Dubai: Visiting Dragon Mart in Dubai is like going to a “mini Chinese city”. The stores are largely run by Chinese merchants, many of whom reside in the adjacent international city. They sell almost everything: clothing and apparel, electronics, toys, shoes and sportswear, office and home furniture, building materials, machinery, medicine, novelties, furniture, household products and more, accommodating around 40 million visitors per year.
A community in its own right, Chinese expats call Dragon Mart their second home here.
Located along Al Awir Road, just off Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Road, the original sprawling shopping complex – shaped like a dragon with a length of 1.2 km “from head to tail” – is the largest Chinese mall in the world outside mainland China.
Thanks to the UAE’s welcoming policy, many Chinese saw it as a good opportunity to come to the country and settle there. According to the Chinese Consulate in Dubai, there are now over 300,000 Chinese expatriates living in the UAE, of which around 95% are based in Dubai; and about 20% of total Chinese expats live and work in the vicinity of Dragon Mart and the nearby community of International City.
dragon wakes up
Many Chinese entrepreneurs have flourished in Dubai and one of them is Feizhen Xu, who was one of the first Chinese businessmen to set up shop at Dragon Mart.
Originally from the Chinese province of Zhenjiang, Xu first came to Dubai in 2001 and started selling shoes, fashion clothes, food and drinks. She told Gulf News that it took a while for her Dragon Mart store to go on hiatus.
“The first two years of business were slow, as Dragon Mart was still new. But sales slowly picked up and soared. The wholesale business boomed in 2014 and it has grown steadily since then,” she noted, along with other Chinese traders.
At present, Xu leases about 100,000 sqm of commercial space distributed in Dragon Mart 1 and occupied by about 400 employees.
From the countryside to the city
According to Shumin Zhang, a well-connected Chinese expat in the business world, many Chinese traders in Dubai are not from the Chinese megacities but from the countryside.
They also started as small vendors – selling sundries ranging from lighters to souvenir products – before becoming big. Many of them barely spoke English but understood market trends and were smart enough to be the first to deliver what consumers needed.
One example, Zhang shared, was the hoverboard craze in 2015. The portable, self-balancing two-wheeled personal transportation was first made available at Dragon Mart and a young Chinese shopkeeper who had only thirty years at the time made a murder. by selling nearly 20 million dirhams worth of hoverboards in just six months.
Zhang added, “Chinese businessmen are very flexible, which means when a particular fashion becomes obsolete, they change their products and move on to the next trend.
The secret of success
Another secret of successful Chinese businessmen is that they “work non-stop” – they tend to their stores seven days a week and they are always active.
“We work hard and always keep a listening ear,” noted Zhihua Chen, a 70-year-old Chinese businessman. “We monitor the latest and best trends and technologies available in the market so that we don’t miss any business opportunities,” he added.
Originally from Guangdong, a southeastern coastal province of China bordering Hong Kong and Macau, Chen opened his business at Dragon Mart in 2008 selling computers and various electronic products. He was one of the first to pitch gadgets to the first wave of bloggers and social media influencers in the mid-2010s.
Always in the game, Chen is now interested in electric vehicles and green energy. It recently opened the Guangshen Smart City Center at Dragon Mart 2, selling all-electric Volkswagen SUVs. It also invests in AI (artificial intelligence) products and robotics.
All Chinese merchants do not aim to make a large profit from each product sold, but to make small profits by selling more items. “Even if you earn little, but sell more products, your business actually becomes more profitable,” said Qiong Liang, from eastern Anhui province, who now owns a few stores in Dragon Mart.
“People come to us because we offer the cheapest products on the market. We add a bit of margin to sell more items and in the end we earn more,” said Liang, who first worked as a saleswoman before starting her own business.
She and many other Chinese traders said Dragon Mart had become their trading haunt for 15 years. Imbibing the traits of a dragon, which is always nimble and ready to adapt and innovate, they are confident that more shoppers and bargain hunters will continue to enter the “dragon” in the many years to come. .
The Dragon’s Journey
The first Chinese mall in the UAE started with Dragon Mart 1 which occupied a space of 1.2 million square feet. Then Dragon Mart 2 opened in 2015 and doubled in overall size to over 3.6 million square feet. In 2020, the expansion continued with a home furniture building covering nearly 95,000 square feet, with multiple stores and kiosks.
In addition to the 251-room Ibis Styles hotel directly connected to the mall, there is also a 304-room Premier Inn hotel within walking distance. There are also more leisure attractions, restaurants, cafes and a 12-screen Novo cinema.
Rashid Al Harmoodi, manager of Dragon Mart Leasing in Nakheel, told Gulf News why Dragon Mart has become so popular. He said, “Dragon Mart’s popularity stems from the fact that it is the largest Chinese mall in the world outside of mainland China, which means it plays a pivotal role in establishing commerce. strong wholesale and cultural ties between the UAE and China.
“It’s a one-stop shop – selling products in multiple categories – which means there’s something for everyone,” Al Harmoodi noted, adding, “Together, Dragon Mart 1 and Dragon Mart 2 have more than 5,000 stores and we welcome approximately 40 million visitors a year, which is a testament to our offering of a unique shopping experience.”
“To provide our customers with a more diverse experience, Dragon Mart now offers leisure and sports facilities, including Ahdaaf’s rooftop sports complex featuring two football pitches, two cricket nets, two panoramic padel courts , as well as MyGolf (indoor golf club), badminton courts and a snooker centre, which means we have something for everyone,” he added.
Directly across from Dragon Mart is International City, launched by Nakheel in 2002 and well known for its country-themed low-rise clusters. It is a very accessible community for Chinese expats as it shares borders with other popular areas like Silicon Oasis and Dubai International Academic City, as well as villas and townhouses in Al Warsan.
International City is also home to Dubai’s only Chinese Mosque and the Chinese Islamic Cultural Center which caters not only to Chinese Muslims but also to other nationalities from the region. During the last Ramadan, volunteers from the Chinese Islamic Cultural Center distributed about 2,000 food parcels and iftar packets to those waiting in line, regardless of their religion and ethnicity.
The construction of the 26,000 square foot Islamic center was supported by the Dubai-based charity Dar Al Ber Society. Chinese Imam Isaac Khan earlier told Gulf News that the mosque symbolizes tolerance and solidarity. The staff and volunteers of the Chinese mosque come from different nationalities: Chinese, Arabs, Indians, Bangladeshis and some from Central Asia, including Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The longtime Chinese imam also reiterated “the indispensable role of overseas Chinese Muslims from different ethnic backgrounds in the development of the community.”
How to get to Dragon Mart
Driving to Dragon Mart is quick and convenient. It is easily accessible via Al Awir Road / Ras Al Khor Road (E44).
Public transport is available, with bus lines 365, 367, 53 and X23. One can also take the Dubai Metro (red line) and get off at Rashidiya Metro Station and from there take a taxi or a bus.