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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

Future for Abu Dhabi joinery firm as sturdy as solid wood

The question of what the company will be doing in the next 15 years is not so much about what it will be doing, but what it will be using to make it.
Fadi Bikawi, Eldiar’s general manager, says the company has been using solid wod since its founding 25 years ago but that may change 15 years from now. Lee Hoagland / The National
Fadi Bikawi, Eldiar’s general manager, says the company has been using solid wod since its founding 25 years ago but that may change 15 years from now. Lee Hoagland / The National

Coming from a company which has built its success almost solely from wood, it may sound like a surprising prediction.

But according to the Abu Dhabi joinery firm Eldiar, 15 years from now the woodworking industry may use alternative materials to build the majority of its products. And as a company which has now been operating for a quarter of a century, it should know.

Eldiar, which specialises in doors and wardrobes but has built a wide array of items including gazebos, began operations in Mussafah in 1989 with a mission to cater for VIP clients.

“One of the first projects we built was the Hilton Baynunah Tower on Abu Dhabi’s famous Corniche,” says Fadi Bikawi, the company’s general manager.

“We did hotel rooms and some of the restaurants and public areas there back in the early 1990s.”

From there it has carried out ever-larger projects and specialised in producing fire-rated doors.

The company now claims to be the top woodwork and joinery firm in Abu Dhabi and the third largest in the country, employing more than 600 staff, including 450 labourers – compared to about 50 when it started.

But it is just one firm operating in a very large industry, which is estimated to be worth US$3 billion, according to the Dubai International Wood and Wood Machinery Show, the only exhibition of its kind in the region.

This year’s show included 500 brands, suppliers and manufacturers from 40 countries.

“Driven by the surging construction activities in the GCC, with an estimate of $2.4 trillion in 2014, regional wood product imports have witnessed unprecedented growth,” says Reem Salah, the show’s spokeswoman.

Eldiar makes everything from wall cladding to counters for a range of clients including hotels and oil companies.

“Because the Middle East is not used to specialised production like what happens in Europe or Asia, we are forced to diversify to cater for anything. We have done hotels from A to Z,” says Mr Bikawi.

“We are talking about doors, we are talking about built-in wardrobes and cabinets, kitchen cabinets. We are talking about loose furniture, tables and chairs, beds, headboards, decorative panelling. We have done also major external works like pergolas and gazebos or for major oil and gas companies.”

The company has worked on many of the biggest projects in the capital, including Masdar Institute, Central Market, Al Forsan Hilton, Fairmont Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi Futures Schools.

A big turning point for orders came in 2006, when the company was acquired by Depa, the Dubai-based interiors firm.

“Eldiar used to have its own client base. With the jobs that came from Depa that has helped the company to double production and double the turnover,” says Mr Bikawi.

But another factor, which could have so easily hit the company’s order book – the downturn in the industry in 2010 – actually resulted in a strategic decision which led to it securing further work.

“There was a difficulty getting high-end jobs. We were seeking end clients and we widened our client base to include GCC countries,” says Mr Bikawi.

Today the company has completed two projects in Qatar and is working on another. And it is also doing some jobs in Saudi Arabia in addition to tendering for some more in Bahrain and Kuwait.

“Currently 30 per cent of the business has been moved to between Saudi and Qatar,” says Mr Bikawi.

“We believe that the demand in Saudi Arabia will continue for the next five years, and we look to maximise the opportunities. We are optimistic that the local market will go from strength to strength.”

The question of what the company will be doing in the next 15 years is not so much about what it will be doing, but what it will be using to make it, he says.

Eldiar still uses solid wood to build the majority of its products, as it has since it was founded 25 years ago.

It imports its materials from Europe and has joined the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) which ensures the responsible management of the world’s forests, becoming the first company in Abu Dhabi to get the FSC certificate back in 2011.

“The price [of solid wood] is going up year by year. It will be jeopardised. Also the government regulations will be very strict on logging and there will be a limited supply of wood,” says Mr Bikawi.

“Before two years we started working with composite materials … trying to have a side business of doing things besides wood.

“Fifteen years from now it might be the same final product in appearance, but the ingredients might be different.”

business@thenational.ae

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