“Even if Lebanon is small and relatively politically unstable, the importance of promoting new products that keep up with the evolving demands of the market remains crucial.”
- Walid EL Baba
What made you establish Webco in Lebanon?
Webco aims to provide technical solutions for plumbing, heating and cooling. Starting in 1984, I wanted to create a “technical revolution” in the use of materials for construction and water installations, water plumbing, air conditioning and heating as well as in solar water heaters, which I introduced in 1985 from a French producer. For example, copper and galvanized water pipes were being replaced with the PEX system launched in Switzerland, and the enameled tanks for water storage were now being used instead of galvanized or cement tanks. I wanted to introduce new, efficient, and sustainable products, and back then, the Swiss product was undoubtedly fulfilling all those qualities and requirements: withstanding higher temperatures, safer, more durable, and matching the Lebanese mentality.
Currently, Webco imports water and air fluids systems from three major companies in Switzerland: Geberit, Georg Fischer GF JRG,and Condair,the 2 first ones being specialized in drainage and water distribution systems while the third one in Air humidification systems. Those are high quality products and are well introduced in the Lebanese market where a prominent market segment is available.
Such products are now even more attractive to the Lebanese market, and this is mainly due to the ongoing research and development (R&D) in Swiss production. For a company like ours, R&D of new technologies is a must. Even if Lebanon is small and relatively politically unstable, the importance of promoting new products that keep up with the evolving demands of the market, however small or big, remains crucial. R&D is must for a sustainable country. Indeed, Lebanon has the required manpower to stay on top of technological advancements, and this is attributed to the country’s excellence in education, whether at the secondary or university levels, as they lie at the heart of having highly distinctive engineers as well as skilled laborers.
This foundation keeps the wheels of research and development running in Lebanon, maintaining a Lebanese market that is open for those high-end Swiss products.
How do the Swiss products stand out when compared to other products being marketed by Webco?
Three out of the twenty products that Webco works with are Swiss-made. Together with the German products, with which they share a lot of similarities in terms of quality and high-end production, they make 50 percent of Webco’s portfolio, and hence, the major half portion of the business. This Swiss-German technology represents the core of the global image of Webco. Quality, professionalism, trust, timely delivery, after-sale services, as well as technical backup, make such products an asset for the company. Furthermore, when marketing any product, the knowledge of the product at hand enables us to convince our client. Therefore, one must first know his client’s demands and needs and match them with the right product, which may not always be the most expensive nor the most renowned and widely used. Clients with a particular mentality do have preference for Swiss products, particularly for Lebanese clients who have high standards in construction. In fact, there is a growing trend in installing Swiss products even for small-scale projects and private non-commercial clients, despite the higher price, and that is due to the mentality of the client as well as the longstanding trust in Swiss products.
What makes customers in Lebanon prefer to install water systems that are particularly manufactured in Switzerland?
While the price may not be the optimal, Swiss manufacturers continue to provide the highest standards in quality and service. This is due to the fact that the Swiss are continuously on the leading edge in research and development. Therefore, big Lebanese contractors and engineering companies who are used to such quality and service will never revert from the Swiss products. Even if there is an unprecedented manufacturing error, the Swiss producers are quick to replace the product, which maintains a relationship of trust and professionalism.
How does the Lebanese market appeal to Swiss exporters?
Swiss manufacturers are not very enthusiastic about exporting to Lebanon. In fact, when it comes to the technical and/or construction sector, new Swiss companies are skeptical about opening up to the Lebanese market; it is competitive, difficult to penetrate, and can be too small for them to prosper. However, the big Swiss names are under no such pressure when it comes to Lebanon, and this is due to their long-term experience and their well-established and -rooted history, as well as their commercial relationships with Lebanese importers, which date back to several decades. This applies to several Swiss companies exporting, in particular, technical products, to Lebanon, since the import of Swiss banking services, chocolate products, and luxury goods such as watches, into Lebanon, seems to be less affected by this trend.
To what extent has the instability of the Lebanese political situation affected the commercial relationships with the Swiss exporters?
Swiss companies prefer to export their products to the GCC or Levant. Before the economic crisis, the market of the GCC was more attractive than Lebanon. In my opinion, geopolitical instability is not the major reason for that.
The GCC market in itself is more inviting to become an importing hub for ready-made Swiss products. However, the Swiss have been also investing in “ideas”, especially in technologies for renewable energy, and are therefore eager to export them and invest in them abroad. For instance, they develop strong partnerships between the industry and researchers (such as at the EPFL in Lausanne), to develop ideas into promising and practical solutions. This has created several successful spinoffs and startups looking to expand their markets, reaching to the Levant and GCC, and hoping to establish production lines there. For such companies, which are at early developmental stages, political as well as economic stability and sustainability of the market play decisive roles. Therefore, the Gulf remains a more attractive target than Lebanon when it comes to developing Swiss ideas as well exporting their products.
In your opinion, how can the Lebanese energy sector benefit from the Swiss technology in renewable energy?
There is no doubt that the energy sector in Lebanon is suffering. Although ideas like the solar plane which has been developed by the Swiss at EPFL, may not be realized as a practical solution in the next few years, it still shows how avantgarde the Swiss are in terms of renewable energy.
Lebanon still relies mostly on fossil fuels for energy, with a small percentage (around 8 to 9%) accounted for by hydraulic power. Thermal and solar power have a great potential in contributing to Lebanon’s share of energy production, and the Swiss are producing equipment, which although may seem more expensive than its other European counterpart, may have an advantage that can be particularly beneficial for the Lebanese situation.
On Monday March 27th 2017, in the presence of His Excellency the Ambassador of Switzerland in Lebanon Mr. Francois Barras, the President of Order of Engineers and Architects Beirut Engineer Mr. Khaled Chehab, Mr. Michael Huck VP of +GF+ Piping systems and Head of Building Technology unit, CEO of GF JRG ,Mr. Ciro Nigro GF JRG Export sales manager and few engineers & friends, Webco sarl, in collaboration with GF, inaugurated at its premises in Beirut, on 1st floor, a new training center with two objectives:
• Capacity building with regular seminars dedicated to engineers and Architects covering various topics in water & drainage systems, Heating & Air conditioning, Metering, Ventilating, Heat recovery ,Renewable Energies systems in the construction and industrial fields
• Organizing regular workshops and training sessions dedicated to the installers and workers in the field of water distribution systems in 3 domains: Building technology, Utilities and Industry as well as in other specialties related to the above described topics.
Webco sarl has always believed in supplying global engineering solutions and systems with innovative technologies mainly in fluids (Air and water) with a mission to assist the engineers in their mechanical design works as well as train the workmanship and assist them technically in their execution works up to commissioning phase. By doing so, the quality of the executed work is guaranteed as well as the performance of the installed system.
This training center will contribute in enhancing a sustainable economic growth at a National level, in mid and long terms, for a better built environment with high and skilled professional persons, with high education for the engineers as well as technical and vocational education for the workmanship acting in the construction and industrial fields.