Having already created waves in the GCC and European hotel case goods furniture market, Oman's Zubair Furnishing is targeting new markets in its ambitious plans to expand its global presence further.

The Muscat-based manufacturer, a pioneer in the hotel furniture industry and a leading contract furnisher in the Gulf, has during the last two years also branched into standard ranges of furniture for furnished accommodations and household furniture for individual customers. Currently Zubair exports almost 90 per cent of its output. About 10 per cent of its business comes from Oman, 40 per cent from other GCC states, 40 per cent from Europe and 10 per cent from rest of the world.

"While consolidating our existing markets, primarily in the GCC and Europe, we are also definitely looking at entering new markets such as the US, Africa and Russia over the next few years," says Zubair Furnishing vice-president - sales and marketing Pradheep Ramanathan. "These are the three focus markets for us over the next few years, which would give us a worldwide presence."

The company has already made initial inroads into Africa and Russia.

The Zubair network presently spans across the GCC and Europe. It is claimed to be the only Gulf-based company in the industry with such a wide presence in two continents. In Europe, it focuses primarily on the UK, Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg), France and Germany. The company has offices in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the UK, Benelux and Germany.

"We have not yet looked at other parts of Europe. These are the major potential areas of business for us.

"The fact that we already have experience in dealing with all the major hotel groups gives us a competitive edge and puts us in a position from which we can very easily look at these new markets," says Ramanathan.

Zubair is also in the process of expanding into more pockets in the GCC region.

Zubair produces two types of wooden furniture - melamine-faced and veneer-faced MDF furniture. The inner material or the core of the furniture is MDF (medium density fibreboard).

The company serves basically three market segments:

  • Custom-made case goods, soft furnishings and joinery works for hotels;

  • Standard ranges for furnished accommodation; and

  • Standard lines of household furniture for the retail markets, which are sold through a dealer network all over the GCC.

    Zubair started as a hotel furnishing company in 1971 and diversified into the standard furniture range only two years ago. The company has a 500-strong skilled workforce, including a multinational design, estimation and contracts execution team which has the ability to cater to diverse tastes.

    Zubair's core competence is in manufacturing custom-made multi-run items and the prime target market for case goods furniture is four-, and five-star hotels.

    One of the key strengths of the company is its excellent response time. "We have developed a sound reputation for on-time delivery through successful execution of projects carried out in the last 10 to 15 years. This has led Zubair to become a preferred supplier to many of the important hotel chains worldwide such as the Hilton, Radisson, Sheraton and Marriott," continues Ramanathan. "In fact, we have received a contract for supply of furniture to all new-build Hilton hotels in the UK over the next three years.

    "Our ability to deliver on time gives us a definite advantage when compared to manufacturers from Europe or the Far East," Ramanathan adds.

    He says the company's products are of a very high quality and of robust, sturdy designs. The finest of raw materials are used in producing these quality products.

    In the standard ranges, Zubair boasts of two unique selling propositions (USP):

  • Availability in a knocked-down condition, which means that the products

    can be easily assembled at site or by the customer, and they can also be disassembled and reassembled easily. This is a key advantage to the dealer and to the customer; and

  • The customer can have furniture for the entire home, including for the living room, bedroom and dining room from any particular range, giving a kind of synergy to the home.

    If one piece of furniture in that particular range is to be replaced later, the customer can do so, maintaining the synergy. The customer also has the option of buying the entire package or in small lots and still be able to maintain the synergy across a particular design or colour. Zubair has 15 such ranges.

    This synergy is offered by no other company in the Middle East, claims Ramanathan.

    He says the concept of furnished accommodations is increasingly finding favour in the Middle East and Zubair caters to this market with its standard ranges available in both melamine and veneered finishes.

    "We have excellent flexibility in our standard ranges due to the knock-down condition in which we supply the same, leading to savings in transportation," he says. The major thrust area for the standard furniture is the European retail market, primarily France, Germany and the UK. The company has already made its initial presence in this segment over the last one year.

    "At the same time, we would also want to establish ourselves as a most-reputed manufacturer in the GCC. Since we are the pioneers and have been a leading brand over the years, this is something which should come naturally to us," he says.

    The standard furniture range for individual customers is sold through a network of dealers spread across the Gulf. All the leading furniture dealers have been stocking and selling Zubair furniture. These include brand names such as Trinity, Selena, Tiber and Avon.

    Speaking on the major projects the company has handled so far, Ramanathan says references play a crucial role in the industry. "When we bid to furnish hotels, the most important factor people would like to know is what projects we have done in the past."

    Zubair's list of references include all the major chains such as Hilton, Sheraton, Radisson, Marriott and Holiday Inn - in the GCC, Europe and elsewhere.

    "We have been the preferred supplier for most of these chains. These projects have really contributed to creating the reputation we enjoy," he says.

    This notable achievement also helps in planning for the future.

    "We know fully well that these groups will be coming up with so many hotels in the next few years and since we are a preferred supplier, we can easily plan our business for the future. We can accordingly expand our capacity and manpower," he continues.

    Zubair predicts a very positive outlook for the sector with the Gulf region seeing a boom in the hospitality industry. "The industry is very vast. No single company can offer every product and most reputed companies position themselves servicing niche segments. However, when you look at the industry in its totality, prospects are very good for the next few years," says Ramanathan.

    "GCC suppliers and manufacturers are now being more widely accepted in Europe which was not the case earlier," he says. "The fact that one can get a quality product at relatively lower prices from the Middle East is something which is helping the region's producers to establish more firmly."

    Added to this is the fact that the GCC economies are stable. Most of them are linked to the US economy which makes them very strong and reliable, he says.

    "If you look at our target markets, again it is very promising both for the hotels and furnished accommodation segments. Major hotel chains such as Hilton,

    Holiday Inn and Radisson groups, where we already have a significant presence, are going in for massive expansions. That gives us the confidence that the industry is moving in the right direction," adds Ramanathan.

    "The fact that the company is part of the highly-diversified Zubair Group of Companies in Muscat, which has almost 80-odd companies, conveys the firm's stability. The Zubair name is today synonymous with trust," he says.

    Zubair Furnishing also enjoys a distinction of being the only manufacturing unit within the group.

    Ramanathan agrees that competition in the sector is intense and the margins are slowly getting squeezed.

    "People are obviously expecting better products at better prices, that is the order of the day not only in the Gulf but all over the world. So companies such as ours resort to value engineering and product improvements through automation, which also makes us more efficient in the process," he says.

    Zubair has highly-skilled technical manpower and sophisticated machinery.

    The company is the only ISO9001-certified company in the furniture industry in Oman and is currently going in for further upgrades, he says.

    The company's systems come under strict quality scrutiny and all procedures are clearly spelt out.

    "We have the ability to design any furniture to suit the client's needs. This is what we ideally call custom-made furniture," says group product manager P Ravi Rao.

    Zubair employs sophisticated CNC (computerised numerically controlled) machines and regularly upgrades them to meet the needs of the time.

    "Being an organised large unit, we have the flexibility that is required in this kind of industry. Contract furnishing is not a uniform type of business like consumer products. There will be ups and downs so we need to adapt ourselves to meet the necessary situation in the best possible way, which we have been doing very well over the years," says Rao.

    Zubair adopts flexible manufacturing processes which enable it to increase its output capacity whenever required.

    Zubair stands for total commitment to the customer and, over the years, has established a very strong brand equity in the region, he says. Its value-for-money offerings both for the premium and middle-income segments have made a mark in the Middle East, he adds.

    Zubair's thriving retail showrooms across Oman are testimony to this fact, Rao concludes.