x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Tiles pave path to prosperity at RAK Ceramics

The Life: It is the largest tile ceramics manufacturer in the world and has produced more than 1 billion square metres worth of tiles since it was founded in 1991. But it is based in the tiny 650 square mile emirate of Ras Al Khaimah.

RAK Ceramics makes 8,000 different products, which it exports to more than 200 countries and territories. Jaime Puebla / The National
RAK Ceramics makes 8,000 different products, which it exports to more than 200 countries and territories. Jaime Puebla / The National

If you have passed through Heathrow Airport or been to Wembley Stadium, you will have walked on a tiny portion of the 1 billion square metres of tiles that have come off one company's manufacturing line.

But to find that global leader, you will have to travel thousands of miles from these London landmarks to the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah (RAK).

RAK Ceramics, the world's largest maker of ceramic tiles, was founded in 1991, long before the building boom began in the UAE, leaving the company no choice but to look abroad for business.

"We focused from the beginning on exports," says Abdallah Massaad, the chief executive of RAK Ceramics.

"We had a vision to grow. And certainly we started very small in Europe and other markets. We didn't have a brand name and we didn't use a brand name to start with."

Flexibility was the key to the company's success as few people in the West had heard of RAK Ceramics.

"We were very close to our clients and we were fast in understanding and implementing the clients' needs," says Mr Massaad.

The company tailored products to the tastes of individual markets, emphasised quality and kept prices low.

Although putting out high-quality products, "our margins were not extremely huge", Mr Massaad says. The company pursued a strategy of creating a high-quality product but kept costs low for customers. "If you [have the chance] to buy a Mercedes for the price of a Toyota, you will buy it."

And the market did buy. Last month, the company announced it had passed the milestone of supplying 1 billion square metres of tiles.RAK Ceramics makes 8,000 different products, which it exports to more than 200 countries and territories.

"Even today, the UAE does not [absorb as much as] 15 per cent of our capacity, so our major concentration, other than the GCC market, [is] Europe, which is our largest market after the GCC," says Mr Massaad.

The factory has also kept up with the latest technologies, using digital printers to simulate marble and other stone patterns in its tiles.

The operation in RAK has about 6,000 employees and the capacity to produce 227,000 sq metres of tiles and 8,500 pieces of bathware a day.

In addition to the factory in RAK, the company has ceramic plants in China, Sudan, Bangladesh, India and Iran employing in total an additional 5,000 workers. Taking into account all of its plants, the company's total output capacity is more than 360,000 sq metres of tiles and 12,000 pieces of bathware a day.

For the past three years, the industry's influential Ceramic World Review magazine has named RAK Ceramics the world's largest manufacturer of ceramic tiles, with an output of 117 million sq metres per year.

"If you look at the whole UK market on a yearly basis, it is almost 60 to 70 million square metres [of tiles]. So what we are producing today … is 117 million square metres, more than twice that," says Mr Massaad.

As well as supplying products for some of the United Kingdom's most high-profile building projects, tiles from RAK Ceramics can be found at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, at Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport and in the world's tallest building, Dubai's Burj Khalifa.

The company's adaptability has been important to its success, but no less so its 11,000 employees.

"Our employees have been one of our most valuable assets in achieving global dominance," says Mr Massaad. "As many of them have grown with us from the beginning, their values are in tune with the ambitions of the company."

gduncan@thenational.ae

Check out The Life's blog, Life@Work, at blogs.thenational.ae