Unimix eyes Dubai growth as concrete demand soars
Chris Lobel, general manager of Unimix, talks to Paromita Dey about the challenges associated with supplying concrete for piling and foundation works at large scale projects
Have you witnessed a change in demand for concrete by the GCC’s piling and foundation sector?
Definitely, yes. We witnessed a lot of demand in 2015, because a number of superstructures were being constructed at the time. Hence, there was an increase in piling activity, which led to a rise demand for concrete in 2015, and at the beginning of 2016 as well.
In the UAE, more developments are underway in Dubai than in Abu Dhabi at the moment. Therefore, our activity is currently focused on the former.
What are the projects that you are currently working on in the UAE?
Historically, we have concentrated on large scale projects. For example, we supplied concrete for the piling and foundation works of the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa. We have also worked on iconic projects like the Emirates Towers Hotel and Burj Al Arab. We have worked on a lot of tower projects in the country.
We have also supplied concrete for piling and foundation works of the $1.4bn (AED5.1bn) Royal Atlantis at Palm Jumeirah, another landmark project for Dubai. It was a massive job and took us around four months to complete.
Currently, we are working on the $272m (AED1bn) Mohammed bin Rashid Library in Al Jaddaf. Piling has just begun on the project, which is in the shape of an open book, and is scheduled to open next year.
Are you looking to supply to any other projects outside Dubai?
No, we are not. For 2016, we do not have any plans of expanding our operations outside of Dubai.
In the medium term, we might look at supplying to projects in the UAE’s Northern Emirates. For the longer term, we will be looking at projects in Oman, which will probably be our next big step.
What are the company’s plans for 2016?
In 2016, we are focusing on streamlining our operations towards becoming more efficient. We are also paying attention to timely payment collection from clients.
When we take up a new project, we not only consider [the credentials of] its contractor, but also the kind of financing models and mechanisms being deployed for the project.
Because we are a concrete supplier, we are always lower down in the construction food chain. Therefore, it is important for us to work on projects with good clients in order to ensure we avoid payment issues.
How was business for Unimix in 2015? Was your company affected by the regional slowdown in the construction sector?
In 2015, we grew our concrete business by 20% on a year-on-year basis. But overall, the regional slowdown has definitely affected our portfolio.
There have been challenges with delayed payments across all projects.
To minimise such risks, we are now more cautious about the kind of clients and projects that we deal with. It is all about risk management.