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Putting a roof on Africa the ASL way.

The construction boom in Africa has opened up a whole new world of business for building material manufacturers and suppliers. While it has allowed established businesses to expand, it has also attracted a host of new entrants to the continent, who in turn have brought new ideas, products and approaches and spiced up competition.

One such new entrant is African Supplies Ltd (ASL) which, over a relatively short span of time has become one of the leading building materials distributors in Africa.

It was first established in 2000 to supply roofing products to the residential market. It operates, in particular, on behalf of AHI Roofing, a New Zealand company and the world's leading manufacturer of metal roof tiles. AHI manufactures the company's Decra and Gerard branded roofing products. Although ASL has also diversified into the supply of plumbing, sewage systems and drainage, it is still heavily focused on roofing.

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The company first entered the African market because of the construction boom and massive demand for new houses on the continent. The fact that the middle class is expanding fast in Africa also means that the market for higher-end products, such as those offered by ASL, has great potential.

After five years of working to establish the brand in the market, the company finally broke even. It then went on to register a 25% average growth rate in volume terms over the next six to seven years that followed, and captured a sizeable portion of the market. It is now expects to double its size over the next three and a half years, and triple it over the next five years.

Its strategy for the expansion is to penetrate new market sectors. The products it currently offers are most appropriate for the higher end of the construction market - residences aimed at the upper and upper middle classes, but construction projects catering to this segment of the market are levelling off. The company therefore plans to create new products aimed at slightly less affluent segments of the market. ASL also plans to expand its operations to French and Portuguese-speaking countries.

Business model

The cornerstone of ASL's strategy in Africa has been to build a brand identity for the products it represents; although Decra and Gerard products are well known internationally, they were largely unknown to the African market when ASL first got to work.

The company's business model has been to collaborate with local partners in every African country that it operates in as well as talk to architects in order to seek out new projects; in the company's own words, "finding those that were more innovative and dynamic, and understanding from them how we could best meet their needs".

The company now has 14 permanent distributor bases throughout the continent. The company sees itself as bringing greater aesthetic, durability and performance to the markets. It has also endeavoured to be a pioneering branding force within the market, by heavily branding its products in a largely unbranded area of the building materials market.

The company also has a strong emphasis on training. It works to improve the customer service capabilities of its partners and employs trainers in West and East Africa to offer support to distribution partners. Through its programme Africa Build, ASL is also offering training to installers and fitters. The formally written programme has a practical focus and is exam based. The company will be seeking support from governments and NGOs to help implement the programme.

One the biggest challenges that the company faces is to not compromise the quality of its products in the face of competition. ASL maintains that the quality of its products and brand strength should be enough to win over customers in the long term.
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Title Annotation:Major construction projects; African Supplies Ltd
Comment:Putting a roof on Africa the ASL way.(Major construction projects)(African Supplies Ltd)
Publication:African Business
Article Type:Company overview
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Apr 1, 2012
Words:622
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