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    Stone is a natural solid formation of one or many minerals. There are thousands of types of stones that have been quarried through the centuries and quarries are located all around the word. A majority of natural stone comes from Italy, Spain, Turkey, United States, Mexico, Portugal, China, India, Greece, Canada, France and Brazil.

    The Earth developed as a massive body of gas and liquid minerals that slowly cooled and condensed to a solid core. Through pressure, the Earth's crust began to form and heavy minerals were forced down to the core of the Earth, where they were trapped. As the crust got thicker, it squeezed around the inner core, which created intense pressure and heat from within the Earth. Crystals and other solid forms began to grow from the mineral vapors that were being released. As the Earth's crust began to expand and erode, heat and pressure pushed the solid minerals up to the Earth's surface, which formed colossal rock beds. It took up to one hundred million years to form some of these beds, many of which are now used as quarries where the stone is mined.

    One of the most prestigious companies in the UAE market that deals with natural stones is Al Habtoor Marble Company, which is managed by Dr. Kasem Al Arouk. " The familiar stone types today could be identified in four categories: Sedimentary, metamorphic, igneous stone and man made" says Dr. Kasem. " I want to give a short description for the first three groups, as the nature of our business is directly linked with them:

1. Sedimentary stone came from organic elements, such as glaciers, rivers, wind, oceans and plants. Tiny sedimentary pieces broke off from these elements and accumulated to form rock beds. They were bonded through millions of years of heat and pressure. This category includes: Limestone, Sandstone, Soapstone Fossilstone and Travertine.

2. Metamorphic stone originates from a natural change from one type of stone to another type through the mixture of heat, pressure and minerals; the change may be a development of a crystalline formation, a texture change, or a colour change. This category includes Marble, Slate and Serpentine.

    Marble is a beautiful and very popular natural stone. It is actually a recrystallyzed limestone that formed when the limestone softened from heat and pressure and recrystallyzed into marble where mineral changes occurred. The main consistency is calcium and dolomite. It ranges in many colours and it is usually heavily veined and shows lots of grains. The veins and colour grains of marble were actually liquid minerals that flowed through the stone when the Earth heated up; when the Earth cooled, the mineral flow stopped and gradually hardened to its current state. Marble is a relatively soft stone, on a measurement of hardness scale (MOHS), which is a guide developed in the 1800's and measures the stones   resistance to hardness, marble is approximately three-four out of ten. (The hardest stone is the diamond, which measures the maximum ten according to the MOHS). That's the reason why marble as a decorative natural stone is used mainly for interior decoration.

3. Igneous stones are mainly formed through volcanic materials, such as magma. Underneath the Earth's surface, liquid magma cooled and solidified. Mineral gases and liquids penetrated into the stone and created new crystalline formations with various colours. The most famous volcanic stone is the Granite: Primarily made of Quartz (35%), Feldspar (45%) and Potassium it usually has darker colours. It contains very little calcite (if any at all) and provides a very crystalline and granular appearance with mineral grains. It is a very hard material (approximately six according to MOHS) and easier to maintain then the marble. This is the main reason that the Granite is mainly used as external decorative stone.

Profile Al Habtoor Marble

    Boom and bust come and go but Al Habtoor Marble Co. has never ceased riding the crest of the success wave. It is growth and more growth for the company that has outwitted many rivals in the market to carve a big niche for itself in the UAE's construction and property development market.

    "Our clients are free to use their imagination and ideas that Al Habtoor Marble transforms into a real masterpiece of artwork and craftsmanship," says Sami Al-Khairalla, Administration and Finance Manager of the company.

    This statement asserts the foremost role of "imagination" that plays an integral part in the business, in which Al Habtoor Marble Company is in -where natural stones and beauty are closely bound with each other.

    Sami says that the secret behind the success of the Company is in its diligent execution of projects in time without compromising on quality even a wee bit. That customer and his demands are unquestionable priority focus.  No wonder since 1997 the company has scored a consistent 300 per cent rise in its turnover, a stupendous achievement in such a short span of time.

    Al Habtoor  Marble has played an integral role in most of the strategic projects in the UAE. To mention a few - the Burj Al Arab, Dubai International Airport, Emirates Towers, Dusit Dubai and other prestigious projects.

    Al Habtoor Marble which was established in 1975 at the Romool Industrial Area in Dubai has come a long way and is now charting out growth by foraying into overseas markets. The company's growth has been catalysed by Dubai's economic boom. Construction, being one of the bedrock industries of the emirate, grew at a brisk pace and Al Habtoor Marble was one of the major gainers. Among its partnerships, the company remembers Al Habtoor Engineering, which is on the growth trail. Al Habtoor Engineering's success has helped Al Habtoor Marble leverage sales growth in Dubai by leaps and bounds.

    The company has passed through various stages of expansion in the last four years and the rising fortunes of the UAE has kept its business grow briskly. "There was a big expansion in our activities over the last four years as business boomed," says

   Mohammed Barakat, chief quantity surveyor of the company. Business growth has inevitably made the company take up more premises. It has acquired a second premise in Jebel Ali stretched over 200,000 square feet. The company's present Rashidiya premise is spread over 160,000 square feet..

    "Our growth has been driven by the good cooperation of all our staff and workers," says Barakat. The management of the company cannot but pay tribute to the sterling efforts of the late general manager Firooz Roostazad. "It is his special efforts that kickstarted the company to the growth phase," according to Barakat.  Under the efficient management of Al Arouk now, the company has been able to stick to the growth trail unhindered by fluctuations in the market.

    " There have been fluctuations in the market, but we have been growing. The strategy which drive our growth have both short-term and long-term outlooks. We now have proved that we are known to be the best in the UAE market, though we are not the only market player," says Sami.

    A lion's share -about 90 per cent - of the company's business is in the UAE but Al Habtoor Marble is now a major and has the might to venture in markets outside the emirate. "We now have the ability to challenge other major players outside the UAE market, says Sami, outlining the company's overseas strategy. Equally, in its domestic business and overseas forays, Al Habtoor Marble management does not believe in jumping into projects. "We go into the projects after careful feasibility study and do not believe in jumping into a project," says Sami.

    The company's international exposure now include the Sandy Lane Hotel in Barbados, West Indies and Cadogan Place in London. Al Habtoor Marble is also now busy weaving a business strategy for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It participated in the Kingdom Centre project in Saudi Arabia and is currently in negotiations for more projects with major contractors in the Kingdom.

    The company which bagged the ISO 9002 quality certification last year and is a member of the American Institute of Marble, is also eyeing the Qatar market as part of the expansion. The future for Al Habtoor Marble is promising with the company gearing up to participate more strongly in the marble market. "We want to remain the best and sustain our growth while serving the market in the UAE," say Sami. According to him, the company's major asset is its people, most of whom have stayed with Al Habtoor through the thick and the thin. In fact there are employees in the company who have been with it for the last 25 years. "Stability and accumulated experience of our staff will translate into good growth further,' says Barakat.

    To  adapt with the changing times, Al Habtoor Marble is currently looking at an integrated software system, which will allow customers to reach out to Al Habtoor Marble through the worldwide web. A complete e-commerce suite may not be the ideal solution for the company since physical feel and sight of  the marble, granite and precious stones is a must in this business. "The nature of our business is such that customers need to come and approve the product before delivery,' says Barakat. The company mainly imports material on demand from customers but it does have a large stock ready always in its warehouse. The source of imports is wide and varied spanning Italy, Portugal, India, Spain, Brazil and a number of other countries.

    Al Habtoor Marble in the last four years has etched its reputation in the UAE's building materials market in marble. That the market's ups and downs are not the only factor which impacts growth for   companies and the essential quality focus is an absolute must has been amply proven by the company which is gearing up to move into more greener pastures.





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