European furniture and lighting manufacturers break through the challenges of culture and methodical procedures to bring their products to the Middle East. What route did they take to succeed?
Over the last decade, the Middle East has developed a booming design culture, encouraging an influx of western designers in lighting, tiles, furniture and more. However, adventuring manufacturers have to overcome a number of obstacles to truly enter the market. Eva Pares, export manager at Santa & Cole, spoke to ArchiExpo e-Magazine:
We have tried to collaborate with several retail clients, but unfortunately, we have not been successful.
Similar companies, such as Prandina, have faced the difficulty of generating a relationship with retail clients. This largely stems from the issue of quality versus price. Many retailers in the Middle East, unwilling or unable to pay higher prices despite the better quality, requested the products be produced with less expensive materials, which would then reduce the value.
A New Route into the Market
European companies hold the quality of their work to the highest degree and refused to enter the market by throwing it aside. Where there is a will, there is always a way. Pares explained how Santa & Cole, like many others, managed to break through:
It is a cultural difference, and we decided to focus on contract.
Certain Santa & Cole producers are specified in the Middle East, according to Pares, others from the U.S. or the U.K. The company has subsidiaries and offices in many countries, sharing project information with the involved specifiers all around.
We have a commercial office in Dubai, which has been representing Santa & Cole for more than ten years. It acts as an agent so we invoice our Middle East customers from our headquarters in Barcelona. Our clients always appreciate this.
Prandina has also not had much success with retailers. The company is explained that their main challenge was to convince them that its products are 100% handmade in Italy and of high quality and that they should focus on the quality instead of the price. Having also gone down the contract route, its hand blown glass products are brought in very early in the construction and design phases by architects. In 2018, Dubai should welcome the first Prandina office—that is the official plan.
Prandina has worked with architects and studios such as Zaha Hadid Architects, Ted Jakob Engineering, RDK Dubai and Parker International. It has collaborated in projects such as Marks & Spencer in Landmark Mall in Qatar, the Hilton Doha Salata Hotel in Qatar, the Capital Centre Arjaan by Rotana, among others.
Facing the Issue of Quality vs Price
As manufacturers head down the path of contract, instead of retail, they need to create or expand their contacts with local specifiers that are involved in emblematic projects. However, their remains the concern for maintaining original design. According to Pares:
It is still a big challenge for us to defend the original specifications of our products by explaining to all parties involved why it is imperative to keep original designs with the highest quality, instead of replacing it with them cheaper ones.
As do many European manufacturers venturing into the Middle East, Santa & Cole believes its products should preserve its original design of quality in order to maintain a high standard project at the highest possible level.
The challenge, in the end, is to convince buyers to consider other relevant issues than the price in order to reach real unique and emblematic projects.
Santa & Cole has collaborated on projects like the National Bank of Abu Dhabi, the Ferrari World, the Cleveland Clinic as well as Hyatt Hotels (Muraqabat and recently Al Maktoum), Rosewood Sowwah Island Hotel, Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi, the Supreme Education Council of Qatar or the Hamad International airport in Doha.
Making the Most of What’s Now
The myriad of events established in the Middle East present the perfect opportunity for manufacturers to exhibit their work. Santa & Cole showcased its products at Downtown Design Dubai for the first time this year. However, its involvement in public space projects, such as hotels and restaurants, remain the greatest point of interest in terms of visibility.