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Fri 16 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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Cracking the market was a struggle at first, but with Nakheel on board plus the sustainability buzz, Zeoplant's soil additive product has finally taken off. COD finds out what next from managing partner Ralf Stahl.

Cracking the market was a struggle at first, but with Nakheel on board plus the sustainability buzz, Zeoplant's soil additive product has finally taken off. COD finds out what next from managing partner Ralf Stahl.

In a region where the soil is sandy and there is an urgent need to reduce water usage, a soil retaining additive was always likely to be winner.

Success didn't come straight away however, recalls Zeoplant managing director Ralf Stahl, with the market at first cautious on the merits of such a product and dubious on if it was worth the extra investment. Stahl tells COD how some two years ago, things turned around.

Can you tell me about Zeoplant?

Zeoplant is a natural mineral soil additive which is added into the soil to improve soil quality because here in the Gulf you have sandy soils that have very low water holding capacity.

Zeoplant increases the water holding capacity in the soil by reducing the infiltration speed. With the normal sweet soil used here in landscaping, the infiltration speed within one hour is 320mm; with Zeoplant, the infiltration speed is reduced to about 45-60mm so there is about 80% difference.

How long have you been promoting Zeoplant in the region?

We are now in our sixth year of selling the product. The first three years were quite frustrating because it took a long time to get our first big project which was Nakheel's Palm Jumeirah.

Before that we sold regularly to private garden owners mainly in Arabian Ranches but that was small scale.

The industry was scared about the product because people had a bad idea about moisture retaining soil additives and their efficacy, so we had to convince them that our product is different and that it works but you can only do that by trying the product.

What was the turning point?

Palm Jumeirah. From that moment, we had the chance to show people how the product is applied and show them that it is working. We had lots of site visits during the application of the product at Palm Jumeirah.The second drive was the increase in environmental awareness thanks to the Estidama and LEED initiatives.

A lot of people were talking about environmental awareness before but nobody was really interested in it, our feeling is that from the beginning of 2008 there was a push coming through the whole industry. I have had many calls from consultants and landscape architects.

How much do you predict the sustainability buzz will drive your business?

It is difficult to forecast. We are multiplying our turnover in the last couple of years between three and four times a year. The Estidama and LEED guidelines are helping us. Our product fits 100% into these requirements and we are gaining a lot of interest now.

The first entry into a project is always through the specifications of the landscape architect, but we also have to make the client aware why he should spend more money on his landscape projects.

We work with ROI calculations so the client does not only see the cost but also the savings per year and on average we have a ROI of maximum two years.

We need to make the client aware of why they need to spend almost 13 dirhams more per square metre and once they see how many litres of water they spend per day per year and what that costs, it makes them understand much better.

Who are your competitors?

There are two or three other firms. We are supplying the main industry, and have clients like Nakheel and Aldar, plus Abu Dhabi's TDIC.

We have a large market share; it is difficult to say how much exactly but an estimate might be that 10% of all projects that are done in landscaping today in the UAE are using moisture retaining soil additives, and of this 10% maybe 80% are using Zeoplant.

What future plans do you have?

We built a warehouse at the beginning of the year in Ras Al Khaimah, and have spread our wings to other countries in the GCC through distribution agreements.

The plan is to increase sales in other countries as well. We doing well in Bahrain and Saudi and Iran but there are other parts in the GCC where we would like to sell more.

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