CTMEA chats to Khalaf Al Otaiba, CEO at Al Otaiba Group on the company’s plans to expand its volume distribution business and product portfolio in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region.
CTMEA: What is Al Otaiba Distribution main focus in the MEA region for this year and the coming year?
KA: Al Otaiba Distribution main focus is to find the right partner in each and every country we target and develop the markets in MEA by launching our brands i.e. Sitecom, Sweex, Hawking, Planex, Innergie and Qware. In fact, work hard with the partner to implement business and marketing plans to go parallel to products launch, and study each market challenges to make sure the targeted market share is achieved by each partner. However, 2011 will be a year of volume business. Needless to say that with a network of VAR partners in such wide area shall be our biggest challenge, so as to meet the demand of the all the markets simultaneously, no doubt we have big target to reach but we have the power and the enthusiasm to make it.
CTMEA: How is business in the IT channel in all the countries that you address in MEA?
KA: I guess that each country is different and even within each country two partners may experience different business growth. It’s all about the strategy we follow. We study and evaluate each partner (VAR) and see how we can support them. So if the problem is credit, we grant them credit that allows their business to grow. If the challenge is in the area of say logistics, or country customs, or government restrictions of any kind, we never leave this partner alone as we provide such partners with the necessary support.
CTMEA: What is the total workforce of Al Otaiba Distribution in the MEA region and where else do you have subsidiaries in this region?
KA: We are part of Al Otaiba Group of Companies and we are about 70-80 employees as of today and shall be exceeding 150 by next year end considering the amount of growth we are exercising on a daily basis at the moment. We are planning to set-up branches within the KSA, Kuwait and Iran next year.
CTMEA: How did you manage to weather the storm in 2009 when most companies were battered by the global economic crisis in the MEA?
KA: No doubt that the global economic downturn did hit our region, and many segments were affected specially the real estate, but I think the IT industry was not much affected, however, some companies which were owned by people who had risked their capital in the boom of the real estate segment and invested in the bubble, have severely been affected. I am not going to mention names, but they are known in the market. I also need to make a point here, irrelevant to any crisis, no company or even a home user will decide to stop using IT products in one way or the other. We know that we all use our laptops every day, if not for business, we do it for pleasure and entertainment so this business may get affected for some time but it shall not demise.
CTMEA: What brands do you represent in the MEA region?
KA: We are the sole agent and the exclusive distributor for Sitecom, Sweex, Hawking, Planex, Innergie and Qware on MEA but we also cover CIS and the Indian sub-continent.
CTMEA: What channel programmes are you rolling out for reseller partners to grow their businesses in MEA?
KA: We have intensive training programmes running from product knowledge to sales techniques but we don’t force any of our partners to receive training. We give the freedom to them to decide what better fits their market. At the end of the day, we look at figures and we need achievement on the ground, however, whenever a partner seeks our help, we have programmes that can be utilised and used which have been proven in many markets.
CTMEA: What is top of your agenda for this year and how will these initiatives benefit your channel partners in this region going forward?
KA: Our agenda is filled with several events and activities this year as we regularly share information with all our partners. We are participating at most of IT events in the MEA or assist our partner to represent us some of the local events in the country where they operate. We have also developed initiatives towards our channel partners to penetrate their in-country markets aggressively.
CTMEA: How important is the retail channel to your distribution business?
KA: Retail is the final destination used to sell out the products from the shelves to the end users. We prefer to give this task to our VARs who in essence are our channel representatives in the various countries and we insist on making sure that the retail clients to our VARs are well serviced and well taken care of. In the event that we are unable to go perfectly to any country with the right VAR, we take on the initiative to supply the retail outlet directly and ensure that the business with a given retailer is well taken care of and growing.
CTMEA: How many business units do you have within Al Otaiba Distribution?
KA: Al Otaiba Distribution is running one business unit and one model and that is distribution. The team within AOD has one objective which is to find the right channel partner, develop the partner market, support the partner as much as possible and grow the business side by side by creating a win-win situation between our company and the partner. However, we have divided the sales department by region in which one sales team shall work on one area and the area could be a country or group of countries.
CTMEA: Which countries in the MEA will you be focusing strongly on in the second half of 2010 and why?
KA: We are focusing strongly on KSA, Kuwait, Iran and Egypt. However, other countries will follow but these are the major countries we are taking at the moment and we are happy with the development achieved so far.
CTMEA: What do you see as the main challenges that your reseller partners are facing in the MEA region at the moment?
KA: There are many challenges to talk about but the partners may face challenges such as building channels, lack of supply of products due to poor forecasting, sales and promotions, collections… etc. But I do believe that nothing is impossible, with good planning, any partner can come over those challenges and be stronger than they are currently.
CTMEA: Where do you see growth opportunities coming from for Al Otaiba Distribution in the entire Middle East in 2010 and beyond?
KA: No doubt that our growth is coming from our loyal partners who work hard with us to create the opportunity if it isn’t there. I also believe that countries like KSA, Iran and Egypt are the main markets where opportunities are waiting for us and our partners. We will leave no stone unturned to seek opportunities, and our initiatives in that direction is unlimited.
CTMEA: What new technologies and products can your partners expect from Al Otaiba Distribution in 2011?
KA: Our partners have already seen outstanding technologies from our brands, however, the names of the brands we have in our stable are not only among the top market leaders but also best-of-breed technology solutions. To just disclose some products, we are launching N450 a first wireless router with 450 MB. We are also launching power-line line-up with 500 MB which is a big jump from what the market has experienced in the past. This reflects few products with cutting edge technology that yet no other brand on the market dare to talk about.