Building a house is an opportunity that, for most people, only comes once in a lifetime. Keeping that in mind everyone wants to get the best of everything but then there is the question of price, quality, availability, style and overall affordability. Yet, interestingly enough, more often than they should, despite keeping these questions in mind, homeowners are forcefully and even skillfully sold sub-standard products at high prices.
It is a dilemma that many of us are aware of but to our great misfortune, in Pakistan, we do not have proper standards and checks in place to ensure that consumers end up with what they actually paid for, instead of tall claims made by shady retailers. However, one tile company is on a mission to change this by introducing official flagship stores, similar to the one we see for brands like Apple, etc., in Pakistan for tiles and ceramic fittings.
Kale is a Turkish tile and ceramic giant that operates in Pakistan through a similar model to franchising. While Hassan Shah, CEO of Kale Pakistan, and his team manage the day to day operations of the business locally, Kale Turkey is in full control of the product, the marketing and the overall outlook of the company. Hassan works as their local partner for the local region.
Kale works on a flagship store model often followed by multinational firms that want to keep quality, price and availability in check along with a global brand identity. Through these stores, Kale showcases the complete range of products and each showroom is exclusively designed by Kale Turkey’s design team.
Unlike other brands that only provide either tiles or fixtures, Kale manufactures complete sanitary solutions, floor tiles, bathroom tiles, kitchen tiles, and state-of-the-art bathroom furniture, giving it a serious competitive advantage over its competition.
Ibrahim Bodur laid the foundations of Kale Turkey or the Kale Group in 1957 with Canakkale Ceramic Factories Corporation and Kale soon pioneered the formation of the ceramics industry in Turkey. Since then, it has become an industry giant locally and internationally with its investments. It has become Europe’s 3rd and the world’s 12th largest ceramics manufacturer, and in the construction chemical sector, it is ranked first in Turkey and the region and 5th in Europe in terms of production and sales volume.
The company has grown so much since that it has investments in machinery and equipment manufacturing, defense, chemistry, electrical appliances, energy, information technology, transportation, tourism, and food industries, compromising 17 companies across these sectors.
It is regarded as one of the most important industrial enterprises of Turkey with over 5,000 employees, spanning over a geography across Canakkale to several locations in Turkey, Italy, and Russia. Moreover, as a 100% private Turkish company, it is taking on a leading and influential role in defense and aviation sectors. Kale Group provides its products to consumers in over 100 countries via more than 400 sales points.
Kale’s strategic geographical position allows faster transfer of technology from Italy since the design and innovation within the tile industry mostly originates from Italy. Meanwhile, affordable Turkish labour allows Kale to produce over 27 ranges of tiles and ceramic fixtures and fittings while ensuring great quality for its products.
Kale Turkey produces 72 million square metres every year, making it the largest tile manufacturer in Turkey, while the second largest firm produces only 30 million square metres, a huge gap of 42 million square metres. Kale’s single location plant is also the largest manufacturing plant in the world.
Embarking on a journey to evolving Pakistan’s tile industry
Interestingly, there are official statistics that record the overall production and consumption of tiles around the world and sadly enough it does not look impressive for Pakistan. Currently, Pakistan stands at 0.53 square meters per capita. In Asia alone, China and Iran use and manufacture most of the tiles at 3.55 and 3.49 square metres per capita, followed by Malaysia at 3.17, Turkey at 2.70 and Indonesia at 1.56.
But Kale and the man in charge in Pakistan think that this number can very soon change for the better.
Meet Hassan Shah, CEO of Kale Pakistan, a man with a simple mission to revolutionise the tile industry in Pakistan by introducing Kale, a Turkish ceramic company, which not only manufactures tiles but provides complete sanitary solutions.
Hassan’s entrepreneurial journey began when he completed his Masters in Marketing from Lahore School of Economics (LSE) and joined his family’s business which was established back in 1937 by his grandfather. From there, he says, he learned all there is to learn about running a business and finally in 2014 he decided that he wanted to leave a lasting impact on the Pakistani economy and industry through his own venture, Kale, and job creation for the society.
He says that he always wanted to be in the B2C (business to consumer) segment rather than B2B (business to business) and at the time the construction industry seemed like the perfect choice. Business was booming and there was no foreign company with physical presence in Pakistan on which projects could rely for consistent supplies and quality. So, in 2013, Hassan successfully inked an agreement to bring Kale Tiles, the Turkish tile giant to Pakistan.
Becoming the market leaders in Pakistan. Challenges and opportunities?
Back in 2009, Hassan had researched the top manufacturers for tiles around the globe and Spain, Italy, and China ranked among the topmost slots, but surprisingly enough Turkey also ranked among the top 5 global ceramic producers in the world. And that was on the back of one company, Kale, which held 60% of the total Turkish tile exports, making Kale the market leader in Turkey and a tough competitor around the globe.
Nonetheless, despite such huge exports and strong diplomatic and trade ties between Turkey and Pakistan, Turkish tiles had next to no share in the Pakistani tile market.
Realising the potential of his discovery, in 2013 Hassan went to the biggest tile exhibition of tiles in the world in Bologna, Spain, where he met Emrah, Exports Manager for Kale Tiles and successfully negotiated the launch of Kale in Pakistan.
By the end of 2013, Kale signed the contract. In 2014, it established its offices in Lahore and in 2016 with its first shipment Kale went into business with just one store in Lahore. Since then the company has opened multiple stores in Lahore, Faisalabad, Multan, Islamabad and Karachi, and plan on opening up more showrooms in Peshawar, Gujranwala and other cities in Pakistan.
Hassan says that at the time Chinese tiles were being sold at around Rs1,500 per square metre and Spanish tiles were being sold at around Rs3,000, so there was a market gap between Rs1,500 to Rs3,000 per square metre which served as the perfect starting point for Kale Pakistan. More so, in 2015 and 2016, the tile industry of Pakistan grew by a whopping 53%.
And, according to Hassan, this is just the start. As the population of Pakistan grows and with that their standards of living grow, tile consumption is going to grow accordingly. He says that there is a huge market gap within the tile industry and that is where Kale comes in.
Kale only sells first choice tiles, unlike other importers who sell second choice tiles which are acquired at just 20% of the total cost and then are sold at full price to the consumer. Ultimately these importers and/or manufacturers scam the consumer.
Moreover, other tile retailers import from various companies and can only provide a limited amount of stock, which can be a big hurdle for consumers since they then have to either choose different designs altogether or have to adapt with whatever they get. Unlike these suppliers, Kale has full authority over the stock and the designs because they are the manufacturers and have full control over supply.
Beginning with only one store in Lahore in 2016, over a span of just 4 years, Kale has become a market leader within the imported tile segment in Pakistan. Hassan credits his success to the various projects they have undertaken since launch which include Packages Mall, Hameed Latif Hospital, Crescent Bay by Emaar in Karachi, Miniso Stores, and current projects that include Penta Square, DHA Business Hub, Malam Jabba Ski Resort, and Nishat Apartments among many other projects.
He also says that Kale was very well received by the local consumer. Mostly in Pakistan, consumers were being cheated on second choice tiles and stock lots, which resulted in delays and huge losses for the customer. However, with Kale, customers can rest assured that the tile they purchase is first choice tile and will not go out of stock because Kale produces the tiles itself.
Hassan also credits his team for their tremendous success, he says. “My team that started with just 3 people has now grown to over 300 people across Pakistan and each and every member of my team is enthusiastic about the brand. We live and breathe customer support and service. Even if our client ends up calling us in the middle of the night, our staff will be there to assist them and go out of their way to handle their requests.”
But Hassan argues that the tile industry in Pakistan currently lags behind because of the lack of quality raw material, designs, and R&D (research and development). Hassan says that it is a famous saying within the tile industry that you might finish all your production during the day and by the end of the day you might come to know that all of your tiles are defective and it is nothing more than a graveyard of defective tiles.
The tile industry is Pakistan does not have ensured and quality inputs, Hassan reiterates. There are no labs to test the raw material and even the slightest change can be disastrous for tile manufacturers. “So, as a first step, we need to set up proper material testing facilities near mines and companies that ensure quality raw material, because not every manufacturer can afford to directly source from the mine, and even if they do, they still cannot control the quality.”
Hassan further laments that a tile in Pakistan will sell for a higher price only if the design is good and will be sold extremely cheap if the design is old or not according to the customer’s demand, even if the tiles are of exactly the same quality. That is the importance of design in this sector
Meanwhile, Kale itself uses 2% of its entire global sales on research and development and employs a team of 70 people within the R&D department along with a state-of-the-art design house in Italy that only works to constantly improve designs. Secondly, all of the raw material inputs used by Kale are tested against international quality standards to ensure that each batch of production is exactly the same quality as the batch before with zero defects.
Due to this commitment, Kale currently holds the world record for the world’s thinnest tile, Kale Sinterflex Tile, which is ultra-durable and is just 3mm (millimetre) thick. The tile is so thin that it can virtually be turned into anything and has multiple purposes. The tile can be used for facades, doors, floors, so much so that it can be turned into furniture as well. It’s also one of the very few tiles that come in a 1 metre by 3 metre length, with virtually no seams, grooves and joints allowing more beautiful and minimalistic designs.
Interestingly enough, the tile is scratch and chemical resistant, anti-bacterial, fireproof and with a life of over 20 years right out of the box.
According to Hassan the beautification of a building and ultimately cities is very crucial. He says that, “when you travel abroad you see all these beautiful buildings that use state of the art materials but most importantly the exterior of these buildings is just magnificent. We need to do the same for Pakistan. If we want Pakistan to become a tourist country, we need to beautify our cities.”
“The future of the tile industry belongs to thin tiles, large slabs, washable tiles and most importantly environmentally friendly tiles such as Sinterflex, which uses less water and less material due to its thin design,” he added.
Discussing challenges within the tile industry, Hassan said that apart from the obvious reasons highlighted earlier, there are serious policy issues and exchange rate problems. With improving standards of living and purchasing power of the Pakistani people, Hassan seems optimistic that the industry would grow in the coming years and Kale would maintain its position as the industry leader.
But he also fears that people will not continue spending under the current government and increased scrutiny. Hassan says that if you talk about money, people in Pakistan have loads of it. Just look at the boom in the real estate sector and the huge houses and big cars all around us.
Hassan claims that the problem is not that people do not have money. The problem is with the undocumented economy, and it is not the one that the government keeps talking about. On paper, people do not have money but, in reality, they do and that is what the undocumented economy of Pakistan is made up off.
Yes, there are people who have amassed wealth due to bribes and illegal means but that is a very small portion compared to the overall size of the Pakistani economy. The majority of the undocumented economy, Hassan states, is because of tax evasion and that too has been created by the government itself.
Hassan believes that our people have now become accustomed to evading taxes, but it is of utmost importance that illegal money and undeclared assets come into the regulated economy for the betterment of the country, and the current amnesty scheme might actually do the job. He joked that who knows better than he about the kind of money people have to spend on their houses.
Moreover, Hassan argues that the government’s policies are not stable which create uncertainty and uncertainty is the worst for investors and businesses.
“Currently in Pakistan we have both financial and political uncertainty,” says Hassan, adding, “We are now booking projects in dollars because of the jumping dollar rates and for retail clients the exchange rate has already eaten our profits and we are barely breaking even”.
So, what’s next?
The current demand of the structured segment of the tile industry in Pakistan is somewhere between 115 million square metres to 120 million square metres. Meanwhile, the installed capacity in Pakistan is only 70 million square metres in Pakistan. So, the remaining amount is fulfilled by imported tiles and Kale is very strategically placed within that imported portion of the tile industry. But that is not enough.
As a nationalist, Hassan believes he can do much more for Pakistan with Kale. He says that Kale plans to set up a manufacturing facility here in Pakistan very soon. This facility will not only allow them to regulate their prices and not be entirely dependent on free floating exchange rates but will also allow them to create jobs and revolutionise the industry with latest and state of the art technology through transfers of skills and technology. It will also ease the burden of imports on Pakistan, helping bring balance to the balance of payments.
Hassan also believes that there is great potential for tiles exports. He says that if Pakistan can cover its demand and create a surplus, it can follow India’s model and export tiles and sanitary products all around the world. Talking about the Indian tile market, Hassan said, “The Indian tile industry was virtually non-existent in the international market but favourable policies and government support has resulted in surplus production which is now being exported worldwide and at cheaper rates compared to the rest of the world.”
Kale may very well be a new brand for the Pakistani consumer, but Hassan believes that it can definitely take over the entire tile industry by introducing the model of flagship stores, manufacturing facilities and ultimately exports. “We at Kale are on a mission to move beyond from just being the market leaders in the imported tile segment. Kale wants to become a local manufacturers while being a multinational company, to create jobs and then become the backbone of tile exports in Pakistan.”