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Thriving & Enduring(HKTDC Houseware, Vol 01,2008)

Houseware

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The 1842-established Abdoolally Ebrahim Group is in the process of transforming itself into a modern, design-oriented provider of mid- to high-end housewares

A pillar of Hong Kong trade, 1842-established Abdoolally Ebrahim Group is in the process of transforming itself. Key moves include developing several trading divisions, including Commodities, Textiles, Design Services (Imagineering) and Housewares.

"The biggest change is one that has been taking place over the past two years, which is the move away from a family business and the adoption of a more formal corporate approach," says Housewares Division CEO, Taha J. Ebrahim. "As I will also assume responsibility as CEO for the whole group in January 2008, I have appointed a COO for the Housewares division."

A great, great-grandson of the prime mover of this esteemed firm, Mr Ebrahim says he will also take especially close interest in a new design studio. "The design studio is important to us," he asserts. "Previously, we employed various designers. Now, we have a chief designer and an entire team."

One aim of the design studio is to shorten the new product development cycle. "Many customers have been frustrated that management of their projects appears slow," Mr Ebrahim continues.

"While our business is predominantly OEM, we try to accelerate project management time by having engineers in the office carefully review drawings from customers to see if we need to tweak them. This is done long before the factory staff have given us their responses, so we are already actively involved," he adds.

The approach seems to be paying dividends as the houseware industry has started to accept Abdoolally Ebrahim Housewares Ltd as a capable design source. "Buying firms now look to us to design for them in a process that I call ODM-for-OEM," Mr Ebrahim smiles.

"To emphasise, today we are a total solutions provider. For example, a customer might have a rough concept but doesn't know precisely how it will turn out. We have the expertise and the specialists to advise them," he continues. "We can also provide stimulating inputs, which makes us an active partner in the process rather than a mere supplier."

Abdoolally's houseware lines came on stream in 1961, and initial products were stainless steel hollowware such as teapots, coffeepots, and flatware.

"We have always been strong in OEM," Mr Ebrahim says. "In the 1960s we supplied British brands, followed by German brands in the 1970s. In the 1980s we added Japanese firms to our list of OEMs, followed by Italian, French, Spanish and US brands in the 1990s."

As a result of all this activity, Abdoolally today supplies housewares to more than 50 major brand names worldwide. "The products of about 20 of these firms are at the high- to luxury-end of the market," he adds. "In fact, most of the products we export are in the mid- to high-end range."

Statistically, open items are supplied by a carefully vetted network of some 100 vendors on the Chinese mainland and in India. This business accounts for about 15% of trade. OEM projects contribute about 65%. "ODM-for-OEM chips in 10%, a figure that is matched by sales from our own ODM/in-house design studio," says the CEO.

In terms of supply segments, Abdoolally despatches about 75% of production to the retail trade and the balance to professional markets such as the hotel and catering trade.

"It is clear that we do not own or operate factories. However, the big plus is that we can go anywhere and to anyone to manufacture our lines," says the CEO. "We favour several well-established client factories, but can choose among them at will. This brings about total neutrality when selecting a firm for a particular job, and leads to best possible project management."

Personnel back-up is also important. "Each person and task is fully covered, and things are now much more organised," he says. "It is a question of scale. Whereas one man can only do so much, a team can run like a well-oiled machine."

Sometimes, a healthy sign of good business is the physical expansion of the floor space required to run it. "We purchased Abdoolally House in 1920, and our own requirements have moved from two floors some five years ago to more than six floors today," the CEO explains.

Yet, despite its obvious success, Abdoolally still seeks long-term business relationships. "Our word is our bond, that is our mission statement," Mr Ebrahim stresses. "For us business is about people and relationships, and working well together. Trust is at the root of our success."

With such good ethics at work, the corporate future of the revamped Abdoolally Ebrahim Group looks both assured and in safe hands.

TEXT BY TONY HENDERSON

FAST FACTS

Abdoolally Ebrahim Houswares Ltd
1/F, Abdoolally House
20 Stanley St
Central
Hong Kong
Tel: 852-3920-1110
Fax: 852-3920-1123
Email:
housewares@abdoolally.com
Web: www.abdoolally.com
Year Established: 1842
Major Product Categories: kitchen tools & gadgets, cookware, barware, hollowware, flatware, tableware, cutlery, vacuumware, kitchen textiles, hospitality supplies
Brands: Elypto
Minimum Order: US$10,000
Monthly Production Capacity: 100+ vendors in China and India
Delivery Time: 60-90 days
Office Size & Location: 12,000 square feet;
Hong Kong
Workforce: 50+