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Q&A with Iskander Sultan Khawaja – Managing Director Al Borj

Q&A with Iskander Sultan Khawaja – Managing Director Al Borj

In business since 1986, Al Borj Machinery LLC is the pioneer in supplying machinery, equipment, spare parts, consumables, and services to the apparel manufacturing industry in the GCC countries, Jordan and Kenya, together with a network of dealers and resellers, the company has a well-established customer base in the markets it serves. Al Borj, being synchronised with the changing times, strives to provide excellent cut-to-sew solutions, emphasising on higher productivity, low labour cost, high quality, faster throughput and reduced fabric consumption. Representing world-renowned manufacturers of machinery and equipment and developers of software and layout design systems for the apparel manufacturing industry, Al Borj provides comprehensive solutions for each stage of apparel manufacturing.

Can you please elaborate on the background of the company and what prompted you to set up a garment machinery distribution company in the UAE?

ISK: “Till 1986 there was no organised garment manufacturing industry in the UAE. Garment manufacturing normally travels from country to country and the region comprising Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka had quotas for the export of garments to USA. They cannot export garments greater than the number specified by the quota. Hence, there was an urgent need for new destinations. As we were in this business in Pakistan for 13 years at that time, in 1986, we initiated the same machinery business in UAE. We had our head office in Dubai, Sharjah and we started supplying the entire apparel manufacturing unit. When I say entire it starts from designing, cutting, stitching, finishing and packing – essentially everything. That is how the business was established. We started from Dubai and from there we sold our machines to the entire UAE. At the peak there were almost 500 garment manufacturing factories in the UAE. After UAE we expanded with time to Oman, Behrain, Qatar, Jordon, Kuwait, Kenya. Our partners are working in Pakistan and we started a similar business in India almost 6 years ago. We have our offices spread out all over India selling the entire range of machines for manufacturing garments.

As a company we were always ahead of our competitors. In 2004 we specialised ourselves further and expanded towards supplying the most modern machinery, and identified the areas where our machines can be used. That led to the identification of almost fifty seven to sixty sectors where our machines could be used. Thus, we supplied our machines to sectors such as tent manufacturers, uniform manufacturers, hairline, awning, furniture manufacturing e.t.c, making for an entire list of companies where we supply our machines.”

Since you have conducted business in both regions, what is the difference in the business scenario in UAE and Pakistan?

ISK: “As compared to Dubai, productivity in Pakistan is minimal. When garment manufacturing was at its peak, that was in 1990’s and early 2000, even at that time if a machine in Pakistan produced 12-13 garments on average, the same machine produced 18 – 20 pieces in the UAE. In UAE the workers work minimum 8 hours a day whereas in Pakistan also workers work 8 hours a day but that comes with a multitude of other problems which hampers productivity.

Our company does not manufacture anything. We represent the manufacturers and we are currently representing almost 60 top companies all over the world, mostly from Japan, Europe and USA.”

Which countries are the major buyers of your merchandise?

ISK: “Depending on products we have a majority market share in all the countries where we operate, including Saudi Arabia.”

What are the future plans for the company and what projects do you have lined up? As a company do you intend to diversify into other products?

ISK: “We have a couple of other businesses also and we are very organised and structured in our business practices. When we are talking about Al Borj, which is the company that distributes garments machinery, we tend to focus on the same business do not move our line of focus. However we do add new lines within our business. So anything which is related to apparel we will venture into that business and towards that direction.”

What sets you apart from other distributors in the area and why is it that the top 60 companies across the world have chosen Al Borj?

ISK: “We are very focused in our business, we have the right team, and we know what we’re selling. We’re not only selling but also maintaining their machines. We also have a huge inventory of spare parts. In garment manufacturing about 20 people are employed to work in a cutting room. However, with the machines we’ve bought forward only 2 people can manage and operate the entire cutting room. When we are selling such expensive machinery we are also committed towards providing the entire service and exceptional customer care. We tell our buyers the payback time for the machinery. For example if a company is investing $ 100 000, they can recover that within a year through increased productivity and reduced labour costs. That is how we conduct our business and we have a command over what we’re selling.”

Do you follow the recent trends of motivational workshops, seminars and team building activities?

ISK: “Yes, definitely. We don’t call our workers our staff; we call them our team members and we work as a team.  Wherever the team needs to be educated we always provide them with the means and the opportunity. Apart from my team I myself keep on attending workshops and educating myself regarding the new and upcoming business trends.”

Al Borj is about to celebrate 25 years of success in business, what advice would you give to upcoming entrepreneurs who are initiating new ventures and startups?

ISK: “My advice to startups would always be to first sit at the drawing board and organise your plan and whatever it is that you want to do. Make a business plan, an organisation chart, make it undergo a testing period in an incubator. The market is huge and the growth opportunities are immense. But, there is fierce competition so you must have a strong hold over your product, strengths, weaknesses and have complete knowledge of your competitors. As a company we have always kept close track of our competitors. Therefore, for the last 25 years we have maintained a huge market share and been able to compete with our competitors. I also strongly believe that honesty and integrity always pay off in the future. Dishonesty might be beneficial in the short term but it will never be of benefit in the long term. Our priority is always to increase the productivity of our client. We can sell them a large number of machines to produce a certain number of garments. But, we only sell them what their requirement is and we try to minimise the number of machinery the client wants to purchase to maintain a productivity versus cost and input balance. That raises the confidence level of the clients and that is my advice to all new startups. To maintain integrity and honesty and build a reputation with your customers that will lead to customer loyalty and repeat customers”

How has your company evolved in the past 25 years?

ISK: “When we established Al Borj we did not know how long we would be able to survive in the market. But, we have survived and thrived so long is because of our policy of following a strict code of business ethics, honesty and integrity.  Our plans for growth are pre-finalised and properly planned. And that is why our company continues to grow and expand”

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