Ground control

With flooring companies meeting the demand in the industry for greater quality head-on, Hugo Berger takes a look at why firms have reasons to be optimistic.

ANALYSIS, Business

As the buildings in the region reach greater and greater heights, it is easy to forget that what is on the ground is equally as important.

And with developers trying to convince buyers that their projects are of the highest standard, laying an attractive floor is an integral part of the building process.

Developers are turning to wooden floors because there is so much competition on the market now to help them sell apartments

With the vast amount of new projects planned in the GCC, manufacturers of flooring products are trying to get this message across.

But tastes in flooring have seen huge changes in recent years.

Whereas in the past marble, granite or tiles were the preferred choice, now a variety of other materials are taking precedence.

And developers and contractors are responding to changes in the tastes of customers.

Floors made of chemical resin are gradually becoming a choice for new-builds in the GCC.

On the back of this trend, chemical company BASF has seen its sales of flooring grow substantially in recent years.

The company provides two main flooring products - a polyurethane resin floor topping called Mastertop 1300 and UCRETE, an industrial floor covering made from a synthetic concrete.

Both products are known for their hardness, elasticity, and resistance to shock, ageing, cracking and scratching.

Despite the high quality of the product, Ian Smith, product line manager for performace flooring, BASF, said there were challenges in convincing clients of the benefits of using the material.

He says: "Anyone involved in the construction industry is finding that it is a buoyant market at the moment, but the challenges facing us is persuading contractors that by cutting costs they will affect the end-user of their project.

"Some of them are drawing up budgets without realising that they have to think in the long-term.

"A lot of the cheaper products on the market will only last a few years before they need replacing, which is just going to cost more in the long-run.

"The advantages of our system is that it is highly resilient, requires almost no upkeep and provides a variety of finishes in a variety of colours."

The products have been used in a number of high-profile projects, such as the new Hilton Hotel in Al Ain and the Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai.

Another change in the industry has been the growth in popularity of wooden floors.

Albert Douglas, CEO, Alomi Wood Floors said his firm had seen sales increase from US $100,000 (AED 367,300) five years ago to $30 million last year.

He says: "This boom has mainly been fashion-driven, because people want a product which is fashionable, durable and affordably priced.

"Dubai led the way with wooden flooring, but we are doing equally as much trade in Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

"It's not only in the UAE that they want this product, it's throughout the GCC.

"And that is a noticeable difference because we did nothing at the beginning in the other GCC countries."

Recent technological advances have meant that wooden floors are not affected by the extreme conditions in the GCC.

Douglas adds: "Before we were never able to have a product that was actually able to cope with the conditions here.

"It took a long time to gain the confidence of architects, specifiers, designers and end users that Alomi has got a product that is suitable for the humidity, high temperatures, warm air flows and termites of GCC conditions.

"We've actually gone back to the UK, where we manufacture all our flooring, and to my knowledge we are the only manufacturer in the world which produces a product which is tailor-made to GCC conditions."

Alomi has supplied to Jumeirah Beach Residence's penthouses, Mall of the Emirates and many five-star hotels in Dubai.

Douglas added: "Cost is an important factor; but more importantly is getting the right product for the right project. You need something that will last for many generations to come.

"If you think of the UK, a floor there can quite easily be 200 to 300 years old in a library, town hall or old country house.

"If it is installed professionally, using right materials, a floor can last hundreds of years.

And Douglas believed developers were realising that a good-quality wooden floor can be a huge draw to potential buyers.

He says: "It's obviously going to make your property fashionably desirable; people like the look of natural products.

"Developers are turning to wooden floors because there is so much competition on the market now to help them sell the apartments and villas which are springing up across the GCC.

Lesly Lobo, general manager, Al Fekal Group Wood Floor Division, has also seen an increase in sales.

He believes the growth in popularity of wood flooring is due to the huge influx of expatriates into the GCC.

"A lot of Europeans are coming in who are used to wooden floors in their own countries," he says.

"A lot them are buying their own apartments and they can spend money to have the floor built like something they are used to.

"When they were renting for one year they were not bothered, but now more and more are staying for longer and they want to put down something they like.

"A lot of people want to walk bare feet in their apartments and they found other materials, like marble and ceramic, get too cold.

"A lot of people think wood is more classic or elegant. So we are laying a lot of wooden floors on top of stone floors."

And the demand for the product has extended to what is possibly the region's best-known development - the Burj Dubai.

The company has completed mock-ups of 19,000m2 of wooden flooring for the world's tallest building.

"For the Burj Dubai they are using wood to reduce the weight of the structural weight as compared to marble or tiles," said Lobo.

"Of course it is an honour to be chosen to work on such a great project."

Despite the new sustainable building regulations coming into force in Dubai, the wooden flooring companies insisted their product did not harm the environment.

Whereas some cheaper products are made from lumber hewn from tropical rainforests, Douglas said his came from renewable sources.

He says: "We are leading the way forward here, unlike so many products that are procured from the Far East; we only procure our lumber from renewable sources.

"We personally believe that this is incredibly important, for the future of the planet and us all."

Lobo said: "We buy from only sustainable sources and it is a lot more environmentally-friendly than other materials.

"Wood, unlike other flooring products, does not have any environmental costs when you dispose it, because it is biodegradable.

"If you put in wood floors it definitely improves the status of your building and I think developers and contractors have realised this."

The surge in demand in the flooring industry is demonstrated by the growth in popularity of the Domotex Middle East 2008 exhibition.

The event, which takes place from 25-27 May at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre, is expecting more than 6,000 exhibitors from almost 100 countries.

As the construction boom in the GCC shows no signs of deceleration, flooring specialists are preparing for another bumper year.

The challenge facing them is similar to all those selling top-quality products - to persuade developers that cutting costs and corners will in harm their reputations.

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