We noticed you're blocking ads.

Keep supporting great journalism by turning off your ad blocker.

Questions about why you are seeing this? Contact us

Font Size

- Aa +

Fri 27 Feb 2009 04:00 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

In the front lines

Unrealistic expectations, in terms of time and cost, are still a major obstacle facing contractors in the region. CID caught up with a selection of industry experts to learn more about the challenges they face.

Unrealistic expectations, in terms of time and cost, are still a major obstacle facing contractors in the region. CID caught up with a selection of industry experts to learn more about the challenges they face.

As the final link in a chain that is often fraught with delays, marred by miscommunication and overrun with conflicting demands, interior contractors have a unique and, arguably, unenviable set of challenges to contend with.

Issues of time and money, the universal business bugbears, seem even more acute at this end of the scale, as contractors struggle to make up delays, meet final deadlines and facilitate the constant yet contradictory quest for high quality at low cost.

Clients want the very best quality but, at the end of the day, they want it at the cheapest price. The two don’t go together. You just cannot get the highest quality for the lowest price.

Even a slight delay at every other point in the development chain leaves the contractor with limited room for manoeuvre.

"The first major issue that most interior contractors face is time," confirmed Ramachandran V, general manager of Touchwood Décor & Furniture. "A lot of time is taken on the design part of a project. Afterwards, the client will send for a quotation, which they want very fast - but after the quotation is given they will take a long time on the decision making process.

"Then they want the whole job to be done in a very short span. Whereas, actually, the execution is the most difficult part of the project," he detailed.

Timeframes need to be more realistic, he continued, and interior contractors shouldn't have to bear the burden of delays that occur earlier on in the development process.

"Let's say you take a two-year project. There might be a lag of six months from the civil contractor but when the job is handed over to the interior contractor, the message is: ‘I want the completion date to stay as agreed.' How is the interior contractor expected to make up those six months?"

Timelines are affected by a whole host of logistical challenges, especially when contractors are working on a number of projects at the same time, Talal Saeed, managing partner of Fino International, pointed out. The difficulties in juggling resources, both human and material, are rarely appreciated - and almost never accounted for by the client.

"They always say ‘we want this done in 12 or 14 months, whereas you actually need twice that amount of time. You cannot do three or four projects and finish them all together. There are challenges in terms of logistics, freight forwarding, people, accommodation for the workers and transport to the site, for example."Sourcing, acquiring and importing materials also takes longer than many clients will typically allow for.

"Generally, clients always want things faster than you can get them. With furniture and lighting and things like that, it can take up to 12 weeks to get things from the US or from Europe. I think sometimes there is a lack of understanding on the lead time for products," suggested Ben Woods, account manager sales at Summertown International.

This is especially true when specifying for clients that are particularly precise about the materials they require. Currently involved in fitting out the Armani Hotel Burj Dubai, Fino International has found itself with a client that is very specific in its demands.

"They had very high specifications in terms of materials. If you want to buy marble, for example, you have to buy it from a particular source, as specified by them. You have to buy the proper specified material and you have to look into how you transport it, how you ship it, how you process it, how you cut it, up until the installation stage," Saeed explained.

"So, the specifications that the Armani team put into this project were very high and very sophisticated, and it would not have been possible to meet them in a short amount of time," he continued.

Unrealistic expectations also tend to colour a client's cost expectations, said Ramachandran. Clients continually demand the very highest quality, but at the lowest possible cost, which signifies a whole new juggling act for the contractor.

"They want the best quality but, at the end of the day, they want it at the cheapest price. The two don't go together. You just cannot get the highest quality for the lowest price," he said.

As a result, some contractors are left with little choice but to cut corners. "Not all, but some contractors have to sacrifice on quality, or else they will land up making a loss. Some consultants may not even find out but, at the end of the day, you might not be able to see it but the structure is then weak," Rama-chandran continued.

According to Saeed, these unrealistic expectations can't only be attributed to a lack of awareness. "Most designers know about the constraints we face, but they don't always care," he said.

"Sometimes the developer is pushing them. The developer wants the job to be done so he can make money out of it. He has invested a significant amount of money and he wants his hotel or his shopping centre working so he can start making that money back."That's not to say that the contractor is always the innocent party. In some cases, Ramachandran admitted, an absence of quality is a simple case of unscrupulous or unprofessional contractors trying to boost profits. "We cannot only blame interior designers," he insisted.

"There are places where the contractors try to play, where they try to deviate from the specs to save money."

Some elements of the design are more easily manipulated than others.

"Fabric is a place where they will play around a lot. The consultant will specify a certain fabric, with a metre price of AED500, for example. The job is awarded with this fabric. Immediately, the contractor will cut a piece of the sample and go to India, China or Pakistan and duplicate this fabric at a price you can't even imagine," said Ramachandran.

Growing competition should quash this tendency, as will current market conditions.

"Competition has gotten stronger in terms of numbers and we have seen quite a few international companies coming in, so the quality is starting to improve. The clients have more choice, so if you are not up to standard, it's a case where you are not going to survive, especially with the way that the market is slowing down somewhat," Woods predicted.

In terms of hardship, companies will invariably demand more bang for their buck. And with limited budgets on their hands, the last thing they will want is shoddy, short-term solutions.

"I think if companies are going to spend the money they are going to spend it wisely, and that's going to be the key - making sure they get value for money and quality, and that they don't have to redo things in a couple of years time," Woods maintained.

"I think this will be a challenging time for people, but I think the clever designers and the clever contractors will come out of it and you will see very strong companies at the end of this. The weaker people in the market have probably had their time."

Arabian Business: why we're going behind a paywall

For all the latest construction news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.