Just how do you compete with the big boys of the UAE’s trade and logistics scene?
With thousands of businesses from hundreds of countries in Jebel Ali Free Zone alone, it is perhaps one of the most difficult sectors to successfully penetrate, with countless distributers, warehouses, brokers, packing companies, freighters and more vying for customers.
One man who believes he has found a way is Rodrigue Nacouzi, founder and managing director of Transcorp International.
“You can’t compete with the giants, so don’t even try,” he says. “They will knock you out of the game almost immediately, so you have to be careful and you have to be clever.
“You have to start small and focused so that you can build. That’s what we’re doing with Transcorp.”
Launched at the end of 2013, Transcorp might be small, but it aspires to be all-encompassing in what it provides. Offering not just one specialised service, Nacouzi explains he wanted to give customers everything in one place, making transportation easier for them to understand and manage.
He says: “I wanted to offer for clients a one-stop-shop. Rather than having lots of different providers doing different parts of the journey, I wanted to make people’s life easier and offer it all in one place.
“I tried to find something like this that was already on the market, but couldn’t, which is why I believed it would fill a gap.”
Combining distribution, warehousing, brokerage, packing, and fairs and events, Transcorp aims to solve the issue of inconsistency between freight forwarders, retailers, distribution companies, and anybody else in a customer’s chain.
And with a wealth of experience behind him, Nacouzi was well placed to know that this is what customers wanted.
Originally from Lebanon, he has lived in the UAE for the past seven years, working at supply chain company Expeditors in Abu Dhabi before becoming regional director for On Time Express.
But his career started in his homeland, where he worked for DHL after graduating in logistics.
“I learnt so much there, and was exposed to a lot of good things and bad things at the same time,” he says.
“That’s been the case everywhere I’ve worked, and one of the reasons I’ve been able to launch my own company. I’ve been able to see what’s done right and what’s done wrong, as well as find out what customers really want that’s not on the market yet.
“I have 10 years experience in the freight and logistics business, with a lot of great exposure – especially in my last two positions. I’ve built a good rapport with customers, authorities and vendors. Once you have that you can understand what people want, and you can launch your own business.”
Identifying the growth in Dubai’s market and the emirate’s successful Expo 2020 bid as two further reasons he decided to take the entrepreneurial plunge, Nacouzi believes the time is right to add something to the sector.
But his idea for Transcorp is not a knee-jerk reaction, nor a concept devised overnight.
He explains: “The idea actually surfaced four years ago in Abu Dhabi. There was a lack of professional transporters, but I didn’t have the money or resources to do anything about it.
“Then the opportunity came to move to Dubai, where the logistics market is always thriving. It’s a hub, and I was exposed to bigger operations, bigger markets, bigger players.
“But even there I didn’t see the professional service providers I was expecting to – the ones who could offer various aspects in one.”
With a business model in mind, Nacouzi drew on his own resources to put his plan into action.
Having established a small handful of overseas businesses, he was able to use their profits to launch Transcorp – a system he felt more comfortable with than looking for investment.
“I prefer to grow naturally,” he explains. “I don’t like to start big – it has to be a natural progression. I think it makes sense that way.
“Dubai is a fast moving market, so it can be hard to progress at a natural pace on that front, but you adapt to the speed of it, and I’m confident we can keep up with it.”
Staying at the forefront of the market means making enough people aware of what you do, and the benefits of it. Especially in such a competitive and well-established environment.
Nacouzi says: “The Dubai market is 30 years old, and we’re coming to compete with long-standing players, so it will take time to get to where we are going. It won’t be an overnight thing.
“Before launching the company I did a lot of market evaluation, and having been on the customer side of things for so long, I knew what they wanted. I believed I could do something interesting with that experience.
“Now, I can confidently go to a shipping agent or company for a freight order, and I can tell them I have warehouses, trucks equipped with latest GPS systems, insurance for each part, and so on.
“People become interested because it’s professional and it’s easier for them.
“One of the benefits of being small is that we can be flexible and work to customers’ needs more easily.
“We can provide same day delivery, next day delivery, whatever the client’s requirements and budget are. That’s the kind of thing that helps us build our reputation.
“It helps that I already have a rapport with the custom authorities, local authorities, and so on. You need that in Dubai.”
Of course entrepreneurship is not just about maintaining contacts and talking a good game.
Building a strong brand identity and working culture is also important.
Nacouzi says he works hard on his employees’ mindset – creating a can-do attitude to problem solving, while giving a consistency to the company’s vision and personality.
“I want everybody to have a good frame of mind and know the direction we’re going in. It makes for a much stronger team and business.
“I actually like to hire fresh graduates and newcomers to the area. A lot of people would disagree with my approach, but I believe in what I’m doing because there are a lot of talented people out there who want to prove themselves.
“I was given an opportunity at a young age and I’ve always been grateful for that.
“It’s hard to be a small player in the giant’s league, but if you can’t be bigger and better than them, be different. We try to do our own thing in our own way.
Only a few months into operations, Nacouzi is planning big things for Transcorp – and not just in purely business ways.
“Something else that’s important to me is the environment,” he says. “I’m a massive fan of trying to improve the way we look at the environment and operate within it.
“That’s why we are going to have an initiative in 2015 called ‘Living Responsibly’ and it’s going to be a big part of what we do.”
Part of the initiative will include pledges towards social commitment and environmental programmes, as well continual assessment of the company’s environmental impact and implementation of programmes to reduce its carbon footprint.
“We have to be aware of the impact we have,” continues Nacouzi. “We will be very active on this front, but for us to be able to do that we need to spend our first year establishing the business and focusing on that.”
Despite the short-term focus, he is bold about his ambitions for the medium and long-term, revealing he plans to have six fully operational offices throughout the GCC within three years, and to be positioned as a major player for Expo 2020 within five years.
But he is also aware that things have to happen one step at a time.
“We are currently only six people in Dubai. We are going to add four drivers soon because we have recently bought four more vehicles, and we hope to add more employees soon
“It’s all about building at the right pace, with the right people at the right time. Whatever is best for the customers and their needs.
“But we need to take our steps carefully because we don’t want to fall.”
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