A shrewd approach to business has seen Unigulf adapt its business model and successfully grow along with the development of the GCC region over the past 30 years.
The Dubai-based company began life as a distributor of products for the burgeoning local HVAC market, but has evolved into a leading manufacturer and supplier of HVAC and building materials, with grand designs on global expansion.
Prakash Chablani is the current Managing Director and takes up the story:
“Basically we are focussing on the air conditioning industry. Our core business is the distribution of mechanical/building insulation and MEP related; our main emphasis is to serve these markets in the UAE and GCC region”.
“My father started this business because of his passion for air conditioning. Way back in late 1950s, before becoming an entrepreneur, my father was a contractor involved in air conditioning industry”.
“In 1980s, while building and infrastructure projects/industry was taking shape, there was there was a need to import products and supply t the mechanical contractors”.
“Over time the types of products and the nature of demand/services changed and the company engaged with the contractors to understand better what they actually wanted. As a distribution company we imported from all over the world, all the time looking for the products to best suited for the needs of local contractors,” he recalls.
Unigulf is now celebrating its 30th anniversary and the Unigulf Group has developed into one of the leading players that supplies various mechanical and building insulation and other HVACR related products in the Gulf and MENA region. The company has built a strong reputation for the quality and sustainability of its products and is a trusted partner for some of the most reputable global brands in the world.
When the company began business in 1986, it did so with just two employees; today there are over 150 people in the distribution side, with Unigulf’s recent investment programme creating a new activity for manufacturing HVAC and insulation-related products.
“The company was established in Dubai and our main focus is still on the UAE; over time we have added to our distribution network in countries like Bahrain, Oman and Qatar.
“At the beginning of the new Century, by reorganizing ourselves; we launched Unigulf Industries in the UAE”.
“At the same time, we picked products that complemented our existing line of imported range of products and services, simply because we felt these would add more value to contracting industry. We are now looking to roll these out to the world,” Chablani says.
“We are now venturing into acquiring a global presence by participating in exhibitions and events in Asia, Europe and North America, from our Dubai base and we ship as far as the West Indies from.”
As matter of habit, so to speak, Unigulf has regularly participated in the Big 5 Exhibitions in Dubai, which, like the company, has evolved with the times.
“The Big 5 Exhibitions are always very exciting for us; they give us an opportunity to show case our product portfolio and network at the same time with our partners and customers alike. Last year (2016) was even better as the organizers had spaces in industry- specific halls. We were able to exhibit new products and there was lots of interest from visitors around the world, not just locally”.
“Dubai is very well situated for such exhibitions and hence offers us a good opportunity to meet customers, competitors and potential partners under one roof.”
The downside of globalisation is of course the knock-on effect of global markets in tough economic times.
“Since we first launched Unigulf, we have gone through a few economic cycles. The regional economic challenges are often connected to the price of oil but we also feel the effects of the global economic cycles,” says Chablani.
One of the key advantages that Unigulf possesses is its global growth that comes from the high quality of its products and their adherence to global standards of accreditations, quality and all mandatory international regulations.
In order to comply with the local regulations, from the beginning, we have been focusing on supplying certified products to contractors; the efforts we made back then are now paying off,” states Chablani. “We already have stringent quality processes in place (as one would expect), with the aim to comply with maximum with local regulations.” he continues.
Chablani confirms that the Unigulf’s operational processes have attained ISO and green buildings certification, whilst health and safety and environmental certification remain the key drivers in the business.
Whilst these may be debatable, Chablani feels that the benefits of these accreditations far outweigh the initial outlay: “You get what you pay for. We are sensitive to the cost and when we put out a new product in the market, we look at the whole cost of system at that instant but also over time.
“In a nutshell, it gives a longer life to an installation. We can see this at Dubai Airport, there is trust in what we did and it continues.
“Around fifteen or twenty years ago we did an installation in a bank building in Dubai and provided a warranty. We were called in by the consultants fifteen years on and were asked to open the insulation and lo behold, when it was opened up, it was as good as new!”
Quality is naturally a pre-requisite for Unigulf’s supply chain to adhere to and Chablani says that the company has forged long-standing relationships with many of its suppliers; companies that deliver beyond the usual demands of just-in-time, given the unpredictable nature of changing schedules and deadlines in the UAE.
One of the companies that have developed in tandem with Unigulf has been Harp International, a UK-based supplier of refrigerants.
“We have been working together for over twenty years and when both companies were evolving around the same time. Harp International supplies us with high quality refrigerants and is a very good example of the type of company that we have worked with over the years.”
A seminal moment in the company’s history came with the decision to manufacture insulation materials, with the company opting to introduce close cell technology in the production process, rather than the traditional open cell technique. Our manufacturing focus is on science that we believe in, the close cell technology.
“As we became a manufacturer of insulation materials; using the close cell technology has proved a big success in this area. We now are a ‘one- stop- shop’ for providing these products,” says Chablani.
“Over the last two years building insulation materials and the export side of the business have started to grow dramatically and we expect to see further growth in the coming years.
“In 2014 we embarked upon a three-phase investment programme, initially of $20 million, investing in assets to grow the manufacturing aspect of our business.
“We currently have two manufacturing sites and are hoping to start work on the third (and largest) site in the second half of 2017 that will encompass many of the labour-intensive programmes. The level of investment is set to reach $50 million by the end of 2020, when we hope to have the third site fully operational.”
Chablani says that the investment should result in an expansion of the company’s workforce with the new factory set to open by the end of 2020 and increasing the number of employees to between 250 and 300 people, as Unigulf concentrates on the advance technology manufacturing processes.
The processes adopted, the science involved and the products themselves, fit perfectly with the current industry trend towards certified products.
“Over the last couple of years the Government has introduced more stringent regulations to monitor the quality of the products that are now certified in line with international standards. At the same time, the sustainability of products has become an important consideration,” Chablani reflects.
Given the present buoyant environment for infrastructure and construction, the company is well placed to meet growing demand over the next few years.
“The vision in Dubai has been flamboyant, and rightfully so,” Chablani remarks. “All of the infrastructure work carried out during the last Bull Run was part of the drive towards 2020, the World Expo.
“However, our own vision goes beyond 2020 to 2022, the Fifa World Cup in Qatar, while the renovation of industry in Bahrain and the growth of tourism in Oman offer Unigulf further opportunities.
“We already have established business in these countries and will look to reinforce this and focus on supplying products over the coming years.
“In the short term, during2 017 we expect to complete our first investment program in order to enhance the manufacturing ability of our core products and create new offshoots for the building industry.
“We will be looking to capitalise more on the R&D we have undertaken over years and certifying products for markets around the world,” he concludes.