Akij Group has recently started production of tableware products. This is a major investment in the sector in the country since 2009. The group is also expanding its ceramics business.
Sheikh Bashir Uddin, managing director of Akij Group, talked about the new investment and business expansion in an interview with The Business Standard.
What drove Akij to invest in ceramics?
We invested in ceramics about ten years ago and studied the possibilities of the business at home and abroad. At that time, we made some big plans. Now, we are making it bigger gradually.
At first, we started producing tiles only with two lines. Now, it has been increased to five lines. Each of the new lines is equal to the first 7-8 lines. After that we started sanitary ware production. We now probably have the largest sanitary ware factory in the country.
We are now the largest exporter in the European market. We manufacture sanitary ware according to the requirements of European countries.
We also started manufacturing tableware last month. We have set up a very beautiful plant for this with installing the best technology and hiring skilled manpower. We are also using the best raw materials. The response from the buyers in the first month is giving us great hope. The process to make our plant two times larger has just begun. We also have plans to make it three times larger than the current size.
The existing companies in the tableware sector are not doing well. How are you planning?
I don't know if there is any business in the world which is only for losses. In a business where one makes a loss, the other makes a profit. The difference is in the management. We thought before investing in tableware. We tried to feel the need of the consumers. We have invested after understanding what consumers want. We invested here after thinking about the problems and possibilities in this sector. We have 80 years of business experience. Hopefully, we'll do better.
What are the special qualities of Akij ceramics and tableware that buyers would be attracted to?
To make the difference, Akij's main focus is on functional stylish shape and design that would draw the attention of the buyers. Best raw materials and in-house body composition help Akij to make the product shiny. Lead- and cadmium-free colour use in printing makes Akij tableware products more hygienic. Our products come with high scratch mark resistance. More than 300 cycle dishwasher uses give our products an extra advantage. Moreover, our in-glaze (high temperature) firing technology helps to provide our customers microwave proof products.
I would say that ceramic utensils naturally follow the western patterns. If you look at the shapes of the native pots, you will see that they are a little heavier or a little deeper. On the other hand, the western products are more flat, straight and have some geometric patterns. In time, our designs have been adapted to our culture. We produce products for the local market keeping that in our mind. However, we produce the products for the international market according to the designs provided by the foreign buyers.
How big is Akij's business in the ceramics sector? How much have you invested in the tableware sector?
We set up the factory for Akij Tableware on 25 acres of land in Trishal, Mymensingh. There has been some delay in production due to a lack of gas connection. So far, the investment in Akij Tableware has been around Tk300 crore. The factory will gradually be expanded and will employ more than 3,000 people.
We built the entire ceramics industry on 150-acre land in Trishal in 2012. The way the factory is being expanded, it will be one of the largest ceramic villages in the world in the next few years. Currently, there is an investment of over Tk1,000 crore in the ceramics industry. More than 7,000 people are employed here.
What are the ceramics products of Akij that could be found in the market?
We have a full range of porcelain tableware containing dinner set, tea set, coffee set, firni set, rice dish, serving bowl, tea cup-saucer, coffee mug, soup bowl, flower vases in different shapes and designs. We have a complete solution for anyone's tableware requirement.
What are the prospects of tableware in the local and international markets? Do you have any plan to invest more in this sector?
Opportunity in this sector is growing along with the increasing per capita income of people. The middle-class people now have an aspiration for a modern lifestyle. Bangladesh now imports a huge amount of ceramic crockery to meet demand. So, a market has been created here.
Our plant has a capacity to manufacture 55,000 pieces of tableware products per day and we want to raise the capacity to 1.25 lakh pieces per day before the end of 2022. The additional capacity will make the company one of the biggest tableware factories not just in Bangladesh but also in the region.
The European market has a huge demand for Bangladeshi tableware products and currently the country is exporting products worth around Tk500-600 crore annually. However, it is not enough to fulfill the demand. So, we see a continuous double-digit growth opportunity in the export market in the next 10-15 years.
Where do you want to see your position in the market after 10 years?
We believe in sustainability of our business, and tomorrow is more important to us than today. Definitely we would love to see us as the number one brand of Bangladesh in the ceramics industry. We also want to create more demand for our products both in domestic and export markets.