At the heart of any successful business is a great idea. Some seem so simple; we wonder why nobody thought of them before. One such thinker is Adnan Nalwala, Executive Director, Akar Technical Services and Natural Stone Company.
Mr. Nalwala ventured into his 40-year-old family business almost seven years ago, but his relentless dedication has helped the company grow from strength to strength and deliver prestigious projects such as Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Royal Opera House Muscat, Sultan Taimur Bin Faisal Mosque -turning his facility into one of the largest supplier and global distributor of natural stone in the GCC region.
So, what keeps him rock solid in the stone business? Versatility has been a key strength, points out Adnan Nalwala and seeking new opportunities to invest for the long-term by innovating everywhere, from sales and marketing to the supply chain.
As the saying goes, “success is nothing but doing common things uncommonly well.” ISME engaged in a candid interview with the young businessman to understand his innovative business practices that largely determined the destiny of his business. Below is the edited and condensed version of the interview.
In view of the current market scenario in the construction and building materials sectors impacted by low oil prices, what is your view of the outlook of the natural stone market?
Since oil represents less than a third of the UAE’s GDP, we don’t expect the oil price fluctuations to directly impact/affect construction projects and future plans. Historically, too, the oil industry has performed in cycles with peak and off peak performance period.
Coming back to the natural stones segment, it’s crucial to understand that stone in today’s market accounts for as much as 12 per cent of the cost for many construction projects. Hence, it’s critical for delivering successful projects to understand how to make best use of stones. We have recorded consistent top line growth in the last few years. We are optimistic this momentum is likely to continue going forward in the anticipation for Expo 2020 -especially for Dubai.
Where do you see the growth coming from?
UAE’s economy and financial ecosystem is quite resilient, with Dubai’s strategic geographical location making it a credible hub for global firms to access the fast growing trade corridors of Africa and South-east Asia. We expect the anticipation leading up to Expo 2020 will drive a lot of infrastructure projects in the region, bringing the major players from both established markets and developing markets together.
What is the annual demand for natural stones in Oman, UAE and the GCC? Where do you source the natural stones from?
The raw material is an integral component of our product offering. Hence, we rigorously evaluate our product category to balance the choices our customers expect from us, keeping in my mind the latest flooring and landscaping trends. And thus, we have quite a diverse portfolio for sourcing raw materials, which includes local natural resources as well as imported raw materials from Turkey, Italy, Spain, China, India, and Portugal.
What was the investment in Natural Stone Co LLC – when it was established?
The factory set up cost was over 22 million dhs.
What is your experience from the current economic slowdown? How did the current slowdown affect your business and the future order book?
Construction and real-estate is a cyclical business, which is synonymous not in Middle East alone, but also across the globe. As I said earlier, Dubai is not an oil economy, but a destination for people to come on a holiday, shop and, also access the fast growing trade markets of African region. We, truly, believe, that the near-term economic challenges would not obscure the upward economic trajectory of the overall region over the medium-term. Since, we continually evaluate our product offering to ensure that it meets the needs and interests of our customers and have delivered prestigious projects to the government in Oman and UAE, we have successfully managed to keep our order-book strong and sturdy despite the negative headwinds.
How does natural stone benefit as compared to other tiling and landscaping products in terms of environmental and performance aspects?
We strongly believe that excellence in quality, health safety and environment conservation are absolutely vital for the sustainability of our existence in the business -which enables us to succeed in meeting the customer’s needs. We always encourage the fulfilment of these requirement through various incentivized initiatives as follows:
- Identification and tractability of material at first point of entry by providing item code identification.
- Reduction in sound pollution by providing architectural solutions at working premises.
- Reduction in dust pollution by providing modern dust collectors.
- Improves quality of work by providing modern and robotic computerized precision controlled machines
- Energy conservation by implementing Zero drain out policy at factory premises
- Reduction in electrical consumption by installation of LED lightings.
- Natural lighting and cross ventilation at factory buildings.
- Healthy and safe working environment by utilizing Gantry carne and Overhead crane
- Strict implementation of no work without PPE at factory premises.
All of the above initiatives are complementing the four best practices commissioned by the Natural Stone Council of U.S. such as water recycling, minimizing of dust/noise/vibration, solid waste management and efficient transport and handling of stone during pre and post production stage.
What is the annual production capacity of Natural Stone Co LLC?
We can process over 15,000 sq meters of material in a month. We have nearly doubled our output with the new factory and also the extra dry lay area allows us to move material out of the factory sooner, giving the clients a shorter lead time for the execution cycle for each project.
How many people are working in the factory currently?
As one of the largest natural stone facility in the region, we have a powerful access to a network of quarries, skilled craftsmen, artisans and advanced technology tools. As of today, our workforce strength stands over 600 people.
Which is the biggest market for you?
Having delivered prestigious projects such as Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Royal Opera House Muscat, Sultan Taimur Bin Faisal Mosque, Natural Stone is set to grow its footprint across Oman and is also in the process of acquiring business contracts in the United Arab Emirates.
Do you have any plans to expand production? If at all, then when do you want to expand and how big would be the investment?
We have already expanded production with a 25,000 M2 facility in the Sultanate of Oman. The factory, the largest in the region, is one of the most reputable stone supply and installation providers, with access to a network of quarries, skilled craftsmen, artisans and advanced technology tools. The factory is equipped with the latest machines such as the CNC Water Jet Machines, 6 Axis CNC Diamond Wire Saw Machines, 5 Axis Stone Working Station, Gang Saw, Bridge Cutting Machines, Block Cutters, Single Head Polishing Machines, Side Cutting Machines, Lathe Machine, EOT Cranes, Gantry Crane.
Three tips you would give to a budding business man:
- Have a financial runway for three years at least. Most entrepreneurs have runways for only six months and that’s when the business ‘runs out of gas’. Starting a business is like running a marathon, not sprinting. You need to able to last the long haul and it takes time to build a brand and understand the business cycle. If you don’t have the cash flow sorted for at least 3 years, your business in all probability will experience a
- Get a value-ad investor on board. Don’t just partner with equity with investors that are giving money to own your business. They must bring something to the table in terms of a client base or good team members who will execute.
- Unless your business is specially creating a demand, have access to a client base that will be willing to give you work from day one. Most entrepreneurs think of getting the client after the business is set up, that generally is too late. Understand what the gap is between the offerings from the client, and fill that gap. It will give your business and justify the switch from the client to you, from your competitor.
- Lastly and most importantly build a good team. It is nearly impossible for a single person to do everything, which is why a good business is also called a “company”. It comprises of talented people that will get things done. An entrepreneur must be able to draw a clear vision of why people should work for them and highlight the “x” factor about the service/ product offering.