Can you tell us more about how you came to join the company and your journey to the top?
I am basically from the promoter family of the business. My grandfather was the founder of the business. I started off by training at the factory for one year, extensively went through each and every stage and physically built tires as well. From there, I moved on to the sales and marketing side and went through the phases of learning there. After about three years of training, I slowly started getting into sales and strategy and made my way to the top. Now, I am involved at all levels. I just finished overseeing the entire Bhuj project and that has been the latest development.
The green field facility in Bhuj is a great milestone for BKT. Can you briefly summarize the BKT story so far for those who are not familiar with the brand?
We started off with tire manufacturing in 1988 and moved into the off highway tire segment in 1994. Our first exports started in 1995. In the past 20 years we have grown from zero to being a USD 700 million company and from one plant in Aurangabad which was spread over 9 acres of land to the Bhuj plant, which is our fourth manufacturing facility and is spread over 312 acres of land. So, that is how we have grown.
How important is the Middle East market for BKT? Who are your target customers in this region?
The Middle East market is very important because if offers plenty of growth opportunities for industrial construction. The wing in the group that is involved in the industrial and construction segment that is involved in making special tires sees an opportunity for the same tires in the Middle East market. So, it is very important to get good sales. All over the Middle East, there is a good buzz on infrastructure growth. So, that is a good opportunity for us.
What is your primary focus when it comes to improving sales and marketing in the Middle East?
The primary focus will be on enhancing brand awareness. We are primarily focusing on ads which you might have noticed. We are participating in all the big shows like Automechanika which is one of the biggest regional shows. We were one of the key sponsors. Our name is out there. We are primarily focusing on the branding. Along with our channel partners in those respective territories, are working on creating more training programs for the end users. We are trying to reach out more to the end users.
BKT is well known for its partnership with Monster Jam. How has this partnership helped to boost brand awareness?
Monster Jam is a big thing in the United States and that is why we tied up with them. It has a leverage in the rest of the world as Monster Jam events are viewed worldwide, they get televised. Mainly. The target audience of Monster Jam consists of those from the agricultural, industrial, construction and mining backgrounds and that is our target audience. BKT products have been moving a little bit more than they did as an outcome of this collaboration.
Are you planning any such high profile marketing partnerships in the Middle East?
We are evaluating various opportunities. There is nothing concrete at this stage.
Whom do you see as your main competitors in this region?
Bridgestone is there, and there are a few local players whom we see as competitors.
What are the key strengths of BKT that you want to highlight in this market?
Our main strength is that we have a very strong quality product that exhibits consistent performance. And then there is the entire packaging. We do not just sell our tires and move on. Pre and post sales service is just as important, especially post service in case of any failure. It is very important to respond, thereby creating confidence in your product.
When it comes to off highway tires, how is the market here different from that for conventional tires?
As compared to passenger car tires, there are different technical requirements. For example a passenger car tire will always be used on the road whereas our products will be used on different surfaces, different kinds of soil. Let me give you the example of a product, the same sized tire may behave differently when it is used in Turkey and in Perth. In Perth, the soil is very soft. The same tire, same equipment, same application when used in Turkey will fail because of the existence of very rocky terrain there. So, you need to have different types of special compounds to tackle rocky and soft terrains. That is where the technical aspects become different.
Can you tell us more about the main products you will be focusing on here in the Middle East market?
Mainly industrial and construction segments.
What are your goals for BKT in the Middle East market?
Basically, our overall aim is to have global leadership. So, we would like to be in the leadership position in the Middle East as well.
What advice would you give to those who are looking for industrial, OTR or agricultural tires in this region? What are the main points they should keep in mind during the purchase process?
During the purchase process, don’t always opt for the cheapest product. It may not prove to be the best product in the long run. What you need to check is the cost per hour that you are going to pay. That is the correct criterion for evaluating these kinds of tires. You may find a cheaper tire, but it may fail quicker. Hence, the downtime and the replacement time is much higher and the cost will increase over the long term. Hence, calculate the tonnage or the cost per hour that you are going to pay and then take a call on which tire to buy.
Norms regarding the retail sale of tires have been made stricter in the UAE recently. How do you think this will affect the retail tire scene?
I think it will make things more organized. People will follow more systems which is always good.
BKT currently has OEM deals with well known companies like John Deere, JCB and CNH Industrial. How important is the OEM segment to you?
The OEM segment is very important because it gives you brand recollection, it gives you a good partner to be with and definitely, it is good to have these on board.
Please tell us more about the Bhuj Greenfield facility and how it is set to be a gamechanger in the industry.
It is probably one of the biggest plants for the manufacture of off-highway tires in the business. It is the most modern tire plant across the board, with the most modern and state of the art equipment. The quality of the tires produced at the plant will be at par with those produced anywhere in the world, if not better. And the capacities are so large that it would help us to be a gamechanger and it will be a gamechanger for Bhuj.
Currently, what is the market share of BKT in the off-the-road tire segment and how to you plan to increase this?
Globally, around six per cent. We are focusing on new products, entry into new segments like high speed trains, multi purpose trucks, military applications, port radials, the high technology IF, VF agricultural. Along with that, we will look into new markets like Russia, enhance presence in US and India, enhance our distribution in the markets where we are present. We will also focus more on service, engineering service to the end users and creating brand awareness among users.
When it comes to digital marketing, BKT has made great progress recently with the launch of a multilingual website and an active presence on social media channels. What impact has this had on engagement with end users and dealers? What role will digital marketing play in your marketing strategy?
Definitely, social media is the way forward. It gives you direct access to the end users. They can ask you and you can ask them questions, interact with them. We have noticed that and that is why about eight or nine months ago, we started our social media initiative and our presence in this area is growing. Even today, at the opening of the plant, we had a lot of people using Twitter and tweeting about the conference. News spreads so fast through digital media that it is a channel we cannot afford to ignore.
People have become very conscious about the environmental impact of products in the automotive industry. When it comes to BKT tires, especially agricultural tires, how are they rated by customers with regard to their fuel efficiency, traction and tire footprint?
With regards to traction, we are rated pretty high. There is no proper method to judge fuel economy. In our tests, we have noticed that the new technology of radial definitely helps.
What are the general challenges that the off highway tire industry is facing at the moment?
As is the case all over the world, and not just for off-highway tires, the uncertainty in the market is the biggest challenge. Everybody is facing it. For a couple of days, it would be good, and it would be bad, the volatility and uncertainty in the market scenario are our biggest challenges.
Can you tell us about a few challenges you have successfully overcome during your stint at BKT?
It has been a good journey. The team also stood behind me. We worked together as a group. And that is why we were able to overcome any challenges we faced. It would be difficult to name any specific challenges. Every day in life and at work, there is some challenge or the other. So far, there has been nothing major that we have not been able to tackle by working together. along with our distributors and our own team.
Manju Mathew, an MBA in marketing, completed publisher training courses from the Oxford Brookes University and New York University. She started with marketing and PR roles before moving on to her current position as a full time writer. Currently living in Dubai, her life as an expat has sharpened her observation skills and flair for writing. She enjoys writing about luxury cars like Ferrari, Lamborghini, etc even if she can only dream of owning them.
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