Hotel Insider sits down with Ahmed Shaheer, Managing Director, State Trading Organisation PLC

State Trading Organisation (STO) is the largest commercial establishment in the Maldives and has a host of firsts under its belt. Among other things, STO was the first to introduce supermarkets, fuel sheds and bottled gas to the country. Hotel Insider sits down with STO’s managing director Ahmed
Shaheer to have a chat about the organisation, its commitment to quality, its links with the country’s two largest industries, and where STO is
headed.

Hotel Insider: Can we start off with a primer on STO, its main areas of focus?

Ahmed Shaheer: We’re the largest commercial organisation in the Maldives and we’re mainly engaged in the import and sale of commodities. We have four core areas: staple foods, fuel, construction materials and pharmaceuticals. We’re focussing on providing infrastructure, logistics and man power to strengthen these areas. Over the last couple of years, we’ve made significant investments to enhance them. Also, we’re very proud to say that we’re the only trading company that has a presence in every inhabited island. Because of this, we’re able to offer an unprecedented level of access to our customers, wherever they may be.

I’d like to note that STO is a leader in electronics. We carry some of the most prestigious international brands like Philips and Hitachi. We don’t compromise on quality; all our products are genuine. We’re well known for our warranty and aftersales services. We guarantee that if there’s a fault in our product, it will get serviced and we ensure that we have the spare parts required. You won’t get this kind of service from just any outlet.

Like I’ve said we’re very quality conscious. Even if you look at a generic product like steel, which is very important in construction, you can be assured that we will provide it exactly as specified.

Also, we’re the largest importer of fuel; we account for 70 per cent of the Maldives’ fuel imports. We don’t purchase oil from small traders, but rather, we buy from national oil companies or from oil majors like British
Petroleum or Shell. This safeguards the quality of our product. We buy fuel based on the international price index so our rates are very competitive.

Let me also say that this year we’re celebrating 53 years of service. And over the years we’ve earned the trust and love of our people. STO is the ‘brand’ that is the most beloved and popular with our people. They want to buy our products because they know they’ll be getting a quality product and that they will be getting great aftersales service.

I’d like to point out that if STO runs out of a product, its market price will soar, so we help maintain prices in the country.

Hotel Insider: We’re witnessing a great boom in the resort sector; a number of new properties are set to open up this year and in the coming years. Do you see any opportunities here? What are some of your products and services to this sector?

Ahmed Shaheer: Being the biggest trading company in the Maldives, STO does have a lot of interactions with the hotel industry.

While we don’t work as a resort supplier in food and beverage, we carry a lot of premium brands suited to the industry, whether it’s milk or olive oil.

Also, we’re providing special packages for hotel and resort developers. These include everything from basic building materials like cement and steel to home improvement products like air conditioners. There are a number of resorts who approach us directly because of these packages. They get special prices and flexible payment terms. Plus, our subsidiary insurance company, Allied Insurance, has some very attractive insurance packages for resorts. We’ve got similar packages for guesthouses as well and they’re getting a lot of support.

And as I’ve said earlier, we don’t just sell products, we also provide excellent aftersales services. And due to the warranties we provide, we have an excellent rapport with our customers. We put a lot of emphasis on understanding our customers’ needs and working as closely with them as possible.

Hotel Insider: Construction is a key industry and it’s intertwined with tourism. As a large-scale importer of construction materials, STO has a degree of leverage in the industry. How does STO use its position to help the construction industry?

We provide very generous, very flexible terms to construction companies. Members of the Maldives Association of Construction Industry (MACI) get special privileges as we have an understanding between MACI.

Hotel Insider: We’re seeing a trend where more businesses. including resorts and hotels, are adopting smart technology. What are your thoughts on this? What’s STO doing to stay on top of technological innovation?

Ahmed Shaheer: STO is a leader in this area; we’re probably the only company with a state-of-the-art Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. We’re using a leading industry ERP system: SAP (of German origin). It integrates all of STO’s businesses, making everything available on one software. For instance, we can monitor stock levels of our Addu outlet in real-time from here. Plus, we’ve got highly trained staff in management and middle-management positions. We have SAP ERP staff here who’re international-level consultants.

We’ve led the way in many areas. Whether its value addition or the introduction of new products and services, we’ve revolutionised the way business is done in the Maldives.

Hotel Insider: Lastly, where do you see STO say five years down the line?

STO has a healthy market-share in the Maldives, so our future plans revolve around capturing key international markets. We have been in the oil-trade for decades now and we are experienced. Hence, we are looking to invest in areas like international oil bunkering in Maldivian waters, which is one project we have in mind. We’re also thinking outside the box, beyond the limits of the Maldivian economy.