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Overcoming the Odds during the Coronavirus Lockdown in the Middle East

Developing new business, and maintaining existing business, in a highly competitive environment is not easy at the best of times; during a strict lockdown it is infinitely more difficult and a situation new to all of us. 

With reduced demand due to the Coronavirus pandemic, a global downturn in the oil and gas industry and the approach of the region’s biggest annual holiday, you have something like the perfect storm in terms of reduced business activity in the Middle East.

This is the situation Graeme Aittis, Wolf’s Regional Director for the Middle East & Caspian region, currently find himself in (May 2020).  Confined to his Dubai home for the past 8 weeks, he’s been trying to continue, “business as usual,” developing Wolf’s portable and temporary hazardous area lighting and ventilation business in the region.

Just two months ago, a typical working day would have included meeting with Wolf distribution partners and end-user customers in the region.  It would have required some hours travelling – perhaps a 2-hour drive to a remote plant in the desert, or a local flight to a neighbouring country

But all that changed when Coronavirus struck and restrictions were put in place: meeting people outside your own household was prohibited and curfews even being enforced in some areas - ranging from night-time only to a full 24-hour lockdown.

 In some plants, though, operations have been allowed to continue – but with much stricter restrictions.  Even in normal times it can be difficult to gain access, with pre-authorised passes and official identity papers usually being required.  With the new regulations in place, it has become virtually impossible.

Graeme explained that many plants can be remote, isolated and sometimes virtually self-contained communities; understandably the authorities want to protect the workforce and keep the virus out – and for as long as they’re successful, operations can continue.

“Nobody knows the future and how long this will last for.  Success will depend on us being able to adapt to what our customers want and need, and finding new ways to work”

It soon became very clear that a new way of working would be required.  With getting out and meeting customers in person now out of the question, Graeme decided on the next best thing.  He would take advantage of the fact that so many people were at home, with time on their hands, and meet them virtually, online – via a series of webinars. 

Opening an account and mastering the technology was easy and within days Graeme had scheduled the first event with one of Wolf’s GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) distributor partners – an in-depth online training session for our partner’s own staff. 

This was followed up with an event for their actual and potential customers.  Take-up was excellent, with a far greater number of people than expected registering and attending; its success evident by the lengthy question and answer session, requests for copies of the presentation, further information and follow up calls. A further bonus was that people Graeme had been unsuccessfully trying to meet in person for some time, attended the session.

Following the popularity of the early events, the programme was rolled out across the region and beyond, as far afield as Australia and Brazil.  There’s even an interested party in Papua New Guinea (who heard by word of mouth) who’ll be joining in the next webinar.

With no immediate signs of travel restrictions being lifted, this way of working could be here for the foreseeable future.

As Graeme says, even when restrictions are relaxed, “there’s a strong chance people will be wary of face to face meetings for some time to come.  If you’ve just come off a plane with 200 strangers, people are going to be understandably wary of seeing you.”

He added “Nobody knows the future and how long this will last for.  Success will depend on us being able to adapt to what our customers want and need, and finding new ways to work”

Wolf is organising webinar and online events in all regions and time zones, and these can be tailored to specific requirements where requiredIf you’d like to participate, please get in touch with us via info@wolfsafety.com

Wolf’s Regional Director for the Middle East & Caspian regions, Graeme Aittis, preparing to give a webinar from his Dubai Home

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