Meeting security needs in the Gulf

Yale and Union are brands in the security business that everybody knows. Assa Abloy on the other hand does not come so readily to mind despite the fact that it owns the brands. CW talks to Ross Hopwood to find out why.

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By  Eudore Chand Published  December 1, 2003

|~|ross_hopwood_200w.jpg|~|Ross Hopwood, company regional sales director for the Middle East, has just set up a new office in Jebel Ali. He arrived in June to do the set up and says that he will have a staff of nine by the end of this week.|~|The world’s largest manufacture and provider of building access and security systems has come all the way from Scandinavia to the warm waters of the Gulf. “Not many people know us as Assa Abloy, but we own, among many others, the Yale and Union brands of locks and security systems. They have been distributed here in the region since the 1930s,” says Ross Hopwood, company regional sales director for the Middle East.

He has just finished talking with a prospective customer in his spanking new office in Jebel Ali Free Zone. “Many people do not know us because we are a relatively new company formed just nine and a half years ago in Scandinavia through a merger. We started with a small turnover and have grown into a US $3 billion company,” says Hopwood with obvious pride. “We are the largest in the building security industry and the leading locks group. We have over 70 factories worldwide and own more than 100 major brands.”

That Hopwood is not being sued for his claims is because they probably happen to be true. Though Assa Abloy may be young, the products it has acquired through merger have been around for years. “Anything and everything that has to do with security and access to buildings,” points out Hopwood. Assa Abloy has the full range of locks and access materials such as doors, architectural hardware and even biometric systems that regulate entry and exit from buildings and facilities.

“We are very much a multinational. Our market share varies from product to product and from market to market, but on average we have 10% global market share in building access and security industry,” Hopwood says as he nestles more comfortably into the soft-back chair. He is obviously worked off his feet. Setting up a regional operation can be quite a tiresome task. But the office is beginning to take shape and has to be ready for the inauguration on the 1st December. “We came here in June and by the time the regional office is up and running, we will have a staff of nine,” Hopwood says.

The company is hoping for some big-time exposure during the Big 5 Exhibition that runs at the Dubai World Trade Centre complex from November 29 to December 3. Display boards with racks of locks, handles and other gizmos lean against the walls, all now at the company’s stand at the exhibition. “Apart from taking part in the exhibition, we shall hold our Middle East distributors’ meeting here in Dubai on the 1st December. The meeting will focus on key brands,” Hopwood said.

He pointed out that under the Assa Abloy management, the Middle East has acquired greater focus in the multinational’s operations, the first evidence of which is the opening of a regional headquarters in the UAE that will oversee operations in 15 countries. The second pointer is that two of the company’s five directors will be in Dubai to attend the Middle East distributors conference.

So, where will all this focus lead to? “We have plans for future expansion and investments in the region,” says Hopwood rather cryptically. He could not be drawn upon to explain further. “All in good time,” is all he would say.

That there is tremendous potential in the region is not in doubt. “Though there are no credible figures available, I would roughly estimate the Middle East market at about US $10 billion a year,” says Hopwood. And this, from a region, that has almost no lock-making industry. “Egypt is the only one that has some factories. Syria and Jordan also have some, mostly small operations. Iran had a Dorma factory, but we don’t know what happened to it,” Hopwood says.

He points out that though the region may be small in terms of contribution to the overall global turnover of the giant firm, it is among the fastest growing in the world. “The whole region is beginning to boom. There is tremendous development going on in Dubai, Qatar and Bahrain. People keep saying that Saudi Arabia is facing a recession.

It is not really so. I am sure that Riyadh will double in size over the next ten years,” Hopwood said while pointing to the variety and number of projects that are being undertaken in the region.

We turn back to the company. What will Assa Abloy do in the region in the short term? It would mainly provide support to its distributors, be physically in the market and campaign for bettering industry standards. Hopwood said the Middle East was the last region in the world where the global company did not have a corporate office. This situation is now being rectified.

Not only will the regional office oversee a vast swathe of the world, it shall also ensure that any given point of time there is about US $5 million worth of stock available in the region. It will be warehoused in the regional logistics hub of Dubai with Assa Abloy partners. “We are committed to the region and to investing in it. We have spent a substantial amount of money and will be spending more in coming years,” Hopwood said.

Referring to the competition, the Assa Abloy regional sales director for the Middle East said the Scandinavia based firm is used to rivalry and welcomes it. Its respected rivals are Ingersoll Rand and Dorma security systems. However, Assa Abloy faces its main competition from the independents, which have flooded the lower segments of the market with cheap products.

He thinks though that security is a serious issue, and not to be taken lightly for every individual. “What is the next most common thing you use after a knife and fork?” asks Hopwood. “Is it handkerchief?” vetures CW.

“No, it is keys,” Hopwood points out. He may be right. He probably is. He should know. That is after all, his line of business. “We have brought Scandinavian philosophy to a traditionally conservative industry where most products are sold under a threat of loose security, where in fact people are trying to feel free, not more secure. “We say ‘unlock your life’. We say people can live freely and without fear. And, with attractive Scandinavian designs, we say security products can be beautiful and not very expensive.” So Hopwood says. He smiles.||**||

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