Chinese products. Before they go to various malls across Dubai, they drop them here first. That’s why our prices are relatively cheaper,” she explained.
“Business is brisk here, especially during weekends and holidays. There are so many shops to choose from and sometimes it can be chaotic but always we are warm with customers. However, if you are looking for high-end branded products are suited for you, then this is not the place for you,” she added.
A regular shopper at Dragon Mart, Leanna Keyes, said: “You will not find brand names here but you will definitely enjoy seeing something a bit different. I like Dragon Mart a lot because I’m happy to embrace its difference and I can always pick up some bargains.”