Fri | Jan 19, 2018

Diversification key to business viability

Published:Tuesday | January 17, 2017 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
Vinay Walia
Konoko Waterfalls in Ocho Rios.
Zookeeper Michael Smith with animals that can be found at Konoko Falls and Park.

Given the fickle nature of the Jamaican economy, diversification of your business offering, whether goods or services, makes good sense, even and especially when things are going well, according to Vinay Walia, group managing director of the Guardsman Group of Companies.

It is this philosophy which has guided the expansion process for one of the country's leading security companies, some 50 years after it began operations.

"The Jamaican economy goes through its cycles. Four years, it will treat you good, four years, it will treat you bad, so you need some stability in the mix and what we also saw was that the service standards that we have in Jamaica for Guardsman Group are even better than the international standards. So our clients, some of them were international clients, which are the financial institutions, wanted what we did for them in Jamaica to be replicated all across, wherever their branches are. That is the mandate we got from them," he told The Gleaner.

Even though its core business remains the provision of a wide range of security services for residential, commercial and industrial clients, the Guardsman Group has been quietly making strides in other portfolios far removed from security.

In addition to security services in Barbados, St Vincent, Puerto Rico and St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, Guardsman is also the regional franchise representative for Orkin, a very popular and highly regarded United States-based pest-control company, a segment which is also in expansion mode.

"We have taken it to other countries, so now we have Puerto Rico and St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands - these are Orkin-based business, it's strictly pest control. We've now introduced it in St Lucia. Our plan is to introduce, this year, the same business in Barbados and in St Vincent. So pretty much, what we do is learn and study your business, perfect it, and then move the same business to the footprint that we have," the senior Guardsman executive disclosed.

This is in keeping with the vision to develop other portfolios outside of the Guardsman core security business operations, for which it is still predominantly known. And the company has in fact been doing an excellent job as the regional representative of the Orkin brand over the past six years.

Then there is the venture into the tourism attraction market about which Walia was happy to share.

"We are invested in Konoko Falls in Ocho Rios, which is a tourist attraction, and it's doing very well. This is our third year in it, and right now, we are busy developing Puerto Seco Beach, and so we are actually moving in the tourist attractions in a big way. You will see some more announcements coming in 2017," he advised.




The Guardsman group managing director said that some people tend to be wary of the reputation of Jamaica and Jamaicans.

"You always get that initial pushback, but then they realise that our standards are very high. It's like how you read headlines and perceive Jamaica is a dangerous [place]. I've lived here 22 years, I've been to downtown. I love downtown. I walk downtown and nobody troubles me. However, if I make a mistake of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, then that's a different matter.

"So perceptions are always there. It is our job to clear those perceptions. So when you go to any new country, you are perceived as, 'Oh Jamaicans, what are they going to do now?' But when they realise that we have international standards, we have standards that they have not experienced before, they embrace you. So it's the initial hurdle that one needs to cross. After that, it's pretty good."

In fact, Walia remains upbeat about Jamaica's economic prospects.

"We have always spoken about Jamaica and the potentials. You will hear in veranda gossip also, we are not short of potential. What we are short of is achieving the true potential, and within Jamaica, there are pockets that are excellent. Channelling that energy is what is important. When you look at Jamaicans who go abroad, they do so well. So potential is not the issue, it's how you channel it, and Guardsman Group does that well. It means if we come together and do the right things and play our part, Jamaica, one day, will blossom into something fantastic."