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Niro: burning brightly in the East

Asian Ceramics talks to Bong Kuan Shin, Managing Director of Niro Ceramic Group, about the company’s plans for the future, and view of the current ASEAN situation.

AC: Can you please tell us about the background of Niro and how you got to where you are today?

NG: Niro Ceramic Group, originated from Switzerland in 1979, is the pioneer in producing porcelain tiles under the brand name Niro Granite. Over three decades, the Group has expanded its business and now offers an established 50 years Spanish brand, Zirconio, well-known for its ceramic white body tiles. The Group also carries a range of sanitary collection, Orin and glass mosaics under the brand name Muzze Da to complement Niro Granite collection. All these brands constantly stay at the helm of the industry and are the preferred choice for our customers around the world, be it building professionals or home owners.

AC: In which countries are you principally active?

NG: Niro Ceramic Group operates in Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Spain and India and exporting to more than 100 countries worldwide. The key success factors of the Group are customer experience and satisfaction.

AC: And your main business areas of focus?

NG: Presently, we consider ourselves a leading manufacturer and retailing of high quality porcelain tiles, ceramic tiles and sanitary ware.

AC: As a continually growing company, how important is it for you to have a long term vision?

NG: This is a key part of our strategy. For example, we set out a way of working that would mean that NIRO GRANITE, The Swiss-Quality Tile would be the preferred choice of our customers around the world because of our excellent product collection and superior quality consistency, which is enhanced by innovative marketing support, efficient customer care and logistics management, giving our customers the best value added option amongst our competition.

Added to that our mission statement is to become a leader in the porcelain tile industry by always presenting to the market the best collection of products in terms of designs and technical qualities that are highly appreciated by the building professionals and owners. How do we do this? Well our aim is that we would achieve this by trendy products development, innovative marketing support, high satisfaction level of customer care, versatile sourcing, efficient productions and supply chain management throughout our organization. This will be made possible and achieved through the energy, dedication and capability of our people.

AC: Clearly staff are a critical component of your continued success, so how many do you presently employ?

NG: Our current levels are around 1,800+ at the Group level whilst more than 200 are employed directly within our sales network.

AC: What percentage of your output is currently geared towards the expanding export market?

NG: The export share of our business is about 40% of our total sales turnover. We consider ”home markets” to be Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Spain and India, whilst exports are counted as sales to Europe, the Middle East, Oceania and the wider Asia area, where we presently do not have any production base.

AC: Where exactly are your plants at present, and what types and quantity of product are manufactured there?

NG: We have a number of geographically diverse facilities, and currently own and operate manufacturing plants in Pasir Gudang, Malaysia, Bogor, Indonesia and Villareal, Spain. In addition to our own facilities, we also have contract manufacturing taking place in China, Vietnam and India. Across the board, the principal areas of focus are our technical porcelain, glazed porcelain tiles and ceramic tiles ranges. In the case of the technical porcelain tiles, and indeed the glazed porcelain tiles, we are also one of the pioneers and leaders in the application of digital technology and rotocolor.

AC: What recent investment in new technologies did you make?

NG: Digital print technologies have been central to our recent investments. This is further supplemented by investments in new presses, kilns and transportations systems.

AC: In the recent years you realized technological renovation of your facilities. Could you even describe technologies offered by SITI B&T Group?

NG: In our Indonesian factory, we have invested in a new plant with the major equipment of press, dryers and kilns from the SITI Group. Both dryer and kiln are energy efficient and the SITI kiln installed is the longest in South East Asia at 240 meters.

AC: As environmental pressures continue to mount, how important has it become to have The efficient and energy-saving technologies as a key part of the plant set-up?

NG: Efficient and energy saving technologies will continue to be of growing importance for the Niro Group, and should be for the industry as well. Energy cost notwithstanding the environmental impact should be at the forefront of every organization’s focus.

AC: What future planned investments do you have on the table for the near future?

NG: With recent investments, the priority is actually to reap its returns and to realize its benefits. That said, we monitor closely innovations and opportunities and of course would look to see if any further upgrades could be of major importance.

AC : What are your strategies and next goals or planned growing steps?

NG: We believe our present strategy will add value to our global customer base and support the growth of the company in the foreseeable future.

AC: As a key user of European technology, what is your view on the continued supply of machinery from Italy?

NG: We observe that the major suppliers are progressively more market and cost-centric, which is a requirement to compete in the current environment. That said, there are still specific machineries where the technology from Italy continues to have the edge. To maintain this gap through innovation and for the technology to be made more affordable will be key to sustainability.

AC: What is your opinion about the building industry in Indonesia (forecast, recent years trend) ?

NG: This year there seems to be a slowdown in the Indonesian market but it is said that the market will improve in the nd half of the year. The trend in the porcelain tile is still towards larger sizes of 60x120cm, but the volume is still small at 2 present.

AC: Finally, what is your opinion about the major problems and opportunities in producing tiles in East Asia?

NG: Problems are the supply of gas, union intervention, an unorganized labor, FOREX issues and exchange rate currency and governments have to look into imposing stricter regulations and policies on imports.