For anyone who has owned a jersey signed by a sporting hero, the warm pangs of nostalgia that come with seeing it on your wall will be very familiar. Two Dubai-based entrepreneurs are looking to capitalise on that emotional connection with their new business, The BootRoom Collection.
British retailers Craig McKelvie and Graeme Henderson believe that the Middle East represents a potentially booming market for memorabilia and this year both men swapped their respective day jobs at Harvey Nichols and Bloomingdales for the uncertain world of entrepreneurship.
The concept of The BootRoom Collection is simple: sports fans – principally football for now – are given the opportunity to purchase signed memorabilia from their favourite players. At present, signed shirts and boots can be bought from Gallery One and Virgin Megastore – while an e-commerce platform is set to launch before the end of the year.
The collectables and memorabilia market is thought to be worth around $370billion worldwide, with the majority of business done in America. But recognizing the Middle East’s seeming thirst for all things football, McKelvie and Henderson feel there is a real opportunity for growth in the region.
“I told Graeme I had this idea and we looked at a few projections,” McKelvie tells Sport Industry Insider. “We spoke to suppliers in the UK and they said no-one was in the Middle East so it seemed the gap in the market was there. But we wanted to create our own brand.
“A few people had tried to bring memorabilia out here before but most of them were doing it on an ad hoc basis and they didn’t have the retail experience that we do.
“Now we’ve been operating out of Virgin for about four or five months now. We want the brand to be accessible and that is why Virgin is a good fit. We’ve also just gone online with Kora in Arabic, too, one of the region’s biggest sports websites.”
With signed shirts appearing on all manner of e-commerce sites, McKelvie and Henderson knew they required something to make their brand stand out. The internet is flooded with fake memorabilia so the authenticity of The BootRoom Collections products is crucial to their offering, which includes a digital fingerprint for every signed product.
“There are a lot of fakes out there and we don’t want to be anywhere near that,” McKelvie explains. “We need the consumer to understand that we have done as much as we can to prove where it is from.
“One of our key differentials is having a QR code that allows customers to see the moment their shirt was signed. We take them back to the day of the signing and can show imagery and in some cases video, of when Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi were signing a shirt for example.
“That digital aspect is hugely important because now people don’t need a certificate of authenticity with a signature that could be anyone’s and a picture that could be from anytime. It is the most fundamental piece of our brand – to create trust and confidence.”
While Ronaldo and Messi memorabilia has unsurprisingly emerged as the most popular so far, the player in third position came as a shock to The BootRoom Collection’s founders.
“Ronaldo and Messi are obviously the two biggest sellers,” Henderson says. “But the third biggest one, would you believe it, is Brian Laudrup at Rangers. We obviously hadn’t stocked our stores with Laudrup shirts but that has been the most requested so far. He’s a living legend for the Rangers fans.
“The Middle East is a melting pot of people so I guess quirks like this shouldn’t be surprising. Obviously Real Madrid and Barcelona have huge followings in the Gulf but then you find that there are loads of Scots and so people also want Rangers, Celtic, Aberdeen.”
The pair’s own allegiances exemplify this point. Henderson is Scottish but grew up in Bristol meaning both Hearts and Bristol Rovers fight for his affection. McKelvie on the other hand, is a dyed-in-the-wool Liverpool supporter.
“We understand the passion of football fans because that is us,” McKelvie explains. “I might never meet Steven Gerrard but I’ve got a signed replica No. 8 shirt from the 2005 Champions League final on my wall. Every time I walk past it takes me back to that night in Istanbul.
“You know where you were as a fan at certain moments, whether it was Istanbul for Liverpool or – Sheringham and Solskjaer scoring in 1999 for Manchester United. We want The BootRoom Collection to help preserve and enhance those memories.”
“I love the online approach but we want people to come in, to touch and feel. We’ve come from bricks and mortar so it is really important to us.”
While The BootRoom Collection is still very much in its infancy, Henderson and McKelvie are busily planning the next steps in the company’s journey. A major part of that is a desire to have a flagship store in Dubai.
“There is no question that we want to have our own store in Dubai,” McKelvie says wistfully. “We’ve come from a bricks and mortar retail background so it is really important to us. I love the online approach but I want people to come in, to touch and feel.
“Ideally we’d like to bring players in to do signings as well, to get people closer to their heroes. And of course we want to make sure we are reaching out to the whole Gulf region – so we see The BootRoom Collection with a presence in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait.”
In order to achieve those ambitions, The BootRoom Collection will need further investment down the line and the owners are already assessing their options.
“One of the hardest things for start-ups is cash flow,” Henderson admits. “It’s obviously a challenge – if we had a couple of million dirhams behind us we’d be everywhere but it’s not that easy so we have been careful to select the places we feel give us the most publicity.
“We are proud of what we’ve got and while we are not desperate to have someone come into it we are realists. For example, if we wanted to get players to come and sign for us – someone like Mohamed Salah or Lionel Messi would need to be paid six figures.
“Yes, we’re open to investment – that it is what is needed to help the business grow. What we’re focusing on at the moment is the brand but hopefully people will see the product and look for investment. There is so much potential in it.”
For more information on The BootRoom Collection’s products, email email@example.com