Bangladeshi perfumer wins Middle Eastern hearts
Al Haramain Perfumes, a company set up by a Bangladeshi expatriate, has not only become a household name in the Middle East, its products are also gaining popularity in Europe and the US.
Over the years, the company has expanded its product line to 1,300 items, and created outstanding blends to suit varying moods, occasions and personalities.
A six-bottle set (24ml each) of 'Empress of Perfume', the company's most expensive fragrance, can cost as much as 25,000 dirhams, or more than Tk 5.27 lakh.
Haramain's sales were worth around $250 million (nearly Tk 2,000 crore) in 2014, almost equal to Bangladesh's total exports to the UAE in fiscal 2012-13.
This is how the Bangladeshi expatriate, Mahtabur Rahman, has proved his entrepreneurship skills abroad. “Our business strategy, strong quality control, and good corporate governance have borne fruit,” Rahman told The Daily Star in an interview recently at Sonargaon Hotel in Dhaka.
It is easy to just import and sell products in the market, and there are many people in the Middle East who do just that, he said. “But we don't. It takes almost a year to introduce a single product in the market -- from concept, designing, product development to production.”
Stringent quality control measures have helped the company earn consumers' trust not only in the Middle East but also elsewhere. Products of Al Haramain Perfumes are currently sold through 300 globally dispersed outlets.
Al Haramain now exports to 45 countries, including England, Italy and Switzerland in Europe, almost all Middle Eastern countries, and Asian countries like China, India and Pakistan. Its products are also available at the duty-free shops at airports in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.
“Our aim is to justify the 'Made in the UAE' label by making it here. Whenever we make something and launch it successfully, we feel proud of our work,” he said.
Rahman's father went to Saudi Arabia from Sylhet in the late 1960s; he laid the foundation of the perfume business in Makkah on a small scale in 1970. Rahman joined the business in 1975 and learnt the business basics.
He visited Dubai a couple of times in the early 1980s, and observed a lot of business potential there. “We opened our first showroom in Dubai's posh Murshid Bazar in 1981,” Rahman said.
Later, Al Haramain moved its small production facilities from Saudi Arabia to the UAE in 1987, realising that it was much easier to import, manufacture and export from Dubai.
Gradually, the factory that is located in Ajman was expanded to 174,477 square feet. The factory is a state-of-the-art manufacturing unit, with automatic and semi-automatic machinery for quality control, and research and development.
Al Haramain Perfumes has dual ISO certificates -- in quality management system, and good manufacturing practice.
To manage a business of such proportions, Haramain works out of an 11,000sft corporate head office in Dubai. It also has factories in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia.
“We only make the basic oils there. Laboratory tests, packaging, and final production are still done in Ajman,” Rahman said. The company also imports raw materials from Paris for body lotions and perfumes, he said.
Haramain currently employs 2,700 people, 30 percent of whom are Bangladeshis. However, the number is on the decline due to Dubai's new visa restrictions.
The restriction affecting Bangladeshi workers came soon after Bangladesh voted for Russia instead of Dubai in November 2013 for organising World Expo 2020.
The vote had surprised many, including Rahman, who believes the move was detrimental to Bangladesh-UAE relations, especially in regard to the labour visa issue.
Rahman was awarded the status of a commercially important person (CIP) in the last two consecutive years, for sending the highest amount of remittance to Bangladesh.
He is the founder and president of Bangladesh Business Council in Dubai, which promotes trade and commerce between the two countries. He has also diversified his business interest in banking, healthcare, hospitality and aviation. He is a sponsor director of the NRB Bank Ltd in Bangladesh and an ex-sponsor director of Al Arafah Islami Bank.
Al Haramain has two showrooms in Dhaka -- one at Jamuna Future Park and the other at Baitul Mukarram Market.
Rahman is currently working on a new project; he is building a 250-bed hospital in Moulvibazar at a cost of Tk 200 crore. The hospital aims to provide free treatment to at least 15-20 percent of its patients.