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Markets: Distributor Focus – UAE

Middle East for integrators to also act as distributors. But over the past couple of years, more and more manufacturers are looking for AV distributors. Notes van den Berg: “If something breaks down, they have to replace it, because there’s no one in the region who can fix it, so they want local support, which we can provide. We also protect our dealers. If someone approaches us for business, we refer them to a dealer, because they are the ones that will do the integration. As a result, we have built a reputation for trust and that’s important in this region.”

Cultural differences Doing business in the Middle East is quite different from how it works in Europe, says van den Berg. “One thing we noticed as a distributor coming from Europe was that we were at a disadvantage currency-wise. The local currency, the dirham, is fixed to the dollar, and the euro was so called ‘too expensive’ so we are selling in the local currency.” Distributors operating in the UAE

also need a fair degree of patience, as negotiation plays a big part in the tendering process. “People will always ask for a discount; it is part of the trading culture and way business is done,” says van den Berg. “In Europe it’s more ‘what’s in the price list is the dealer price’; here, it’s different, but it also has its charms. Technical issues are also more common. One of the reasons is the lack of technical knowledge, which we are now trying to resolve through our links with MECIA [the Middle East Communications Industries Association], and through establishing courses and training that is designed to improve knowledge and skills. Other distributors and manufacturers are involved in this too. On a more positive note, people are friendlier than in Europe and appreciate it when you work together on solving a problem. If I send someone a quote, I’ll get a reply thanking me for my quote – you don’t get this in Europe.” One of the benefits of operating in

the UAE, and in particular Dubai, is the low transportation costs, but operating in the UAE is expensive. Audicom works from Dubai Silicon Oasis, a government-sponsored Free Zone. The company deals with large integrators who install systems in places such as hotels and conference centres, and small integrators who work in the home cinema market. “When we first arrived, it was hard

‘If you want to succeed in the UAE,

you have to be here’ Simon Smith, Christie

to get European equipment into many installations, because most of the tenders were written by Americans,” says van den Berg, “so we spent a lot of time marketing and promoting new products, and attending trade shows. We also talked to architects and consultants, because everything goes through vendors, and

if they don’t know you or your products, you will never get in. Your network is the most important thing in the Middle East.”

The need for networking Audicom also regularly attends breakfast meetings and other events hosted by MECIA, where there is an opportunity to network with architects, integrators and consultants. “If you are not in the UAE and you don’t have the network, you can forget it,” says van den Berg. “I know one or two people who try to work from the Netherlands or the UK, but you need to be local. There are major brands operating here which have good products but provide poor service, because the spare parts or the support are not local.” Being able to deliver on time is

crucial, adds van den Berg. “Last year, I took a risk and ordered two containers of AV equipment, and when business picked up after Ramadan, we had stock available and that put us on the map,” he says. “It’s not uncommon in the Middle East for a project to take two years and for you to get an order with a one-week deadline. The pressure is there: ‘We need 10 lifts – what do you have and what’s your best price now?’”

Dealing direct Christie, a leading company in digital projection and display technologies, has had an office in Dubai since 2007, and operates throughout the UAE and Middle East region. The company’s products are used in a wide range of installs, including trade centres, conference centres, theatres and auditoriums, but Simon Smith, Christie’s sales director and number two in the EMEA region, says

that there is also a large number of niche markets. “There’s a lot of business in virtual

reality and collaboration centres,” he explains. “The oil and gas industry, for example, will bring seismic data back from a drilling site and display the information in graphical form to a team of experts which enables them to take key decisions for effective productivity – we made a contract with Saudi Aramco, through one of our partners for a 2D and 3D presentation system.” Projection and display technology is also used in 3D classroom training, control room displays, security systems and broadcasting. With so much activity, you might expect Christie to be working closely with an AV distributor in the UAE, but you would be wrong. Smith adds: “If I could develop business through a distribution channel, I would. Christie engages with great distributors in Spain and Turkey, and I really enjoy working with them. They’ve got focus and it really does help manage all the enquiries and local support via one channel. I would like to use a distributor in the UAE, but it doesn’t work for us in this part of the world.”

A combination of cultural practices and operational procedures preclude using an AV distributor in the UAE, adds Smith. “The problem in the Middle East is that a lot of the integrators are like contractors – they do everything and tend to work on a project-by-project basis,” he explains. “So, because they use lots of different projects and services, for the main part with some exceptions, they don’t really become specialised in AV. In Europe, we’ve got distributors who are specialised and are developing consultants and channels, and trying

Eclipse Staging Services recently used four Christie Roadster HD18K projectors to deliver an exhilarating pixel-mapped projection onto Souk Al Bahar in Dubai

34 IE April 2012

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