Riyadh-based Raqam International Labels and Ribbons Factory general manager Khalid Aziz Shah discusses his business, achievements, success mantra and  sustainability.

Everything starts with an identification label according to Khalid Aziz Shah, the general manager of Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh-based Raqam International Labels and Ribbons Factory.

Canadian national Shah studied computer programming and holds a masters degree in public administration. His desire to be creative and do things differently led him to start a barcode business. “Soon after in 2003, Raqam International took shape to support our former business of barcoding,” Shah said.

Raqam International is a 100% Canada-Saudi based foreign investment company, which started out with mere 15 staffers. Today, 180 people are employed in Raqam’s two facilities in Saudi Arabia, and another one in Canada. “Even now we are on the lookout for qualified people to join us and further lift our business. Besides Saudi Arabia, Raqam also serves the clients in the UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Jordan and Bahrain in the GCC region.  Our new factory which caters into the label and flexible packaging business will be launched by the end of 2019 in Pakistan. Another facility in the US is being planned, and it will be set up soon” added Shah.

The company currently specializes in high-end pressure-sensitive labels, shrink sleeves, cut and stack, BOPP and barcoding. Raqam received Print Pack DIPA Gold Award twice in 2015 and 2014, and Packaging MEA Silver Award in 2019 all in flexographic printing category. “Winning the gold award in Dubai was the most memorable moment of my career,” shared Shah.

Talking about the success of his company, Shah said: “The support of our employees as well as our key suppliers such as Nilpeter, Prati, Fasson, UPM, Flint, Seigwerk helps us have a happy customer database. Raqam always treats the employees with utmost attention by providing them with the best accommodation facility, medical insurance, yearly tickets, paid vacations and commission to the sales team. According to Raqam’s policy, salaries of all employees are duely credited on the first day of every month.”

Regarding expansion, Shah informed that their latest purchase was Nilpeter FA6*, a mid-web flexo press. “It is the quality and a highly cooperative team of Nilpeter that lures Raqam’s press needs. The key highlight of Nilpeter machines is that they are very stable and have almost no downtime,” Shah said. Raqam owns all the Nilpeter press models including FB (mid-range flexo), MO (offset), high-end FA4 and now the FA6. The machine will be installed at Raqam’s customer facility, that is built exclusively for running flexible packaging and tube laminates, this December. “Our goal is to become a premium player in the narrow and mid-web industry offering an entire spectrum of products including paper, labels, films, tube laminates etc. With the new Nilpeter press, we could become one of the strongest one-stop solution providers in the entire region,” he added.

About the trends in the print industry, Shah said that he has noticed a big difference in terms of presses. “Earlier the hierarchy started with offset followed by gravure and then flexo. But whoever is smart can do wonders with flexo and the others have to follow.”

Commenting on the market situation and whether Raqam is feeling the heat or not, Shah shared: “Thankfully we (Raqam) have never come across any bad phase so far. It’s the unhealthy price war which is negatively pushing the entire industry backwards. Though this (Saudi Arabia) is the biggest market in the Middle East, it falls back in terms of development and innovation sometimes. Thus, businesses are forced to follow others’ models. I am personally studying the potential of the digital market and it is quite interesting. But it is still not at that stage where you can rely on it. The quantity and ink cost are the major decision-making factors.  Raqam always tries niche market segments by implementing new industry trends and hence we are still surviving .”

According to Shah, Raqam is planning to set up more innovative branches in Europe and Africa in the next five years. “In 2020 we would be very active in tube laminate business and we would be the only one GCC company providing an exclusive tube laminate turn-key solution including high-quality printing using Nilpeter press and other finishing using finishing accessory machines. Diversification is always our key strength,” he said.

When asked to share a few positive words with fellow businessmen, Shah replied: “To be honest, we should take advice from you (journalists) and the global label printing organizations. I would suggest businesses to use eco-friendly material and avoid non-standard or expired raw material. Though we are facing a temporary economic decline, we have a greater responsibility towards humanity. And lastly, there is nothing to be worried about, life is a cycle, this period will pass. We have to be positive.”