The inside story
Dubai's construction industry is one of the most mature in the world and the market expects to be back in boom with Expo 2020 Dubai just round the corner. But is it different? Debanjali Kamstra, Managing Director of Veloche Contracting, in conversation with Rhonita Patnaik
This is a tale of grit and determination; of an expat woman breaking the glass ceiling by working in a male-dominated construction industry. She is changing the definition of leadership in the construction industry with the strength, skill, perspective and the passion she brings to the table.
Used to being the only woman in the boardroom, she doesn't see it as a disadvantage: it's her superpower. And she prefers not to use the words 'woman empowerment' since she believes that stereotypes should be done away with. 'All are equal - we don't celebrate Man's Day, so why Woman's Day?' - she quips during the interview.
Debanjali Kamstra, Managing Director of Veloche, chose to divert her profession from the aviation industry to construction with immense passion for creation.
Tasked with transforming the clients' dreams into concrete reality, fit-out companies often find themselves in the frontline of a battle between cost-conscious clients and designers who are determined to protect the integrity of their work. Kamstra established Veloche in 2012 with an aim to professionalise the sector of interior contracting. Until now, the firm has completed approximately 1,200 projects across the country, thus earning an image of repute in the domain of hospitality, hospitals, corporates, residential properties and government projects.
Business and Technology Review follows her journey. Excerpts from the interview:
Please tell us about yourself and the journey undertaken to create Veloche.
Representing India, precisely Kolkata in the international economy, I chose to move my career from the world of aviation to the real world of construction. I started my career in 2008 in the UAE with Emirates airlines. That's where my career began in the UAE. After two and a half years, I forayed back into my passion of design by joining a design firm as a sales executive in Dubai where I proved my mettle with outstanding sales in just six months. It was then I decided to begin my own venture where I could make my own decisions and not fail the clientele. My motive in starting Veloche was not to only make money but to give clients the best we could. Therefore, in 2012 I decided to go solo and start the company at JLT and move to LLC to capture a bigger dynasty of UAE's Interior platform. I still continue to cater to my clients from the year 2012, one such being Bafleh Jewellery, which was also my first contract at Veloche.
Can you give us an overview of the design industry in the UAE? What changes do you wish to see in the sector?
Experiencing a bumpy economy from 2008-2021, we have learned to stabilise ourselves through crests and troughs, yet our growth has not been hampered. With the steady growth in the demand for real estate over the years, the interior turnkey solution market has witnessed a progressive trend in the sector. As commercial space demand surges, the sector is expected to further witness a tremendous opportunity to leverage in the coming years. Along with commercial spaces, the residential sector is also expected to adapt to this new concept of integrated solutions. Besides redesigning commercial spaces' blueprints to include creative spaces, we are expecting many investors visiting UAE in coming years, the UAE entrepreneurs in different sectors are expected to invest in upgradation of the commercial properties such as hotels, hospitals, retail units etc.
But what I have been witnessing since the start of my career in this field 10 years ago, is that there is a prototype design that is recurrent everywhere in Dubai. Going back a few years ago, you will see a lot of Mashrabiya patterns in the interior design. Perhaps that was the trend. Right now, you will find many tilting towards louvers, a contemporary look with a lot of lines. As a designer, we wish to take the risk of 'going out of the box'. Secondly, the client has to trust us. They must put a stop at dictating the designers and firms on what should be done. This is what is wrong today and I wish this approach is be stopped. My take - if you hire a consultant, let the experts decide.
Do you believe there is a creativity gap? If so, how does Veloche stand out to fill this?
What I see today is that 90 per cent of the contractors treat their projects as a source of income and not something that can be owned. Whether it is a job or your own business, there should be an ownership. If you don't, you will never be successful. My advice is don't go by the lines of the contract - that's not how a contractor/designer should think. Instead, they must be confident that the client has trusted them to make a decision best suited for them.
Here is where Veloche stands apart. If you go through our profile, you will see a lot of recurring clients. It is because of the personal approach from our side. They trust my decision. This is my USP. I take all projects as personal and execute them as my own.
What transformative steps did Veloche take to beat the pandemic?
Veloche means 'Velocity' that represents speed. In this fast-paced industry, to be on top, our work needs to be done speedily and perfectly. This is how we achieved greater heights in 2020. We have been very lucky to have secured a considerable number of projects in 2019 and the beginning of 2020. So my crew and I were very busy. I did not take advantage of the situation to cuts costs and implement salary reductions. Full salaries were paid on time. Even during the lockdown, the entire organisation worked and we secured the special permits to travel to and fro through the Dubai Health Authority as we were doing a project for them. I promised that if anything happened to any member, they would be cared for fully. This was my massive challenge as an employer and thank god that the team trusted me. Either of us wasn't let down. We are all one big family. There were times when the management had to constantly motivate the team and that motivating factor is possibly one of the reasons in our ongoing success because we didn't take a pause.
With that said, the organisation grew and we hired extremely talented individuals that had lost their jobs or were looking for an opportunity in the middle of the pandemic. Combining their zeal to work and our passion we became a much stronger organisation in the industry and that lead to immense success. The loyalty of our team towards the organisation has proved to be the biggest strength to beat the pandemic.
What are the various sectors that Veloche caters to, including the clientele?
We play different roles - the first is of a turnkey interior fit-out company and second being a design consultant. Veloche is known for its professional and fast service for both the field of exhibitions and interiors. The team at Veloche is highly dedicated with the different field of turnkey solutions for interiors and exhibitions. With all the projects we take up, we do our best to accomplish our tasks for every client with equal perfection through maintaining highest standards in every step. Veloche has been known for its recurring client relationship, which is a proof that the relationship between the organisation and customer is extremely strong.
Our most notable projects include Kona Grill at Al Seef and a community development project for approximately Dh6.5 million, Hatta Hospital by Dubai Health Authority. We also have a few ongoing projects that includes the Rashid Hospital and the Command Centre, which has been one of the very challenging projects and the latter was executed during the lockdown period. Veloche has also secured projects this month with the Dubai Civil Defense, thus working closely with the government.
What is Veloche's speciality when it comes to service?
From drawing up a blueprint of design layout and three-dimensional projection to finally handing the client the final completed space, we offer turnkey customised services. We combine acumen and acuity with extensive, practical hands-on experience along with our ability to listen, to envision our client's requirements and to empathise with our client's perspectives. We cover everything - from initial building site visits to handing over the project to the client on the expected date and beyond and the bonus is that since there is just one firm controlling the process, we can ensure that snags, if any, are ironed out. We work to fixed timescales and costs that match the client's budget and their timeframes. No job is too small as we consider each project a part of our long-term relationship with our clients.
Veloche is involved across a range of verticals such as corporate, retail, institutional, hospitals, hospitality as well as exhibition stands, rental furniture, MEP services and government approvals.
Given the leaps of e-commerce, how would you view the future of the design industry?
Veloche has recently branched out in London and we are transitioning towards a system where people can request design and quantity online. But looking at how the design industry works, physical interaction is very important because doing a fit-out project is like operating on a human body. You have to see the problem to fix it and make it workable. Therefore, designing can be done on an e-commerce basis but fit-out has to have a human interaction.
Plus, an e-commerce platform gives the clients plenty of options to choose from for free. What they don't realise is that there is an overhead cost to design. This trend has to change. There needs to be a remuneration for all the work done, even it be online. Then there is also the timeline urgency. In a market like Dubai, you are expected to deliver 'yesterday'. It's like a rally race. 'if I don't run fast enough, someone else is going to make it to the finish line'. So I have my doubts on e-commerce with interior fit-out. Here the end-users need to be more educated than the designers. There are many competitions out in the market but very less competency. Clients in this market only compare costs, not the quality.
What are your other ventures?
I have two other ventures namely Ventura UAE and Brewer Street Cafe85. Ventura UAE is an online furniture/commercial décor brand. Our website aims to provide customers with the latest in commercial furnishings, commercial space decor and accessories at an affordable price. Simultaneously I ventured into hospitality with our café, Brewer Street Cafe85, which is growing in Dubai and I am looking forward to having multiple outlets by 2022 across the nation.
Your business outlook for 2021-22?
While we don't always know what the future holds for our business, we can use past data, insights about our target customer and future projections to inform our growth plan for 2021-22. Using that information, we are trying to get a better understanding of where our business stands and where the potential for growth stands for 2021 and beyond. As part of our growth plan, we have evaluated our project performance and staff and determined that we shall need to expand our team in order to meet our growth targets as we are expecting growth in our incoming business.
As our business has developed, one thing that remains unchanged is our entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to innovation. We have expanded globally with our operations in London, UK, and global partnership with companies based in Turkey and the United States. Our track record reveals broader experience across a wider range of sectors, geographies and projects than any other contractor in the market.
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