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Insights from Khalid Mohamed Kanoo, Group Managing Director of Yusuf Bin Ahmed Kanoo Group
The Yusuf Bin Ahmed Kanoo Group was established in 1890 in the Kingdom of Bahrain, and ever since has built a reputation for the quality of its products and services and its honest dealings. These attributes have become the modern day brand values and are the basis for the continued development of the Kanoo Brand. Khalid Mohamed Kanoo, Group Managing Director, Yusuf Bin Ahmed Kanoo Group, Kingdom of Bahrain, tells the tale of the Kanoo family brand, which went from a simple 19th-century trademark symbol to one of the most recognised Arab family business brands in the world.
At the time we were founded in the Gulf there was no concept of branding amongst family businesses. In fact, our business was founded by an individual, Yusuf Ahmed Kanoo in Bahrain who took over from his father Ahmed around 1890; there was no Kanoo branding at that time. In 1910 the first Kanoo logo was developed with a palm tree and the calligraphic Arabic and English script, which gradually developed into the form it has today.
Although oil was discovered in Bahrain during 1932, its real economic importance grew in the late 1950’s. During that period we were operating as traders with an import and export business and established an oil tanker agency as part of the Kanoo Shipping Division, which was founded in 1911. During the oil Boom in the 1950’s, when business grew tremendously in the Gulf, we expanded our operations and our divisions into Saudi Arabia, Dubai (then part of the Trucial States, which later became the U.A.E.), and Oman where the Kanoo name rapidly became prominent.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s the region’s economy was well established and there was a wide acceptance that the Gulf would become an important global economic influence. This growing maturity and awareness lead the Kanoo family business to consider how its own brand should be developed. We started forming joint ventures with prominent international companies setting up business units in the Gulf and becoming partners with them for the whole region. Sometimes a joint venture was operated under the name of the international company but in many case the Kanoo name was used. Thus, many successful Joint ventures were formed such as Norwich Union in the insurance sector that we started working with as an agent. Later we developed it into a partnership with AXA insurance that had, at the time, taken over Norwich insurance, covering most of the Middle East region. Another example is our joint venture with American Express, which has expanded to Egypt, the UK and France.
Throughout the decades of our existence, the palm tree logo, which was consistently applied since 1915, became widely recognised both locally and internationally as the symbol for the Kanoo conglomerate. It is used by all the Kanoo operating entities including travel, shipping, insurance, the commercial group division and the joint ventures. It has formed the symbolic basis of all associations with the values for which the brand stands and maintains a link with the overall corporate identity. The industry related divisions although of a substantial size were more specialised and hence were less recognised by the general public.
Confidence in the family brand grew and by the new millennium both products and services were created to bear the Kanoo brand alone without the association to an agency or principal. This gradual evolution towards a unified brand image took and is still taking many forms:
Service-oriented businesses offered by the company, in particular the Kanoo Travel Agency, Kanoo Shipping Agency, Kanoo Cargo Services, Kanoo Commercial Division and the Kanoo Joint Venture business units, have created strong brand identities founded on the corporate brand. The Kanoo Travel Agency is probably the business unit that is the best recognised and the general public perceives this to be the most dominant. Kanoo Travel Agency has kept up a long tradition of distributing free branded travel bags, which became very popular. Kanoo’s personal effects packing and forwarding services, used by thousands of expatriates, has left branded packing boxes behind everywhere in the world as a continuous reminder of the Kanoo brand and has had many far-reaching, perhaps unintended, effects.
Recent developments of the brand include the branding of generator sets, which are rented on long-term contracts providing power to remote locations in Saudi Arabia. The distinctive dark blue paint and application of the Kanoo logo clearly establishes in the customers’ and consumers’ mind who is providing their electricity. The branding of the equipment rental business and the adoption of the name Kanrent also brought the opportunity to associate this activity with the corporate brand more closely than had previously been the case. Again using the dark blue colour in documentation and on the support vehicles to identify and distinguish themselves, Kanrent was able to rapidly establish its position in the market through being associated with the Kanoo corporate brand.
The agency business continues and a large part of Kanoo business is that of the representations of international manufacturers formalised through agency agreements. It is the development of branding in this third area of activity where trough the Kanoo brand being printed onto the products, the company is set on the path from being an agent for a brand owner to being the brand owner itself.
An ever evolving branding strategy has been followed by the Kanoo family business right from its inception. Starting as a trader in import and export, progressing to agency representation, we finally moved on to joint ventures with international companies. Now, through technology transfer agreements with an Australian Company used to establish Kanoo Plastics, we are manufacturing cross-linked polyethylene and other compounded plastics in Bahrain for export throughout the Middle East and around the world. Every box of plastics exported bears the Kanoo logo and the Kanoo Plastics brand.
In another development of the group, a technical agreement with an American Company (FARIS) a relief valve company has resulted in a local assembly of safety relief valves in Saudi Arabia, which now bear the Kanoo name.
Fuel additives for turbines are blended in house and sold under the Kanoo name to a large number of electricity generating stations in Saudi Arabia as a Kanoo product rather than an imported and traded item of another manufacturer. This gives an idea of other areas in which we are involved and intend to progress further.
The future is clear; whilst Kanoo branding is no substitute for service and quality, it has nonetheless added tremendous value to the products. There has been a long association between many international manufacturing brands and the Kanoo name. This has created a link in the minds of customers between the family business and the manufacturers’ products, which provides the opportunity to develop the leverage created even further.
As Kanoo increases the number of territories in which it operates and, therefore, increases the produced volumes of a given product, there comes an opportunity to specify a product particularly suited to the local environment and brand it with the family name. This is currently under consideration and Kanair (portable air compressors) as well as Kanarc (electric arc welding machines) and two more areas are in consideration for Kanoo branding, putting the company further along the road from brand representative to brand owner.
Kanoo has been in business since 1890, and has worked through all sorts of economic cycles; the brand has built a reputation for endurance. This signifies a tremendous value in the uncertain economic cycle that many family business companies are currently experiencing. The brand is what the family business can fall back on when it faces times of uncertainty and change.
Tharawat Magazine, Issue 8, 2010