MENAFN - Arab News
Sweet success: Thriving in niche Saudi market
(MENAFN - Arab News) At a time when he should be concentrating on school studies nine-year-old ibrahim ashemimry a saudi national started dabbling in business and made it a success in miami in the us state of florida.
entrepreneurship in his genes? maybe but his father working in a us bank did not appreciate his son's foray into business as a kid and instead gave him a piece of his mind.
'this is the age for you to devote your time for school studies... business and everything else can follow later in life" was his father's advise to him.
even as he launched his own company and started making money his father pressurized him to give it up in the interest of school studies.
looking back ibrahim who is now a successful businessman with his own brand in the food industry tells arab news how it all began and how it has blossomed into one of the major entities.
'i have been an entrepreneur since the age of 9. i started out with making firecrackers in florida in miami specifically. my father worked for a bank in miami. i grew up there and went to school there from third grade on."
when he moved to the us his desire as a child was to make his own money as quick as possible.
as a 9-year-old he started earning by washing cars in the neighborhood and saved 1200 to 1500.
just then he came across a magazine ad about a company in atlanta which was manufacturing the best fireworks.
'i was very much in love with fireworks like any other child. so when i made my first order i filled out a coupon in the ad with my name and address and enclosed a check before mailing it. i asked my father to take my cash and make a check. i bought 1000 worth of goods" he says.
the order paper said a person buying fireworks worth 500 or more can become an exclusive distributor" ibrahim says.
'i checked on the box and made up my mind that i want to be an exclusive distributor. i mailed it with the check and six weeks later i got my shipment and signed the contract" he says.
they (the us company) didn't know ibrahim was 9 years old and designated him the exclusive distributor for south florida" he says.
in his new role ibrahim sold all his firecrackers to the whole neighborhood.
every child in the neighborhood started buying from him.
then slowly he expanded his business to his school and then on to the district.
'at one point i was selling so much that i did not know what to do with money."
while not neglecting his school ibrahim found that his growing business was taking up a lot of his homework time. so my father forced me to stop my business for a while. i was almost 10."
the discussion between him and his father often became argumentative with ibrahim insisting that he wanted to be a businessman whereas his father advised him to focus more on school.
'i told him i will continue with school but at the same time want to be a businessman."
his father lost his temper and screamed: 'you are not a businessman you are a kid and you need to go to school."
when ibrahim told him he had printed his business cards his father told him he cannot become a businessman by just printing his business cards.
'i said fine. if i can't be a businessman by printing business cards i don't want to be a businessman. i want to be a business kid."
ibrahim recalls: 'so we created a company called business kid international. that was my first company that really developed with my father's help."
he says: 'by the time i was 14 business kid international had prepared 200000 children to teach other kids how to start their own businesses. i was the chairman of the advisory board. i was the winner of the entrepreneur of the year nationwide for future business leaders of america."
he adds: 'our company got an award from george bush sr. i and my company were invited by mikhail gorbachev to moscow to teach kids how to become capitalists and entrepreneurs."
just then it was time for ibrahim to enter college.
while pursuing his college studies he started a company called e view technology which did business from 1998 to 2004.
the 9/11 incident was a turning point in his business.
'after 9/11 we started losing our customers. if you look at the us advertising expenditure after 9/11 you will see that it dropped by 80 to 90 percent for three years. we got badly hit by that."
in 2005 ibrahim sold his company to clear channel viacom over there returned to saudi arabia and started munch bakery in 2008.
'munch has grown with its customers. our brand equity is simple. munch bakery is where family or any individual will have their munch moments together and enjoy sharing and eating" he says.
'munch is our brand. we have two major concepts in retail — munch bakery which is six years old and munch malah which is six months old."
munch malah is salty food that can be savored when guests gather for networking; multiple mini bites they would love to have before enjoying lunch.
munch bakery is the sweet side with all types and categories of sweets. it has a shop in riyadh. it is planning one in makkah and more in other places.
'we have a total of six stores so far five of them operating in jeddah and a large one in riyadh. we also have further plans for a seventh and an eighth by end of this year. we are also in the process of planning to expand to reach further cities in the kingdom."
asked how the journey of munch bakery began ibrahim said he came back from the us eight years ago after running a major food company there and the uk.
'i analyzed the saudi market seven to eight years ago and what we realized was that everybody was focused more on french european type of bakery. nobody was doing any american sweets american fusion sweets at that time. i decided then to capitalize on my expertise in the manufacturing industry and launched munch bakery in 2008. we developed a unique a niche market that we created from scratch. we launched munch bakery mainly to focus on arabic american fusion sweets but mostly western sweets profiling with arabic flavor."
ibrahim emphasized that in the food industry especially it is very important to profile consumers.
'the word profile could mean bad things or good things. but in the science of food industry it is a good thing. for example if you profile tastes on the world map from western us to siberia and from england to india you will find each area has its own flavor. in europe i would like to focus more on the creamy vanilla and peppermint flavor. the more east i go there will be more sweet fatty flavor. so it depends on the percentage of fats developed in each region and what is expected. by the same token milk chocolate for middle east consumers will be different from that of their european consumers."
thus ibrahim focused his target on profiling tastes of his middle eastern customers mostly the saudi customers of course.
'our success speaks eloquent about our strategic belief that saudis prefer american fusion. we are thankful to our customers. we are now one of the major players of sweets industry in saudi arabia. we captured most of the market share in the sweets industry specifically in the category of western sweets."
not only that. 'when we created our product and our branding we never intended to sell a food product. we intended to sell a brand to our consumers and we convey the brand lifestyle to brand trust to brand communication through our product lines. we produce 100 percent in saudi arabia."
ibrahim has sweet processing plants in jeddah and riyadh.
'once we manufacture goods we supply through our truck distribution fleet to our retail shops and sell them in our marketplace. we don't distribute to supermarkets schools or catering and contracting organizations. we exclusively make them available at our retail shops thus creating our own marketplace."
his plants in the industrial complex are comprehensively equipped with warehouses chillers freezers production lines and dispatch area on a 3200 sqm. saudi nationals comprise 33 percent of his work force the remaining being expatriates.
in the category in which his business is placed saudization requirement is 18 percent whereas his company has exceeded that limit to 33 percent.
of the 33 percent of his work force 80 percent are women and the remaining 20 percent men.
'thank god for saudi women. they saved not only our company but every company in saudi arabia in meeting saudization requirements because they are more dedicated and responsible and great employees in any sector. it is a great privilege to work with saudi women who are so educated and well presentable and who are disciplined. it is refreshing to see that."
asked about the company's exports he said: 'not now. we started with munch bakery from scratch. it's a 100 percent saudi brand that can be globalized and will be globalized. i'll be pursuing this and go to any length. we are going to start with the gcc in 2015 and from there we are going to grow hopefully from 2018 outside the gcc.
with regard to hygienic and environmental levels his manufacturing utilization is like anybody else.
'we use local energy. we don't use anything outside of that. our impact on the environment will be just like what other companies have."
all materials the company uses including plastic bags are biodegradable. so its packaging is paper-based which is recyclable biodegradable and the plastic used is also biodegradable.
'that is our environmental contribution."
when it comes to quality control and hygiene there is no compromise says ibrahim.
'this is our no. 1 priority in our production facilities and our retail outlets; we have managers for quality control and production and plant operations. all these managers work to just maintain hygiene and hygienic standards. ours is probably one of the most sophisticated manufacturing factories in the region not only in saudi arabia."
the company has been rated as one of the top 10 food factories in jeddah ibrahim boasts.
'more importantly when it comes to food hygiene it is really important to know your material sources. we manufacture our raw materials based on our own formulas. we manufacture 70 percent of them ourselves and the remaining 30 percent we acquire them from local sources.
the interview ended with ibrahim responding: 'no thank you very much; say thank you very munch... we have coined and own the ip rights for our brand 'thank you very munch."
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