Could you give us an overview of the company's history?
NARESH KOVIL We started out in 1998 as a wholesale distributor for fresh flowers, plants, and related accessories, and today we are one of the market leaders. We import flowers and distribute to hotels, wedding planners, palaces, and retail shops across the UAE; we also supply directly from the source to our international clients in Asia and Europe. We import three tons of flowers per day and I'm not talking about plants but cut flowers. We distribute to over 900 customers in the UAE. The majority of wedding planners in the UAE consider us their trusted supplier.
S. IMRAN KHAN The company was established in 1990 as a family-run business. Later, we shifted to Sharjah and rebranded the company as Black Tulip Flowers. At present, we are involved across the entire value chain. We have our own farms in Kenya producing different varieties of fresh cut flowers. We are globally spread across India, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Malaysia, Kenya, and Australia. We supply to the majority of palaces, hotels, and wedding and event planners in the UAE, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. Our market share in the UAE and the GCC is 75% and 50%, respectively. We export from Kenya to France, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Australia, and East Asia. We have our own freight forwarding company in Kenya, and its team is professionally trained to transport freshly harvested flowers to the GCC within 24 hours.
What is your outlook for the floral industry?
NK The sector is improving. When I entered the industry in 1988, there were barely five shops in every Emirate. The fact that we distribute to over 900 shops shows how far the company and the industry have progressed. A flower culture has taken shape, by which I mean that many people buy fresh flowers for their homes. We supply anything a florist might need. This is a fluid industry because trends change; a number of fairs are held every year across the UAE, making for constant changes.
SiK Flower production makes up only a small part of the UAE's GDP. That being said, flowers are used for all cultural occasions. Furthermore, the UAE is a multinational country, so other cultures use flowers for various reasons as well. Our season starts usually in December, with Christmas and New Year's Eve, followed by Valentine's Day, Woman's Day, and Mother's Day. This peak season continues until the start of Ramadan, which is a long break for everyone. This is when we do our operational work, preparing for the upcoming season and revamping our operations. There are always new trends to chase.
From which markets do you import?
NK We import regularly from 26 countries around the world. The Netherlands is the biggest market for flowers in the world. Ecuador is another such example; the country has dedicated 2,000ha to roses alone. Colombia is another huge source. We also buy from Kenya, Ethiopia, China, New Zealand, China, Taiwan, and other flower growing countries. Previously, we even used to buy from Saudi Arabia.
What recent developments have you made?
SiK Black Tulip Flowers is a pioneer in indoor plants, importing from The Netherlands, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Germany. In 2018, we moved our infrastructure building to Dubai, where we have a fully automated greenhouse with German technology. We are the first to have such a set up in the UAE, so we are filling that gap in the market. We are also very much marching into e-commerce, having started two years ago. In addition to flowers, we have started selling chocolates, cakes and children's toys through e-commerce. We are now looking into expanding our physical presence globally by focusing mainly on the production side. Roses are our prime product, making up 85% of our produce. We also have lilies, hydrangeas, chrysanthemums, carnations, alstroemerias, and herbs.
How are you implementing AI in your company and what are your priorities for 2020?
NK We expect to be 100% digitalized soon. A partner from the Netherlands is supporting us in that regard, because the Netherlands has already implemented such digital strategies. Our plan is to become the market leader in this industry. We aim to have branches in at least 25 countries. We are not planning to invest, but rather attract investors to our projects.