From Lebanon to Raleigh, 3 generations of clothing

vbridges@newsobserver.comJanuary 14, 2013 


  • Business advice from the Maloufs • Simplify in the beginning. Let the market dictate how big you can become. • Sell your business concept to your suppliers “because they have vested interested in you succeeding,” Abdullah Malouf said. Also, ask your suppliers to work with you under an informal networking partnership.

— In a condo on Blount Street in downtown Raleigh, the Malouf family is working to import their children’s garment business to the U.S.

The effort is being led by Ray Malouf, 25, the third generation to enter the family business.

In 1965, Ray Malouf’s grandfather, Chehadi Malouf, founded Eastern Commercial Agencies, a wholesale clothing distribution company, in his hometown of Beirut, Lebanon. The company initially imported U.S.-made Buster Brown garments into Lebanon, but now represents brands such as Kanz, Krickets and Blue Seven from North America and Europe, and distributes to about 180 stores and clients in the Middle East.

Eastern Commercial Agencies is now headed by Ray Malouf’s father, Abdallah Malouf. He has an office in Beirut, but runs Eastern Commercial Agencies out of an office that he shares with his wife, Joanne, his son, Ray, and the family dog, Toby. Joanne and Abdallah Malouf live in a condo above the office and Ray Malouf lives in Raleigh.

In 2009, Ray Malouf, who grew up in Cary, graduated from New Jersey’s Seton Hall University and started a two-year internship with his father.

“He was saying from day one in Raleigh, ‘How about some retail,’ ” said Abdallah Malouf, about Ray Malouf. “I kept on saying, ‘Well, the time will come.’ ”

In 2012, Abdallah and Ray Malouf created Nü, and Ray Malouf was appointed chief operating officer. The new arm of Eastern Commercial Agencies uses the family’s longstanding relationships with garment companies to offer quality children’s name-brand clothes to U.S. customers at affordable prices.

“It is somewhat a natural progression of things to say ‘If you can source something at a good price, why should you not retail it directly,’ ” Abdallah Malouf said.

Nüvonivo, which is funded by Eastern Commercial Agencies, also gives the family’s company the opportunity to enter the U.S. market, and creates a job for Ray Malouf where he doesn’t have to travel six months out of the year.

The online venture, which imports products to Raleigh from Europe and Canada and then ships to customers, created new conundrums for the Malouf family.

They anticipated a spring 2012 launch of Nüvonivo’s website. In reality, the creation of the site took about a year, which resulted in the company delaying its launch until summer.

Abdallah Malouf is accustomed to building a customer base by offering quality products at reasonable prices. However, since Nüvonivo is essentially a startup, the company has to attract customers by addressing two crucial but challenging marketing components.

“People don’t know our name, and people don’t know the brands that we are offering,” Ray Malouf said.

To get customers to Nüvonivo, Ray Malouf has tried various marketing techniques, including an ineffective email blast from purchased lists, free standard shipping and returns, and advertising on Google, Facebook and blogs that target mothers.

Facebook and Pinterest have ultimately evolved into key tools that engage customers and market promotions, Ray Malouf said. The biggest bump in customer engagement followed a September promotion that offered customers a $50 credit for registering on Nü

The Maloufs eventually want to open a brick-and-mortar shop in Raleigh to give customers an opportunity to touch and feel its products, the Maloufs said. Abdallah Malouf hopes its customer base will expand and the company will start making money by Christmas.

“This is my dearest wish,” said Abdallah Malouf about building a loyal customer base. “Once they see (the product), and once they see the price. Once they touch it and know how much they paid for it, they will never go anywhere else.”

Bridges: 919-829-8917

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