Why a legacy brand shouldn't stop being innovative

Nisreen Shocair is one of the most celebrated entrepreneurs in the Middle East. As president of Virgin Megastore MENA, she knows a thing or two about disruption. We sat down with her at Virgin Disruptors to find out more about how they are changing the world, even as a brand with a long history.

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What you will learn from reading this article:

  • How to juggle innovation and a legacy
  • How to change customers’ behaviours
  • Why cooperating with competition can be beneficial

On juggling disruption with legacy

Virgin Megastore has a history that stretches back 45 years, which for some would make it hard to stay ahead of the curve. But, even though Shocair says their youngest customers still refer to it as a record store (“They don’t even know what a record is!”), Virgin Megastore is working hard to lose that label, while still benefitting from the legacy that the brand has.

“Legacy is not necessarily a bad thing,” she says. “I’ve always worked on turnarounds. I think you need to find out what was great about the legacy and I think in our case, if you think about the imagery, all the launches of the artists, Times Square, Oxford Street, Champs-Élysées, it doesn’t get better than that, it’s so iconic.

“The most important thing that we never wanted to move away from is the element of entertainment. Virgin Megastore will always be about entertainment, no matter what you do. So now you’re not necessarily selling it as a physical product but as soon as you walk in, the shop is loud, happy, people are energised, lots of people dancing, moving their feet, doing something, it’s got to be in there at all times. And that’s the legacy of the brand and I don’t think we should move away from it.”

On changing customer behaviour

Shocair’s not just out on a mission to change consumer’s views on Virgin Megastore though, she wants to change the way that they shop too. 

“Normally when you think of shoes you’re thinking about going to a shoe store. But the young people are thinking differently, they’re saying, I’m going to go to a store because I really love it and it makes me feel good and then while I’m there I’m going to see what else they have and maybe they’re going to recommend things for me,” she explains. “But I saw that 10 years ago, maybe because I was seeing that kind of change with my daughter and her friends.”

She says that while some might think that brand loyalty is a dying thing with young people, that’s not actually true. “Young people shop at three to four brands maximum. They actually don’t shop around as much as you think.”

As such, when looking at trends Shocair decided that she wanted Virgin to be number one with young people. She wanted her stores to be the place that they would go – and then when she found brands that she thought that they would like, she would put it into store and expand their offering. “It started with beauty and then shoes and then sunglasses and then hair products. Next we’re going to be launching a gym and a hair salon and a barber shop, because why not? You’re going to come in, spend some time, get it all done, be with your friends, and move around from one space to another without feeling confined. It sounds ok, I would have liked that.”

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On disruptive business

Shocair says that the story she’ll be taking back to her team is “how amazing the Virgin brand is, how open-minded we are to different experiences”. She says: “We’ll look at the planet and we’ll look at m&ms and we’ll look at psychology, all at the same time. We are a brand that is trying to do a lot of good and I was thinking today about the effort that went into this event on, the blood, sweat and tears that has gone into this to basically educate more people.”

She says that when she was in business schools, she learnt about ‘co-opetition’ where businesses meet with their competitors and share how they get things done. “This is bigger than that. This is Virgin going out there and telling everyone, ‘this is what inspires us, we’d like to inspire you. Go do whatever you want with it, even if it means competing with us. That’s good, we need more good ideas, more entrepreneurs.’ I’ve not heard of a single company that does that.”

If you joined us in London and would like to share your highlights, and how you've been inspired to make a change in your world, drop us an email on social.media@virgin.com with the subject Virgin Disruptors 2016.

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