Alessandro Gaffuri is a retail strategy specialist with international experience across Europe and the Middle East. Using the knowledge gained from working with shopping malls since 2004, he has continued to develop the Favourite Meeting Place concept initiated in 2007. Founding CELS Group in 2013, his vision is now being realised through CELS offices in Italy, UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Germany and the UK and the company has become the go to strategists for Mall operators and developers. Here RLI catches up with him from his Dubai office.

As a company, CELS Group believe in the power of WHY. This WHY gives them a cause, a way of thinking, a way of acting, it drives the way they build relationships with clients and what gives its teams the ability to inspire those around them. “It’s not what we do that is important, it’s why we do it,” explains Alessandro Gaffuri, Founder & CEO of CELS Group. “We are fulfilled in the work we do because we star t with WHY.” In everything the company does, they believe in bringing people together, they believe in the power of human relationships and they believe it is these emotions that drive behaviour. “The way we connect people is by creating unique experiences through storytelling – innovative concepts, events, prestigious decorations, engaging activations and digital connections; this is how we transform places into destinations. We call them Favourite Meeting Places,” says Gaffuri.

The vision of storytelling began for Gaffuri when he was just seven years old. He was on holiday on the coast in Italy and he and his sister Annalisa were selling necklaces and bracelets as the tourists would come and want to buy a souvenir to take home with them. “We were from a different city, but I created a story of two cute local children selling gifts for the tourists to take home with them.We would spend our week on the beach preparing everything and on Saturday and Sunday we would sit outside the local church and sell. It wasn’t about the money; I enjoyed creating and the storytelling,” Gaffuri explains.

It made him realise, even at such a young age, that it was not about what they were selling, it was the connection they made with the tourists that he enjoyed and his vision for favourite meeting places has been growing ever since. Throughout our time with Alessandro, he often mentions the EGO Mall, so what is the significance of this? “You might be a global developer, but the consumer wants to relate to a mall that is at the heart of the local community. Consumers are fickle, they are not interested in who owns the mall, how tall it is or how much it costs to build; this is what we call an Ego Mall.”

Gaffuri goes on to explain that having the developers name blazoned across the proper ty means nothing, what the consumer wants to feel is that it is their place, a place to go that is local and relevant, and that too often the emphasis is placed only on the design and the retail brands within it. He feels that they need to design destinations with purpose, with a narrative that connects through the pillars they believe in, from the inside out and across all customer experiences.

A retail venue must be the heart and soul of its community and express true and positive values to build authentic relationships with visitors.The way in which a brand is presented to its customer influences the way it is going to be perceived. Malls need to adapt and offer more than just a place for retail, they need to become a destination, “the first place in mind” and “the place to be.”

CELS Group works in partnership with its clients, involving their retail tenants, to create emotive, immersive experiences. They have implemented a five-pillar model that enables their beliefs which in-turn allows their emotions, and the connection to their surroundings, to drive their behaviour and loyalty.

“At CELS Group, we are experts in our field, our specialty is identifying the emotional trigger for every action. Emotions constitute powerful and dominant influences on how we live and interact with others. The choices consumers make, the actions they take, and their perceptions are influenced by the emotions they experience,” Gaffuri comments.

Standing for Customer Engagement Loyalty Solutions, CELS Group creates Favourite Meeting Places where art, culture, music, good food, entertainment and edutainment have the same power of attraction as the shopping related activities. “Our aim is to support mall management and developers in increasing footfall and dwell time in their assets; transforming spaces into ‘real places’ – where visitors feel a sense of belonging, ultimately transforming malls into destinations,” Alessandro concludes.

www.cels.group