x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

RAK Ceramics is bathing in glory

The UAE's ceramics giant has gone from minnow to biggest fish in the pond in just three decades on a combination of belief, ambition and a domestic building boom.

When RAK Ceramics was set up in 1991, the UAE's building boom had not yet begun.

And with few orders at home to sustain the company's ambitious expansion plans, RAK Ceramics, based in Ras Al Khaimah, was forced to look abroad for business.

Its strategy was simple: to sell high-quality products at competitive prices - effectively manufacturing a Mercedes for the price of a Toyota, as Abdallah Massaad, the chief executive of RAK Ceramics, describes it.

The company studied each market, creating products not already available, for modest margins. And the orders soon started flooding in.

"Certainly we started very small in Europe and other markets but with innovation and always having something new in the market, we managed to [grow]," says Mr Massaad.

"That's why I believe in 20 years we produced 1 billion square metres of ceramic tiles," he adds.

The company is now officially the world's largest manufacturer of ceramic tiles, according to Ceramics World Review, and it claims to have an annual sales turnover in excess of US$1 billion.

All of the tiles on the ground at London's Wembley Stadium were supplied by the company, and it also counts Heathrow Airport, Burj Khalifa and the Grand Hyatt in Washington among its customers.

In the early days it produced 1 million sq metres of tiles, but today it manufactures 117 times as much, in addition to other items such as baths, sinks and crockery.

The company was among the first in the industry to use digital printing to produce ceramic tiles, which mimic other surfaces including marble and stone.

It makes most of its products in Ras Al Khaimah but the company also has factories in Bangladesh, India and China. And markets abroad are still important to the company - it exports about 75 per cent of its products to more than 160 countries.

But countries closer to home have become even more important of late.

"We are focusing more in the [Arabian] Gulf and the region where the boom in construction is happening," Mr Massaad said in May.

It is also expanding here in the UAE. This year it opened its seventh showroom in the Emirates and there are more on the way.

The latest to open in its home market is on Sheikh Zayed Road near Times Square Centre, which is RAK Ceramics' second outlet in Dubai. It was set up in response to "overwhelming customer demand in the emirate", according to the company.

"With the opening of the new showroom we expect to accommodate even more customers in light of the growing demand for ceramic tiles and bathware products - a product of booming real estate and construction in the region," says Mr Massaad.