By Dawinderpal Sahota
Ashok Chopra is the group general manager at Sahara Computers. The versatile company has exhibited strong growth since its arrival in the Middle East just two years ago. Chopra tells us about the challenges that the Middle East poses and reveals the secret of Sahara’s growth.
|~|Ashok200.gif|~|Ashok Chopra, Sahara|~|Ashok Chopra is the group general manager at Sahara Computers. The versatile company has exhibited strong growth since its arrival in the Middle East just two years ago. Chopra tells us about the challenges that the Middle East poses and reveals the secret of Sahara’s growth.
CHANNEL MIDDLE EAST: Talk us through Sahara’s structure in the Middle East.
ASHOK CHOPRA: We’re part of the Sahara Group, which is originally from South Africa. We’re the Middle East arm and here we have three companies: Channeltech Distribution, Sahara NEWCA and Sahara Computers. We are a distributor, but we also have our own brand products. We also do system integration with Sahara-branded components as well as third party assembly.
CME:: With such a broad spectrum of activities, what would you classify as your primary focus?
AC:: Our core business is our own brand products: Sahara desktops, laptops, tablet PCs, servers, LCD monitors, digital cameras, flash memory products, components and peripherals. Sahara Computers focuses on local sales to GCC countries where there isn’t much of a problem in terms of customs due to a unified tariff. We have premises in Jebel Ali and through Channeltech Distribution we currently distribute AMD products and Foxconn motherboards into the region. Sahara NEWCA is distributing a lot of top IT products, but purely focusing on Africa.
CME:: Which markets do you serve from your base in Jebel Ali?
AC:: In the Middle East, we cover the GCC, Jordan, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq. We plan to target Turkey next. We have a base in South Africa but from there you can’t cater to the rest of Africa — it’s too big. Logistically it’s much easier to supply to Africa from Dubai, especially as we are in the Free Zone.
CME:: Do you feel it is viable to address the entire region from Dubai alone?
AC:: Dubai has set an example but the other countries in the Middle East are catching up. You can’t just take care of the Middle East from Dubai anymore, you have to be present in all the countries and focus on the region in a much more rigorous manner now. If you want to focus on Saudi, Kuwait or Qatar you have to physically be there, and we have plans.
CME:: In a fast growing region such as the Middle East there are a lot of end-user sectors investing in technology. Which parts of the market does Sahara regard as its core customer base?
AC:: We’ve divided the market into five segments. Firstly retail; you can find Sahara products in Radio Shack, Telefonica, Manama Supermarket and Geant in Saudi. Then we have the corporate segment. We provide any solution or service, be it total networking, providing a server or providing internet security solutions. Then we have a tender and government division, the SMB division and the small retail outlets.
CME:: Given that small IT outlets in Dubai tend to deliver to corporates too, does that pose the risk of an overlap in your strategy?
AC:: The small retailers primarily serve African customers who pay cash and take the products. The outlets come to us and ask for products in huge numbers. Every month we sell around 40,000 flash drives in Dubai alone, but not everything stays in the Middle East. Some corporate customers go straight to the resellers, and we can’t help that, but they tend to deliver our products only to small corporate and medium businesses.
CME:: In order to sustain profitable business from selling Sahara branded products, what advice would you give to resellers?
AC:: My advice would be to keep your feet on the ground. The flow of money is very easy in this region, and the availability of credit is very easy too. There is a temptation for people to go overboard and then they can’t manage their cash flow. As a result, even the bigger distribution houses fall.
CME:: And what plans do you have in place for 2007?
AC:: This year our biggest focus is on retail. We’re seeing a shift towards retail in this region and we’ve just signed with Emax and Geant. People are earning high incomes and living a good lifestyle, they want to go out and spend money. So the biggest focus for us is retail and then the corporate segment. Channel distribution gives you visibility, but not money. Retail gives enough revenue and fast expansion, and corporate gives good margin, so these will be our areas of focus. The third focus will be bringing a few more vendors to strengthen the distribution side of the business. We’re currently doing very well, but we’d still like to improve the portfolio.