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Interview: Keith Watson, Division Manager, Reza Hygiene


“The real joy has been working with teams of so many different nationalities and cultures who have together built a great regional company that is placed first in various market segments.” – Keith Watson


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November 4, 2017
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Interview: Keith Watson, Division Manager, Reza Hygiene

Building a company from scratch and diversifying into multiple segments with multiple products across a certain geography is no small feat. Today, Reza Hygiene is one of the leading companies in the GCC region with expertise in various segments including healthcare, retail, F&B, bio-security, etc. Clean Middle East interacted with Keith Watson, Division Manager, Reza Hygiene, for a glimpse of his journey since he began working with the company when it first started in 1997. Some excerpts…

You have been with Reza Hygiene for the past 20 years now. What has the journey been like?

Twenty years with one company is a long time in anyone’s books. I consider myself very blessed to have worked in a supportive company environment where we have been encouraged and given free rein to focus on innovation and growth. My total time in Saudi Arabia is 35 years, initially being part of a set-up team for one of the larger multi-national hygiene suppliers, who like many of us came for a couple of years to help reduce the mortgage.

The journey has been amazing - building an innovative, fast responding business from zero, that embraces technology for its own and customers benefit. I have seen the region grow exponentially albeit with a sprinkling of some dramatic regional geo-political challenges. To me, the real joy has been working with teams of so many different nationalities and cultures who have together built a great regional company that is placed first in various market segments. 

How has the cleaning and hygiene industry changed since then? What is your opinion of the market now?

The rate of sophistication and adoption of technological concepts and international standards have and still do differ from country to country in the region, and this has been especially reflected in facility maintenance, planned preventative maintenance, food production, food safety, healthcare and bio-security.

As an example, in the food production, hospitality and catering industries, we initially saw food safety standards and good manufacturing process and related cleaning & hygiene procedures being driven by international companies who brought their standards and own procedures and practices with them. It was not driven or enforced in an organized manner by the local government authorities. That has now changed quite significantly with the introduction of new government entities such as the Saudi Food & Drug Administration who have been given all the resources.

In other market segments, we have seen cleaning and hygiene practices adopting new technologies and equipment to reduce manpower and cleaning times thereby increase productivity. Foreign manpower is being reduced in many Gulf countries, and technology has the ability to reduce many tedious and time intensive tasks; often with a better result. We are also seeing an increasing recognition and adoption of practices and technologies that reduce energy and water consumption, especially as these utilities are now being priced without generous subsidies. Tremendous savings can be achieved in so many market segments.

Providing innovative solutions to our customers so that they can work more efficiently, improve standards, enhance their environment while reducing costs has been our driving mantra.

Tell us about the growth of Reza Hygiene since it was launched in 1997. What kind of portfolios have you added since then?

When we started in 1997, it was a blank canvas, and the multi-national competition was very well entrenched in many market segments; as I mentioned before I was one of a team in the 1980’s that started one of them. Although my background was hospitality & catering, we saw that this would be a tough challenge but saw a lot of opportunities in healthcare (all departments of hospitals) food production, FM and washrooms - segments that were either poorly handled by the competition or not handled at all. Our tremendous success in these areas took us further back into the food chain with animal production bio-security, water treatment and now laundry; all areas where we know we have innovative technologies from renowned international partners that can make a difference to our customers.

Having various branches across the GCC, how do the markets and consumer behaviour differ in each GCC country?

There is certainly a difference between each GCC country with the demographic mix of nationalities and with the governmental budgetary economics of each country obviously playing a big part. The oil price drop in 2015 and recent regional tensions have certainly caused a tremendous drop in consumer and commercial confidence and buying habits.

In Saudi Arabia, we saw government employee benefits slashed in mid-2016, and this had a dramatic effect on consumer spending and habits, especially in the food chain at a retail level, restaurants and hospitality; tourist visits to surrounding Gulf countries were also affected having a knock-on effect in their economies. New dependent charges for non-national workers in Saudi this summer have also impacted on expatriate spending.

How has the market change ever since the Qatar crisis?

The Qatar crisis has had a major impact on the Qatar market, but we have also seen our regional customers who export to Qatar affected with drops in sales, production and their hygiene product consumption.

Today, companies are looking towards the introduction of smart apps and products like IoT based solutions. Where does Reza Hygiene stand in this trend? What are your plans for advancement?

We have always been at the forefront of using technology, and 10 years ago we created a bespoke ‘Service Scheduling System’ called Reza 3S, which scheduled technician service visits and their tasks for each of our 50,000+ dispensers, machines and equipment systems in the region, automatically emailing service reports to designated customer staff. Reza 3S records in the cloud, all the assets involved, service reports and contract details. Initially, we used hand-held PDAs, and these were upgraded with an armored mini-iPad system and 4 years ago to include vehicle tracking and service timing.

We created Reza City, an online virtual city where customers can enter an industry building and rooms to view & select process areas to select products, view MSDS’, product data sheets, product videos, and this innovation can be used on all devices.We will continue to develop exciting IT products that will help customers and train end user staff.

You have some of the top cleaning products suppliers in your portfolio. How do you ensure that you market their products to their demanding standards?

Our objective has always been to provide a total hygiene solution to our customers, and to do that we only partner with strong leading brands in the cleaning & hygiene field that have the same values of innovation, durability, long-term cost efficiency and service. When we enter a partnership, we value the brands we represent and that means having the resources in place, be it stocks, sales consultants or service to ensure that we are servicing that brand to the very best as part of a solution. This is reflected with companies such as Rubbermaid, Technical Concepts, Hako, Dyson, Christeyns and many others, where they actually seek us out.

What would you say is the biggest challenge in the industry?

The macro challenges depend on each market segment we operate in and each country, but for the short term the overriding challenge is the regional economy, implementation of new charges and taxes, including VAT and their impact on consumer spending habits and government budgets.

What would you say is Reza Hygiene’s USP? How do you ensure that you stay above the competition?

We have always focused on asking the right questions and providing the right solutions to our customers and then backing that up with a strong service ethic. To maintain our market position that means continual innovation and investment in our resources, our main resource being our incredible people.

What in your opinion are the current trends in the GCC cleaning industry? Where do you see it five years down the line?

Cleaning products represent a tiny proportion in the overall operating cost of most industries. Customers are much more aware and concerned about reducing costs in manpower, time, energy and water whilst increasing their efficiency. I see a lot more innovation in those areas and adoption of them within the region.