You can’t succeed in Arabia doing business the European way

Talking to Peter Drastich is always inspiring. He decided years ago to stay permanently in Riyadh. A this year he begins his sixth season running ELKO EP’s office in a country that has been the talk of the town in recent months. more and more in recent months. How much is Saudi Arabia changing?

The oil giant, which for years was rather closed to the wider world, is suddenly a popular destination for travellers, sportsmen and dance music lovers. And, of course, businessmen trying to break into the local market. But as Petr Drastich points out, having references and years of experience in networking in the local market can’t be fooled.

When we spoke three years ago, you said that in a few years the whole world would be flying to ‘Saudi’. Observed from afar, it seems to be largely happening already. Whether we’re talking about Riyadh, where they’ve started tourists, the west coast is coming into the agency mix and the wave of interest will logically bring the current football shopping spree. How do you see the difference from the perspective of someone who has been in Saudi Arabia permanently living in Saudi Arabia?
What was unimaginable a few years ago is suddenly happening. People are flying to Riyadh from all over the region for entertainment. The attraction is not just the football, which is constantly talked about, but the wide range of cultural events. There is, for example, the Sound Storm festival, a giant eight-stage dance party featuring some of the biggest names in electronic music. Armin van Buuren, David Guetta, Martin Garrix, Eric Prydz, Tiësto and many others have been here.

What is the Saudi Arabian capital alive with right now?
Perhaps the biggest change in the metropolis is the launch of the first phase of the Riyadh Bus Project – modern buses and air-conditioned bus stops, to be followed by the long eagerly awaited Riyadh Metro Project. King Salman’s gigantic projects are growing before our eyes Park or Diriyadh.

Is the influx of tourists felt in Riyadh itself?
Riyadh is a huge metropolis that can really absorb a lot of new people. That’s why the change is not noticeable. I do notice tourists sometimes, mainly because some of them don’t follow local customs and wear shorts or have their shoulders exposed. But they’re more individuals.

And how is the situation outside the capital?
The more significant holiday tourism that I spoke about three years ago has taken a back seat due to covid. So Saudi Arabia’s most significant boom is yet to come. By the end of 2023, an airport should be open where domestic flights will land. Only at the turn of the year are the project’s hotels due to open Red Sea Global. More hotels and international flights should be added in the coming year. According to the current situation, leasure tourism will be in full swing in about two years.

How is the market in your industry changing in Saudi Arabia?
There is a standardization in the electrical industry. Not long ago, it was possible to see different types of sockets and nominal voltages in houses and apartments. There were both 220V AC and 110V AC. Today, everything is changing in favour of the standard Type G (British type) domestic socket and the voltage 220V AC, frequency 60 Hz.

Is it an advantage that ELKO EP has been in the country for a long time?
It certainly is. Gaining the trust of local customers is one of the prerequisites if you want to succeed in Saudi Arabia. This trust cannot be gained except by a test of time.

What opens the most doors within the business? References, contacts, knowledge of the local market?
I would say that knowledge of the local market and customs is the key. You can’t succeed here with the idea of doing business the European way. The moment you get to the customer, references are the main factor. Preferably directly from Saudi Arabia or the GCC group of countries (which includes Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait Oman, UAE in addition to Saudi Arabia).

From your point of view, what are the key and most successful ELKO EP solutions in the Saudi market?
Electronic modular devices. In this segment, we are an unknown brand in the local market from ELKO EP a respected player and we enjoy great trust with our customers. I would like to stress here that it is not just the product itself, but the care and service we provide with the product.

Which recent references would you highlight?
You would find ELKO EP products and solutions on many projects in Saudi Arabia. Just to mention a few these end users – Riyadh Municipality, Riyadh Metro or SEC (Saudi Electrocity Company).

Is there any cooperation with other subsidiaries in the region (Egypt, UAE) – or each each country handle their business separately?
We are in contact with the other subsidiaries, but each market has its own specificities. The market in Egypt is not comparable to the one in Saudi Arabia. There are more similarities between the GCC countries. But the UAE or Oman, for example, have their own way. We can call each other occasionally, but on the ground everyone has to do the work themselves.

How do you think Saudi Arabia could be inspiring for the Czechs? And in what ways do the Czechs inspire the Saudis?
I find it very inspiring how the younger generation treats the older one. In families, it is basically unthinkable for children to leave their parents in old age in a retirement home. There is such an institution here does not exist. Perhaps the Saudis could take some team spirit from the Czechs. Whether it’s sports or business. Sometimes they can’t suppress the ego of an individual in favour of the team. If they could do that, I think the whole community would benefit.