From start-up to heading-up

by Darren
Van Dyck Mehran Zarrebini Jnl 2 15

Taking a look at how a company can grow significantly with the support of established market players and innovative ideas.

When it comes to investing in the latest equipment, new products and sustainable manufacturing in South Africa, Van Dyck Carpets is proud to be leading the way in this regard and laying the foundation for further innovation.

Several of the company’s considerable achievements can be credited to the innovative approach of forward-thinking Dr. Mehran Zarrebini, who has headed the company since the family-owned holding company, PFE International, purchased it from Belgian company Domo Carpets in 2004.

Van Dyck Carpets perfectly complemented the rest of PFE International’s South African investment portfolio, providing an opportunity to draw on its more than 40 years of international experience in the manufacturing of carpets, fibre and yarn extrusion.

Not only is Van Dyck Carpets one of South Africa’s oldest carpet manufacturers, but they are also one of the few to offer a combination of tufted, needle-punch and woven carpets. In addition, they also manufacture a range of acoustic underlays made of recycled rubber crumb from used truck tyres.

However, Dr. Mehran’s career didn’t start out on the factory floor. After completing a degree in Chemical Engineering at Loughborough University, he moved into research and ultimately earned his PhD at the age of 26 in 2001. He then went on to join the family business which, at the time, was expanding its footprint in South Africa.

PFE International’s first investment was a joint venture with textile group Ninian & Lester in 1995 which led to the incorporation of South African Polypropylene Yarns. SAPY is located in a 70 000 m² factory in Hammarsdale and is a market leader in the production of multi-filament polypropylene yarn for the textile, plastic and construction industries.

Six years later, when the Zarrebini family decided to relocate their UK-based machine extrusion and staple fibre manufacturing operation, they again turned to South Africa. Consequently, they formed SAFYR in Hammarsdale in conjunction with the Industrial Development Corporation in 2001. In 2004, the company was sold when PFE International acquired Van Dyck Carpets.

According to Dr. Mehran, Van Dyck Carpets was an ideal fit. Back then, the company was struggling to contain costs as most of its raw materials were imported. They believed that, through vertical integration, they could reduce these costs which led to the opening of PFE Extrusion in Hammarsdale in 2008 in order to provide fibre and yarn for Van Dyck Carpets.

In total, PFE International has invested around R350 million in South Africa. Of this, R80 million has been directed towards Van Dyck Carpets to upgrade the aged and poorly maintained equipment that they acquired and to meet stringent quality and environmental standards.

In 2014, Van Dyck installed a state-of-the-art fibre extrusion line – by far the largest in Southern Africa – and upgraded and modernised its tufting and needle-punch looms. Investment in new technology will be ongoing as the Zarrebinis’ aim is to leverage the Van Dyck brand’s association with quality while repositioning it to cater for a younger consumer market with affordable products.

Despite tough economic conditions and massive changes in its market, the company has grown its market share to an estimated 25-30%. The choice of floorcovering is driven by fashion and Dr. Mehran says many consumers are opting for newly introduced laminate flooring and ceramic tiles.

In 2004, Van Dyck’s business was split 50/50 between its residential and commercial divisions. However, since then, the ratio has changed to 30/70 with sales into the commercial and hospitality sectors proving particularly resilient.

Here, says Dr. Mehran, Van Dyck’s strong focus on sustainability and environmental efficiencies stands it in good stead as large corporates favour environmentally friendly materials to attain green building certifications. Van Dyck Carpets is both ISO 9001:2008 and ISO 14001 accredited and in 2013 became one of just a handful of companies with ISO 14064-1 accreditation, requiring annual reports on greenhouse emissions.

Dr. Mehran has also set his sights on implementing an ISO 150001 energy management system in conjunction with, and the backing of, the United Nations by 2015. “We realise that there are a lot of opportunities, especially in terms of reduction of costs and brand association,” says Dr. Mehran.

“We see this as an opportunity rather than as a threat, and Van Dyck will be ahead of its competitors when a planned carbon tax is introduced in South Africa.” He adds that PFE International is committed to South Africa for the long term. “We are looking to expand further by acquiring new equipment, introducing revolutionary new products and growing existing markets including exports,” states Dr. Mehran.

Van Dyck Carpets already sells its products to 20 countries around the world and intends steering its focus towards growing markets in Africa. Looking back, Dr. Mehran says that nothing could have prepared him for working in South Africa with its incredibly diverse ethnic, cultural and experiential environment. Although he believes this complexity can be powerful, he says that many organisations fail to take full advantage of it.

“Creating an environment where ‘outside the box’ ideas are heard and taken seriously unlocks innovation,” he concludes. “When minorities form a critical mass and leaders value differences, creative, innovative and value-driving insights are unleashed.”

PFE International fully intends to follow this route. The company already boasts 520 employees and, with continued growth, it wholeheartedly intends to create more jobs.

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