CEO Spotlight: Umesh Punia

Tell us about your background. How did you get started in business?

After completing my civil engineering from MIT, Pune, I got the chance to work with a granite company in India. During my time there, I was required to travel to the UAE for the sale of some granite slabs. That was back in 1995. During that first visit, I realized that most customers preferred buying locally over importing, and basically ready stock was lacking in the market. From there it didn’t take me very long to realize the potential of setting up my own shop. So, I started at the micro level, importing just one or two containers a month at a very low operating cost.

What is your main role as CEO?

My main role has always been the same, sourcing the top-quality marble, at the best prices, from all around the world. Natural stones can be quite deceptive for an end user, and our job is to source and stock the best options. Even today, my role is to supervise, monitor imports, and uncover the best value for investment on behalf of our clients using all of our expertise, network, and resources. After which, we have an amazing team overseeing operations, sales and finance, so I don’t need to worry about those details. After more than two decades in the industry, we can really guarantee that we are sourcing the best selections for our clients from every corner of the world.

What’s your most significant accomplishment?

I feel incredibly proud of the ways we have changed, and I believe elevated, the way marble and other natural stones are sold in the UAE. When I started out in 1995, marble was kept in open dusty yards, like any ordinary construction or masonry stones. GLAZE conceptualized marble from a totally different perspective. When I saw the way marble was displayed and showcased in the top galleries in Europe, I was mesmerized and inspired. I realized that marble is no less of an investment than a gemstone stone from a reputable jewelry store. You must understand, people don’t buy marble as a basic necessity, people invest in marble for their home or office for future generations to marvel upon. Like a Hermes bag or a Rolex watch – it is a statement, a declaration of success, an arrival. Whatever profession or business one has made their fortune in, when they picture their dream home or office, do you think they would settle for a cheap ceramic floor? Of course not! So, what I am trying to say is that we gave the respect to marble that it deserves. Moreover, this attitude translated into all aspects of the business, not only hand picking the best stones from every corner of the world, but also the way we showcased and displayed these materials in our stockyard, and the way we trained our sales team. We feel proud that today the quality of natural stone in the UAE, not only in our stockyard but in that of some of our competitors as well, is far ahead of other GCC countries and the Middle East as a whole. Initially, people were surprised that we were trying to sell stone as a luxury product, and my answer has always been the same – why not? You spend millions to buy quality cars, furnishings, or artwork for your home, why not on the floor which you use much more than your Ferrari? Understanding the value of these stones radically changed the way the marble business and its trade takes place in the UAE. I consider this as my biggest accomplishment and contribution to the industry.

What are your goals in 2021?

We are currently working on establishing our newest stone gallery in Abu Dhabi, in ICAD Mussafah, which is under construction at the moment. Completing this gallery by the end of this year, and as always adding new natural stones, as well as engineered stones to our collection from different parts of the world is an ongoing process.

What is your business niche?

We not only have the top brands in our bag, like Neolith, Caesarstone, Coante, ARIOSTEA, KoZo, and GEOLUXE, but our real strength comes from the exclusive agreements we hold with top quarries in Italy, Spain, Turkey, Greece and Brazil. This allows us a continuous flow of material and exclusive access to the very best collections. And of course, our huge inventory, the greatest in the Middle East, which means we are able to deliver immediately for projects of any scale.

Why do you think GLAZE is special when it comes to flooring solutions, compared to any of the other showrooms for flooring options on Sheikh Zayed Road or in Deira?

We have created a totally different experience for our clients in our state-of-the-art gallery. In all of these showrooms, you can only see a sample of the materials you are interested in, even though the final material that would be delivered to you is stored somewhere far away in Umm Al Quwain or Ajman, in a dusty open stockyard. The final product you would receive may look and feel completely different, as is often the case with natural stones especially. In fact, you should never buy a natural stone from a sample, because no two pieces of natural stones can ever be the same, nature never repeats its designs, and so each block or lot is completely different from the others, in terms of quality, color, texture, tone and veining. Even in the case of porcelain slabs, you never get a real feel of the final finished floor from a sample in a showroom display. At GLAZE, our clients walk through the real stock, which would finally end up as the floor in their home or office. In this case, there is no chance of an error and selecting a material that would deviate from the concept and theme of the homeowner and the designer’s vision. Our gallery is like a fresh fruit store, you get to feel, touch, and smell before putting anything in your chart. Our store not only allows our clients to touch, feel and see how the final floor or wall would look like, but ensure there is no chance of misjudgment or error in selecting the most suitable surface solution. It’s a totally different experience.

Editor-In-Chief of Bizpreneur Middle East