The Countenance of a Revolutionizing Brand – Shakeel & Sameer Yoonus, Managing Directors of Acacia Fabrics Sri Lanka

Acacia Fabrics is a prominent distributor of superior European fabrics in Southeast Asia. The company has evolved to be a recognized household fabric brand name through the years. Shakeel Yoonus and Sameer Yoonus, the Managing Directors of Acacia Fabrics Sri Lanka are an extraordinary team who are dedicated to their renowned family business.

To begin their fascinating adventure, the brothers spent their early years at Belvoir College International, where they learned a great deal about the world around them. However, Shakeel decided to drop out of high school in the middle of his senior year since his father was confined to a wheelchair owing to Muscular Dystrophy, a long-term ailment that rendered him unable to walk. His father encouraged him to join their company which indented fresh textile fabrics from China, Pakistan and India and stock-lot textile fabrics from Singapore and Indonesia to Sri Lankan importers.  Because his father was unable to handle certain situations, he pleaded with his beloved son that he could require assistance with the business, and as a result, Shakeel joined him shortly after completing his Advanced levels.

Only after joining the company did Shakeel learn that it was not the conventional corporate environment that one would assume, since Pettah is somewhat unique, and he didn’t like it at first. However, he claims that he tried to build his customer base since he realized that they needed to expand because they were relying on the same set of customers, as they had been instructed growing up. But, as Shakeel points out, things don’t always go well when one first starts, and he was frustrated because he wasn’t getting any sales or proper contracts. Following that, he worked for a company that sold materials, primarily basic textile fabrics, where he learned how to measure fabrics and inspect their quality, which was a very fundamental skill. The company would import fabrics from China, and all he had to do was sell them in his store and oversee the entire operation. He continued to do so for a few years until he had a thorough understanding of the fibers, emphasizing that this was an excellent opportunity for him.

Shakeel recognized what his father was merchandising once he understood the business concept because those were the types of materials he was also selling. He was able to approach more people with more information as a result of this understanding, and he received his first few orders. Overall, this is how his company initiated indenting textiles for a better market. Shakeel travelled to China at the age of 19 to find his own set of suppliers to get better competitive rates for his clients. Once he found the right set of vendors, he travelled to multiple places because he isn’t the type to stay in one city for more than three or four days. Business components must be extremely fast paced for him. He goes on to say that he’ll be in one city in the morning and another city in the evening for two distinct meetings and then another city in the next morning. In light of this he claims that if he travels to China for a week, he will most likely encounter ten different suppliers. Thus, saving time and cost at the same time. 

When speaking with Sameer, he emphasizes that his older brother Shakeel is very strong with statistics, which is one of the reasons he was able to work quickly and gain the trust of suppliers and consumers. He was able to expand rapidly as a result of this, and they still rely on him for numbers today. So, whereas Shakeel excels at math, Sameer is known for his ability to communicate. This is an important aspect of their partnership and all they do.

Sameer aspired to be an event host when he was younger. For context, he liked to be the guy behind the microphone at school activities and programs. This was something he was fond of, owing to the fact that both he and his brother had been avid cricket fans since they were little. As a result, they listened to a lot of radio commentary, and Sameer, in particular, was enthralled by the concept.

Following his senior year of high school, Sameer knew he wanted to pursue a vocation that would allow him to use his ability to communicate. As a result, he considered marketing and advertising agency jobs. There were no expectations for him to join Shakeel in the Pettah business, so this feature offered him the flexibility to accomplish what he wanted with his life, but only with great care and attention. He goes on to say that he planned to enroll in a university in Malaysia for his higher studies soon after completing his advanced levels, but his mother wasn’t keen on it because of his father’s condition, and it was more vital to remain around and take care of him.

Sameer’s first job was at zMessenger, where he had to visit various colleges and academies to persuade them to enroll students in month-long soft skills courses. However, he wasn’t quite content with this job, so he was persuaded by his boss to apply for a position at Capital Maharaja for MTV News First considering he was very fond of commentary. He highlights being the youngest at MTV at the time to read for primetime news. Sameer had envisioned this role as his long-term profession at this point, but he quickly understood that his employment wouldn’t let him construct a house in this nation and that success in the media industry would take him a long time. A year later, their father suffered a serious injury, prompting Sameer to become a partner in the family business. He began to grasp what a different ballgame handling business in Pettah was a few months into his employment, under his older brother’s guidance.

Their father had been indenting fabrics for over 25 years, and every time he traveled to China, he would transit through Singapore and collect unsold fabric supplies to bring back to Sri Lanka. And now Shakeel continues to follow in his footsteps, traveling back and forth to Shanghai and Singapore. Diving in on how Acacia Fabrics came to be, Shakeel elaborates that on one of his business trips, he received a call from his father who mentioned to him a particular stock of fabrics in Malaysia, which he found incredibly mesmerizing at first glance. He then met with the suppliers, who informed him that they have four containers of goods in Malaysia, as well as Thailand, Singapore, and a few other nations. Shakeel had the brilliant idea of selling these materials at wholesale costs. He then proceeded to collect samples of these discarded designs to offer them to his potential buyers and when he started selling the fabric, he received such a positive response to it. Acacia was interested in building a presence in Sri Lanka, so they solicited Shakeel and Sameer’s father to discuss possible cooperation. However, the business plan they offered was foreign to their way of doing things, which made their father hesitant at first, but Sameer persuaded him by suggesting that he could handle it while Shakeel continued to run the main firm. Following that, their father’s untimely death made them unsure about continuing with the agreement; yet, Shakeel persisted in encouraging Sameer to accept the challenge and discover what was in store for them. It’s important to note how Acacia varies from other fabric suppliers in that they have a zero-stock policy and a significant investment in sample books, as well as a pledge to supply fabrics within 10 to 14 days of placing an order.

Sameer goes on to say that they had no idea how to get down sample boxes because they had never imported before, so he was prompted to register a firm to move forward with the import procedure, which he describes as a “whole new feeling” considering he comes from a corporate background and is unfamiliar with the business world. But of course, Shakeel, his older brother, helped him with the paperwork and explained how things worked.

They were blown away by the fabrics after looking through the sample booklets. Sameer affirmed that he spoke with as many furniture makers as he could to get their feedback on the unique goods. He notes that, even though Acacia is based in Malaysia, Bru Textiles, a Belgian firm, is the principal company to Acacia, its South Asia partner. Acacia’s brand’s headquarters are in Malaysia, with offices in Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Sri Lanka was the brand’s fourth country of expansion. To put things in perspective, Bru Textiles is the world’s largest fabric converter, with 6 million meters of fabric on hand at any given moment, selling to over 100 countries while also giving Acacia assurance that they are backed by a global company.

Apart from the fact that no one else was introducing high-quality European fabrics into the nation, Sameer emphasizes their special relationship with Acacia’s partners. He speaks highly about Mr.Lex Lee, an Acacia representative, who comes to see him once a month. This recognized expert was in charge of ensuring the seamless establishment of the Sri Lankan market. He would take Sameer through training, give after-hours lectures, and go on about the unique selling qualities of the market, technological issues in the market, what they had gone through in Malaysia, and how the duo might learn from it. Sameer asserted to be prepared and ready to sell a few months later. He was asked to hand out the sample books once he had registered his business.

Shakeel, who was initially doubtful about the model of business which required customers to wait 10 to 14 days to get their fabrics, adds how their sample books have a major impact on their dealers, stating “when they see our books, they want to wait. They don’t mind waiting, the impact it has on their hearts when they realize the value of the product.” After receiving the first positive response from H. Don Carolis and Sons Pvt Ltd, Sameer states that for the next year, nearly every furniture maker in Colombo was attempting to purchase from them, resulting in an increase in orders and a significant increase in revenue. Acacia’s first major supply was for the Marriot Weligama and Jetwing Colombo Seven, the duo’s largest hotel projects. These are just two examples, but practically every major hotel chain uses its materials in some way.

However, Sameer notes that in the years ahead, the rapid turnover became too much for him because he now had four employees under his command and a ton of work while only selling to businesses. Shakeel responds by stating that when conducting business to business operations, they are bound to rely on their clients to sell their fabrics for them.

After doing some research, Sameer set out to create a scenario through some innovative marketing ideas, in which customers would walk into a store and expressly request Acacia’s books. Then he had the idea that it was time for an Acacia Store. Shakeel, on the other hand, wasn’t very keen on it because, despite his prowess with numbers, he sensed that it would cost them a lot of money. Shakeel then had a lengthy discussion with his brother, outlining all of the duties they would have to keep if they were to sell directly to clients, and Sameer decided to jump right in. He affirms that the product, and how wonderful it is, accounts for at least 50 to 60% of Acacia’s success, and it’s not just the product; it’s also about how it’s done, which is why the duo adores the Belgian firm, where even the sample book is so well-made.

Sameer also discusses the FibreGuard Stain Free Technology that is used in their fabrics. FibreGuard allows customers to relax knowing that their furniture will be able to withstand ordinary stains, with even liquid stains being cleaned with water and even persistent stains requiring only a tiny bit of household soap. FibreGuard offers a wide range of fabric varieties, styles, and designs that combine technology with style in a seamless manner. FibreGuard textiles are also environmentally friendly, with OEKO-TEX certification verifying that they are created in a method that is safe for both the environment and people, with no toxic chemicals or finishes discharged.

Shakeel underlines that while his indenting orders still has a lot of value to him, his entire emphasis is on Acacia, because if he loses concentration here, everything could go apart, including the timing, deliveries, and ordering procedure. He certainly isn’t playing the easy game in this situation. He goes on to discuss how keen he is about ensuring that he is in the thick of the action, especially with finance. Sameer’s job, on the other hand, was to ensure that when a customer entered the store, they did not leave without purchasing anything. He then goes on to talk about their 10-person team and how he has pounded knowledge into them such that they know the product by heart. Despite their significant roles as managing directors, Shakeel and Sameer are incredibly humble and are even active in day-to-day sales and operations. Even selling half a meter of Acacia fabric brings the brothers great delight because they know they’re contributing to the decoration of a lovely home.

Sameer has returned to the realm of media, taking up regular compering/cricket commentating and TV presenting engagements after working tremendously hard for the first few years to build a sturdy team that is now in semi-auto pilot mode. Shakeel and Sameer are immensely deferential to where they are today, having experienced the best of both worlds. Looking back on their journey, they have come a long way and invested a lot of time and attention into Acacia Fabrics to get it to where it is now. They aspire to keep distributing sophisticated fabrics and deliver excellent customer service.

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