Hala Equipment Trading is a specialised vendor of material handling equipment in the UAE with an interesting origin story that saw the business change tack considerably from its humble origins to the comparatively expansive operations it maintains today.
In its present day incarnation, Hala is the exclusive distributor of forklifts, stackers, tow tractors and wheel loaders from Heli, which has ranked as the largest manufacturer of forklifts in China for the last 25 consecutive years and is considered to be eighth globally be revenue.
The partnership between Hala and Heli in the UAE has been in place for more than a decade. Prior to this, under Mathew Abraham, managing director at Hala Equipment Trading, the company dealt in used Japanese forklifts. It all began in 1998, according to Abraham, with the speculative purchase of some forklifts.
Having left his former employment, Abraham and a few business acquaintances decided to try their hand at equipment trading. As he explains: “We picked up about two container loads of used forklifts from Japan and imported it here to the UAE. It was an experiment, but as it seemed like a product people needed and sales started picking up. Hala Used Heavy Equipment was formed.”
The business tied Abraham’s experience as a mechanical engineer working with forklifts and a few associates with experience in the equipment trading business and in Japan.
He continues: “My partner had an office in Japan and dealt in used equipment. I chose forklifts because I was working in a factory that made corrugated cartons where we had a lot of forklifts. As they all gave me a lot of trouble, I felt that there could be a market for better quality. I also set up a workshop to refurbish them and to give them a kind of warranty.”
The forklift brands that Hala sold at this time were all Japanese, and largely names like Toyota, Komatsu and TCM. The reasons for this were simple, as Abraham notes: “The specification for the Japanese machines was basic, because in Japan, that’s what they like, but the Japanese also look after their machines, so the second-hand machines are good quality.”
Since many fleet operators and owners in in the GCC also prefer basic machines, the product was a good fit. As the business grew, however, Abraham began to see the limitations of the model: “The customers were getting more sophisticated and the need for forklifts and the requirements changed from what was available from Japan. There’s a handicap when you’re buying used forklifts: you can only buy what’s available and you can’t choose what you want — so the specifications that you get are the specifications that are up for sale.”
At the same time, there were no available franchises for Japanese forklift brands in the UAE, as these were all taken up by other dealers.
These constraints drove Hala in a new direction. Abraham explains: “When the requirements were a little different, as I couldn’t make orders from Japan, the only way around it was to get a few Chinese forklifts that met the local demands and requirements.”
“We started with a few, and the first year was just 13 or 14 machines, and then slowly from there it moved forward and grew to much more.”
In 2003, Hala then proposed and secured the dealership for the Chinese forklift OEM Heli.
Abraham explains: “Heli was keen to engage us as its sole UAE distributor. We managed to get it without too much experience, because of the number of forklifts that we were selling a year. Eventually, two years ago, we stopped selling used machines altogether and concentrated solely on new machines.”
He adds: “I could sell the Chinese product, because of the very good brand image that I had with forklift users in the industry at that time.
“We used to sell forklifts as far away as Jordan and Egypt, so people trusted me, and when I said just take this over the Japanese product, it worked. People said: ‘I’m going to, because you’re saying so.’ And they took it.”
“It still took a while to transition, and even today some people come enquire about used Japanese machines, because even though it’s 10 years later, their machines are still running.”