October, 22, 2018
Mahendra Jayasekera, Managing Director of Lanka Walltiles and Lankatiles PLC, weighs in on the contribution of Lankatiles to the export economy as the only export brand from Sri Lanka to bear the country’s name, and its vision for the future.
Q: Can you briefly recount to us the history of Lankatiles?
A: As you know, Lankatiles was started in 1984. We went through several expansion phases. Right now, we are producing 13,000 square meters of floor tiles and 7,500 square meters of wall tiles a day. But when considering the true history of the organisation, we have to go back to 1976, when we established the Lanka Walltiles factory in Balangoda. So the tile business in our organisation is 42 years old, while Lankatiles as a brand is 34 years old.
When we began production, the tile industry in Sri Lanka was virtually non-existent. We started out as an export oriented venture. I don’t think we sold even five percent of what we manufactured to the local market then. People were not really aware of what tiles could do to their households.
And then, of course, we began to promote the use of tiles in the domestic market. Demand picked up. What happened was that more and more houses began installing floor and wall tiles. Initially, this was an upmarket niche, the more affluent market limited mostly to Colombo. As the economy and the population grew, tiles became a primary need of everyone. However, even with this, our tile penetration hovers between 30 and 40 percent.
Q: What has the contribution of Lankatiles towards Sri Lanka’s export economy been?
A: We were the pioneer manufacturer and exporter of tiles in this country. We currently export around 20 percent of our production capacity to overseas high quality markets such as Japan, Canada, Australia and certain countries in the European Union.
Talking about the present, the main milestone as regards exports is the fact that we have ventured outside Sri Lanka, to produce tiles under our brand and our specifications. Currently, therefore, we are exporting not only what we manufacture in Sri Lanka, but what our staff go and manufacture in overseas factories as well.
Q: Reflecting all these, how have the investments of your organisation changed?
A: With the profits we have been making over the last 30 or so years, we have ventured out and diversified. We have many business interests under the group now, encompassing investments in aluminium, tile adhesive, plantations, packaging and so on. We have a portfolio of such investments, financed mainly through our internally generated profits.
In our most recent expansion, we added 6,000 more square meters of production to our capacity, at a cost of Rs. 2.5 billion, at our factory complex in Ranala. Our expectation with this is to remain a dominant player in the local market, and to give a better product to our local and overseas buyers.
Q: Linked to these changes, what have the latest developments in the organisation been in terms of business interests, skills and technology transfers and so on?
A: I am proud to say that we have made a consistent commitment to being up to date with the latest trends of the global industry. You must understand that the tile industry develops at a very rapid rate. The machines you purchase today, for instance, will be obsolete in two years. So you have to keep investing to keep abreast of the rate at which the industry is developing.
Q: In conclusion, what is your vision for the future?
A: We are Sri Lanka’s largest manufacturer of floor and wall tiles. We are the biggest exporter of tiles from Sri Lanka as well. What we want to do now is to go overseas and start manufacturing products which we cannot manufacture in our country. There is an array of such products, which have a wide appeal among customers. We can manufacture them competitively, and sell them at competitive prices. These can be sourced globally, from other countries. With one caveat: they must all bear the Lankatiles insignia.
What does this mean? It means that no matter where we are sourcing our products from, these products will meet our quality standards. We will be exporting these to other countries.
To this end, you must realise one thing: we are the only truly global brand from Sri Lanka that bears the name “Lanka”. I say with no hesitation that there is no other such export brand bearing our country’s name, from any industry. I cannot emphasise on this enough.
Whether manufactured locally or globally, tiles from Lankatiles stick to our time tested, uniform standard. That is how we want to become a global player. That is why our latest endeavours are so significant, because they represent a big leap forward for our organisation and the market as a whole.
We took the best of Sri Lanka to the rest of the world. We are now bringing the best of the world to Sri Lanka, and beyond. We manufacture locally as well as overseas, and we export our products to the rest of the world. It is a brand that is globally recognised for quality.