Mr. Haleem or “Haleembe” as better known by his friends and peers, is a pioneer of the Marine industry of the Maldives. He caters to a wide segment of the industry dealing with over 50 exclusive brands through his popular outlets ranging from, “D Blue Marine”, “Lizzy” and “Honda Marine”. Join us as we sit down with Haleembe and learn more about his humble origins and his visions for the future of his business.
1. Can you start us off by introducing yourself and telling us about how you first ventured into the industry?
Responsibility and passion for trading was the main motivation. As a teenager, I had a strong desire to become independent and earn. So, I started working in a shop at the age of 13 years, in the 9th standard. The name of the shop was Vegapoint, in Galholhu, Male’. After some time, the job gave me a sense of accomplishment, pride to have confidence and to be more responsibly independent. Hence, I decided to be an explorer.
I initially worked as a seafarer on a shipping cargo line for about 9 months and had the opportunity to travel to Europe. Close to 24 Maldivians were working on the ship with me. They had been working in the industry for about 19 years by then, and they would joke around by saying within my 9 months on the ship, I have almost faced all the challenges they had faced during their lifetime in the industry; from pirate invasions to being forced to jump out due to inconceivable weather conditions. It was an unforgettable good experience.
After my return, I joined the Seagull Group through an opportunity from a childhood friend. Seagull Marine Masood offered me to work at Seagull Marine Shop - which is a subsidiary of Voyages Maldives. During my tenure, which was around 1994, my work included handling the shop, supplying boats, and maintaining the logistics of safari boats.
I worked with Seagull Marine for around 12 years before receiving an investment opportunity from Mr. Naeem (commonly known as Happy Market Naeem) with whom I started DBlue Marine. Till today, Naeem is the Chairman of DBlue Marine along with my two other partners, Rauf and Haneef.
2. What strategies did you employ to build brand loyalty from your customers?
When I started my brand, I devoted special attention to assist my customers and cater to their needs. From ordering the shipment to specific requirements, tracking the order, attending the calls and delivering to the timeline.
I made a point to be with my customers through thick and thin. Some customers will call me at the crack of dawn due to emergencies such as battery failure or pump damage etc. My customers would know that I will answer the call at any moment to find a solution. Through such services, I came to be known as a trusted supplier.
3. How did you come up with the name D Blue and why Honda?
My clientele knows that if I say it, I will do it. This was also the inspiration behind the brand name.
The name was made in mind to be short and simple. A name that would be easy to speak and remain in the minds of the people as a reliable business name. Today, as we proudly celebrate 15 years of service, we represent over 50 brands that have an exclusive dealership for the Maldivian market.
While working with Seagull, I gained a lot of experiences and knowledge about Honda engines as it was the brand Mr. Solah Shihab from Voyages Maldives was operating as an outboard engine in their dinghies. I learnt a lot about Honda’s qualities which inspired me to pursue the brand even after I resigned from Voyages Maldives.
4. Haleembe, you have a lot of experience and knowledge on Outboard Engines and the Boating industry. What are the other areas of expertise in the industry?
Over the years I have provided freelance consultancy and got good deals to boat owners. I have personally visited, guided, and assisted the team with the best of my knowledge. The whole process of boat design, build, sourcing equipment, painting, marketing, and promotions. I spent a good amount of time in boatyards and boat building islands, as I have a passion for the industry.
By maintaining constant relationships with the clients and boating community in the Maldives, I also got the opportunity to meet inspiring individuals who wanted to build their own boats; namely Falaah, Handy Hassan, Blue Shark Shad etc.
5. How far has the Company’s Vision expanded from offering your products and services to Local Clients to International Parties?
Initially it was challenging to operate DBlue Marine Shop, as there were a lot of competitors and new brands being introduced in Male’ City at a cheaper price. However, we have remained rooted and continued to work the same way, to deliver quality products - on time - at affordable prices.
Today, we have expanded our business to the Maldives islands, resorts and guided the boatyard team in different areas. When it comes to wholesaling, we have distributors in Addu, Fuvahmulah, Thinadhoo, Kulhudhufushi, Naifaru etc. Of course, considering logistics in addition to other factors, there will be a slight price variation.
I always believe that satisfied customers will be loyal and repeated clients. Till date, I haven’t left any client unattended or mistreated. Even the most frustrated client who visits our showroom will find a solution.
Till date, when dealing with international parties and suppliers, it is my partners or me who would personally deal with them to source the international brands. It is vital to maintain professionalism, trust and integrity for the success of any business.
6. Tell us how you got the investment opportunity in a different industry and open Lizzy, to sell garments.
The idea of Lizzy was also conceived from the experience gained while working at Voyages Maldives. I was handling Sea Sports, and the items brought to be sold were chosen by myself after dealing with international clients. I was the one actively involved in all the communications to introduce Reef brand footwear into the Maldivian market.
I always loved apparel and simple brands. Hence, I always had an interest in the industry and looked forward to having my own shop in the long run. As a start, I opened Lizzard targeting to men, and this was followed by Lizzy for women.
7. Do you plan to expand your reach and open more outlets?
The main concern with the expansion is the limitation of passionate employees. This is a very technical industry, and we require people who can learn, apply, and deliver the knowledge to potential and existing clients.
For example, when it comes to a product like paint for the marine sector, the application of the paint is one of the key factors of sustainability and quality assurance. Keeping this in mind, we have refrained from selling paint to some market segments / clients that do not possess this expertise, to uphold our goodwill and brand value.
8. In terms of sales, do you think you are successful in reaching your goals? And how do you maintain your relationship with international brand franchise suppliers?
I believe we are successful. The technique we go for when acquiring any product is that we market and sell limited products to begin with and do a small market research to see the stock movements. Based on the demand, we make an agreement with the supplier for exclusive dealerships and then import a specific brand / product for the long term. This way, we ensure the products we have on hand are in line with the demands and expectations of the market which in return ensures smooth sales.
Till date we have always maintained a healthy relationship with our suppliers to ensure effective communication and a mutually beneficial association. We try to meet all our suppliers at least once a year through pre-arranged meetings or random meet-ups at international events like boat shows such as METS in Amsterdam where industry experts worldwide (US, Europe, Korea etc.) attend.
9. How do you ensure customer satisfaction is met?
The biggest strength in achieving customer satisfaction is trust and integrity. I have been able to build a good relationship with most of the clients and many refer to me as a brand rather than another service provider. We have a customer base of more than 5000 and still some customers would visit our showroom and go if they are unable to meet me and would again return when I am available to consult before purchasing the product. The Seafarer and boating community is a different market and still we have the same pioneers who have been in the industry in Maldives.
Similarly, after-sales services are just as important as the sales itself. When a problem arises after the sale of the product, the issue must be addressed promptly with a solution. Not passed from person to person. I am confident to say that myself and the team practice this important etiquette in our business, which is one of the key strengths for customer retention.
10. How do you explain DBlue Marine’s focus on the environment, health safety and security? Have you implemented any policies or are you practicing any sustainable activity in your business?
We have opted for paper bags over plastic bags, in support of achieving sustainability goals for the country. It's always on our mind, however considering the magnitude of change, it will take time for us to come up with and implement more policies supporting this agenda.
11. What would you say is the biggest success in the history of D Blue Marine and its products? Staff turnover and retention is a key concern for all the businesses? Do you have staff development and training programs?
My staff. That is my biggest achievement and my greatest strength. I have been lucky to have my family members, good staff and to have successfully retained a wonderful team over the years. My younger brother Hassan Haleem has been working with me for a long time and is the Manager of DBlue Marine.
Fundamental work ethics behind world-class service for international products, esp technical products for boats is attentive staff with good product knowledge and discipline. Whenever a new product or brand is launched, we make sure to convey our staff with the product knowledge, provide on the job training and encourage them in product refreshing programs, to follow up with the latest updates. So, they are always absorbing new information and the learning curve is constant. If my team doesn’t know any information, they can always ask me.
Keeping a healthy relationship with the staff via inspiration and encouragement is an important decisive factor for staff retention just as much as monetary incentives. We have been fortunate enough to adapt to both altitudes which is one of the strengths for low staff turnover, and development of good staff in DBlue Marine over the last 15 years.
12. Last but not the least, you are known to be a very calm and composed person. What is your secret?
I always try to control my anger. It’s between me and God. I try my best not to react until the person cools down so that the situation can be handled smoothly. And I always maintain my dignity. I make it a point not to deal with favours. Whatever I do for the other person aside from business trades is from my heart and with no expectation of return. Alhamdulillah, no one from the industry can point a finger at me for any sort of misdemeanor. It’s a blessing till today.
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