Alessandro Gaffuri: Inspiring the Shopping Centre Industry Towards the Path of Purpose and Meaning

When people have a clear understanding of their essential purpose, the role they can play in a larger context and the reasons why they need to work hard, they have much greater chances of succeeding. Almost always, successful people have clarity of purpose—a critical knowledge of why they even exist and why they need to struggle. So, being grounded by a sense of purpose and striving towards a clear vision of their goal, they exude excellence in all their professional endeavours. 


A fine contemporary example of a business leader with exceptional clarity of purpose is Alessandro Gaffuri, a leading authority figure in the shopping centre industry. He specialises in helping retailers forge strong bonds as well as loyalty with their customers through real, physical and experiential marketing. Amongst many achievements, he’s the Founder and CEO of ‘CELS Group’ i.e., Customer Engagement Loyalty Solutions Group. It’s a group of six companies, having a clear purpose: to make engaging, fun and lively spaces within malls, airports, parks, hubs and cities where people can come together, connect with each other genuinely and make memories together. It’s an unprecedented service today because it strives to transform shopping experiences into memorable social experiences. 

Alessandro Gaffuri_Founder and CEO of CELS Group
Alessandro Gaffuri, Founder and CEO, CELS Group

From Humble Beginnings to an Innovator at the Forefront of an Industry

As a young boy, Alessandro was very curious about the professional world and its diverse industries. When he was just eight years old, he and his sister sold a variety of homemade gifts to Italian tourists, very successfully. Thus, he learnt a secret of sales success: approaching people with an intention to provide them good quality products honestly and genuinely is the right way. Over the course of his career, he worked extensively in many industries, taking up many roles like salesman, waiter, lifeguard, bartender, restaurant manager and more, with a keen interest in leisure and recreational activities. 

Slowly, Alessandro took up bigger managerial and leadership responsibilities for big enterprises like theme parks, shopping malls, and cinema halls. But as he worked for years across Europe and the GCC, he observed stagnation in the shopping centre industry, especially a lack of meaningful purpose. It needed expert guidance to grow and to thrive, supported by a meaningful purpose and a multi-disciplinary retail strategy. Amongst many successful efforts to improve the industry, he created CELS Group in 2013, as a marketing consultancy agency originally established in Italy, to help malls build strong customer relationships. 

“I was definitely an innovator. All mall developers and managers now understand that there is still something to do to save malls from going out of business. But everyone is still only talking theory. Almost no one is actually practicing anything tangible to support their assets. This is why I am helpful, and this is where CELS Groups comes in handy. We strategize, plan and deliver,” Alessandro says.  

CELS Group is an innovator in the events and shopping centre industries because it practises a multi-disciplinary approach to help clients form strong, genuine and long-lasting bonds with their customers primarily through social experiences. Its independent business units: CELS Events, AFKAR Lighting, First Christmas and VIAFONE Technologies work together to make venues a living space, thus dramatically improving the quality of events. This culminates into fun, lively social experiences that people cherish and so social bonds become just as relevant as commercial or shopping-related interests. 

Bringing People, Businesses and Communities Together in Memorable Social Experiences

CELS Group is a network of international experts fostering and managing customer engagement and experiences. The group helps key players of industries become ‘favourite meeting places’ amongst customers, building loyal relationships and strengthening bonds with their community. “In everything we do, we BELIEVE in bringing people together, we BELIEVE in the power of human relationships, and that emotions drive behaviour. The way we connect people is through creating unique experiences, innovative concepts, spectacular events, top design decorations, engaging activations and digital connections. All this transforms regular PLACES into incredible DESTINATIONS where people feel part of something special,” explains Alessandro. 

The group’s reliable business units, global network and retail brand development expertise help clients open countless new opportunities to grow. To create engaging, immersive and attractive venues, the group studies and explores possibilities within regional cultures, technology, entertainment, art and music. They are well-known particularly for high quality, beautiful and extravagant large-scale exhibitions and events.

A few of their core competencies include thorough festive lightings, decoration, projections, a customer relationship management platform, loyalty programs, customer behavioural analysis tools, an artificial intelligence chatbot platform as well as brand development strategies. In addition to creating memorable spaces combined with retail business ventures, they also offer marketing advisory services.

The group’s clients include prominent malls across the GCC, various tourism authorities of the GCC, municipalities, governments, institutions, real estate companies and theme parks. “We always start with why. We understand each brand’s unique essence. We address their specific needs. Thus, we help realise their full potential,” he says. 

Engaged in Bringing in More Value to the Shopping Centre and Event Industries

Alessandro comes from humble beginnings, but thanks to his passion, perseverance, curious and consistent work over the course of decades, he’s become an authority and a leading figure in the shopping centre industry. For making many key contributions to the shopping centre industry, he’s well-renowned today: he’s received many awards, he’s part of international associations and he’s frequently invited to speak at events in popular cities like London, Manila, Mumbai, Cannes, Dubai, Kiev and Milan. 

Alessandro is one of UAE’s most innovative leaders, having built his company from scratch and over the course of seven years, they have six key offices in six countries including the UAE, with an annual turnover of over 20 million USD. “Find your why, your purpose and manage your company with passion. You must have your staff, more than clients, in your heart. Clients will come when your staff feels like they’re part of a team, safe and guided. We all share the same passion, and we all understand CELS Group’s WHY,” he shares some of his professional values. 

Throughout 2020, the coronavirus pandemic severely affected the shopping centre industry. A big part of the group’s turnover comes from physical events, but restrictions such as lockdown and social distancing limited them. But as Alessandro strongly believes in his work and the group’s purpose, he saw it all as a challenge. By reducing staff salaries for some time, intensifying strategic partnerships with suppliers, increasing efficiency, helping one another survive and finding alternatives, they are now hopeful: they have begun to deliver events slowly and safely. 

Today, Alessandro is engaging in writing a book about improving customer relationships in ‘shopping malls of the future’ and it’s due to be published in March 2021. He’s planning on writing a second book to share how city centres and municipalities can give life to a place. “For the future, I would like to support the Italian government in some key ways. I want to help make Italy the MAIN LEISURE DESTINATION in the world,” he concludes.