Founded by Soubhi Selo and initially run by his sons, the company entered the paints industry and then curtain manufacturing, before expanding into the UAE to concentrate on window fashion. The year was 1978, only seven years after the country’s establishment.
“Geographically the UAE was very central and we opened our first showroom in Sharjah. We’re still headquartered there and it is home to our factories,” said Nahel Selo, creative director of Sedar and a fifth-generation member of the family business.
Since then, Sedar has evolved into a full-fledged enterprise offering manufacturing, delivery and installation to an ever-expanding clientele.
The company’s 20 showrooms stock eight brands of window fashion and wall coverings, with a choice of more than 4,000 fabrics, from the contemporary and geometric Fujikawa to the more classical Marco Polo range.
“We treat every brand separately because we want to make sure each one gets its importance. Each brand has its own identity and tone of voice,” Selo highlighted.
Sedar is also one of the few distributors in the MENA region for international designers such as Armani Casa and Versace Home, and is the only company in the world that’s allowed to place Swarovski on curtains.
“It’s a premium product that has done well. We’ve had it for more than five years now. We also have roller blinds which are durable and block out sunlight. They’re one of our fastest moving products because people shift offices all the time,” explained Selo.
Embracing new ways
Being a family-run business, the company has been passed on from one generation to the other, preserving its values and traditions through 12 decades of operation.
“My father has always referred to the business as a family. He has interviewed almost every single employee in Sedar, nearly 2,800 today. He builds a relationship with each one of them and has an open-door policy,” said Selo.
This approach develops a sense of loyalty among employees and it’s something that the new generation has taken on.
A crucial factor in the success of any family business, according to Selo, is having a person with a clear vision, who can distribute the work so that each member of the next generation has a discrete role.
“I’m in charge of media, my brother is responsible for procurement, my cousin handles IT, and my other cousin oversees production. Everyone specialises in something.”
The trickiest part, however, is preventing family issues from getting in the way. “Whenever there’s a family drama, we all say that we must power through because we have a business to take care of. If you feel that you don’t get along with your family, then it won’t work.”
And while day-to-day decisions are made with minimal micro-management from the older generation, it wasn’t always this way. For instance, it was difficult trying to convince older members to rebrand the company, an idea that was completely rejected at first.
“They were holding on to the brand, saying we had loyal customers. But it’s important to always change and keep moving with market trends. Today they are grateful that we rebranded.”
The company has already embraced the latest technology in its field – incorporating flame retardant fabrics in its product ranges and offering motorised curtains from Somfy.
“Externally, because we have loyal clients, we had to communicate to them that even though we changed our image and were expanding internationally, we were still the same, ‘rooted in heritage, oriented to the future’ as our slogan says.”
Indeed, in 2013 Sedar revamped its entire operation including logos, stores and hierarchy, and started to focus on franchising.
“We’ve opened two franchised showrooms in Egypt and next month we’re opening in Erbil, Iraq. In a few months, we will open in North Africa including Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. And Kuwait is on the horizon.”
“We want to go global and are looking to expand into North America. We have a franchising manager who’s been there for six months; he was the one of the first establishers of the franchising department.”
According to Selo, franchising was one of the best decisions they made. It boosted sales and increased the brand’s awareness in markets like Morocco, where Sedar doesn’t have a presence yet. In 2016, the company witnessed a 12 percent growth year on year.
Being among a handful of firms that provide a comprehensive service, Selo believes they have little direct competition in the Middle East. While most curtain suppliers take four to six weeks, Sedar delivers in three days within the UAE thanks to its vertically integrated business model.
“We do everything ourselves – take measurements, do installations, and we have the manufacturing facilities and fabrics. A lot of our competitors will refer you to an installer or tailor, or ask you to take measurements yourself,” Selo said.
Sedar already enjoys an enviable market dominance in the region and has a sizable clientele in Saudi Arabia, their biggest market to date.
“It’s mostly driven by the local culture. Saudis consider curtains essential for privacy and prestige. For example, many of them change their curtains every Eid when redecorating their houses. During this time, our factories operate 24 hours because of the high demand.”
As the company continues to expand, Selo stresses the importance of always staying on top of their game and making sure that their collections are trendy, something they do by participating in exhibitions in worldwide.
And the village hardware store in Damascus? Apparently, it’s still open.