Debenhams among British invasion of Karachi’s high street

British high street stores are flocking to the sprawling, chaotic megacity of Karachi eager to cash in on a growing middle class with money to spend, according to ministers and business leaders.
Debenhams is the latest household name to enter the market and will become Pakistan’s first international department store when it opens next month.
It means braving a city notorious for corruption, power cuts, strikes, extortion rackets and repeated bouts of bitter ethnic violence.
The rewards more than make up for the risks, according to Yasin Paracha, the man behind Team A Ventures, which is the franchisee for five British stores which have already opened their doors.
“British brands have a great name in Pakistan,” he said reeling off some of the recent successes. “Mothercare and Next already have tremendous awareness here.”
He added that Karachi was home to a rich jet set suspicious of Pakistani stores and who shopped instead in London, Paris or Dubai.
The British invasion is being backed by David Cameron’s government, which is committed to increasing trade between Pakistan and the UK to £2.5bn each year by 2015.
Ministers have flitted back and forth emphasising the close historical ties between the two countries, the one million-strong Pakistani community in Britain and an opportunity for struggling brands such as Mothercare – which announced a £103m annual loss last month – to find areas of growth while high streets at home remain in the doldrums.
Although Karachi’s 18 million population and its status as Pakistan’s commercial capital make it an attractive destination for British companies, the city’s volatile mix of ethnic, criminal and political rivalries also leads to frequent violent convulsions.
In April, hundreds of families fled the densely populated area of Lyari as security forces conducted a sweep of drug dealers and criminal gangs, turning the area into an urban battlefield.
More than 20 people died in four days.
The city is also thought to Mr Paracha said he worked with expats and the British High Commission to give advice to companies thinking of opening in Pakistan.
“We can’t deny that there’s a security situation here but life does continue,” he said.
Lord Green, the Trade and Investment minister, visited the city earlier this year as part of a push to encourage British companies to invest.
He said businesses had to shed their prejudices about Pakistan and remember that emerging markets all brought their own risks – and potential profits.
“This is a large market and a growing market,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
“There’s a burgeoning middle class. One hundred million people have mobile phones here and there is all of the obvious appetite for branded retail goods that you see in every other emerging market here too, so there’s a lot to work on.”
The new stores – including Crabtree and Evelyn which opened in March – are clustered together in Dolmen City Mall, offering a haven of air-conditioned Britishness away from the hurly-burly of the Karachi streets.
A spokeswoman for Debenhams said the company had done extensive market research before deciding to open in Karachi.
“International brands in Pakistan in general are performing strongly and we have no current security concerns,” she said.