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SMI Industries - The Leader In The Prefabricated Market

Naitram Maharaj built SMI Industries into one of the largest fabricating companies in Trinidad, with clients in the energy, food, construction, distribution and wholesaling sectors. He started his business of manufacturing vehicle body parts during a recession and turned it into the success it is today.

How did he do it?

Maharaj attended San Fernando Technical Institute in the 1980s and studied air conditioning. Since his father had an air conditioning business, this helped him excel. He was the only student who passed the course and was later asked to teach the course, which he did for two years, on a part-time basis. His father later migrated and Naitram took over the business.

Through some bold marketing moves, Maharaj captured a large part of the commercial air conditioning and refrigeration business in Princes Town. By 1983, he was installing air conditioning for Trintoc (now Petrotrin). He gained a firm edge over his competitors by installing the air condition unit as well as doing the electrical, plumbing and the masonry aspects – his other competitors just did installation. 

Trinidad in the 1980s was in the depths of a recession but Naitram continued to get business. “If you are running a business in a recession, you have a different attitude to managing money and people,” he says Maharaj.

In his quest to further his learning, Maharaj studied electrical instrumentation and mechanical engineering. In 1985, his father-in-law passed away and he was asked to take over the family’s small light-sheet metal workshop, which did guttering and motor car panels in Penal, even though he had little knowledge about the business.  

Maharaj began to explore doing body parts for vehicles and decided to advertise to test the market. His ad caught the attention of a fleet owner. “I was fascinated by the response we got and Seereram Contractors was interested in doing their Nissan truck cabs,” says Maharaj. Truck parts in the late 80s were expensive and construction firms could not afford new fleets. They asked him to refurbish a cab as a test and Seereram was so impressed by the work that he received gave Maharaj the entire fleet to complete.

Another challenge came when a Toyota dealer who bought 50 maxi taxis, could not get the approval for them due to low head room. Maharaj redesigned the tops so they could be licensed.

After 4 years of expansion, he found himself faced with a space issue. In 1990, SMI Industries was the leader in the passenger, maxi taxi and truck market. Uneasy about moving, Maharaj kept the Penal operation and opened a new location in the Chase Village Industrial Estate. SMI Industries now had the whole light to medium-sized prefabricated market. At the time, the heavy end of the market was dominated by Brisco, which as destiny would have it, went into receivership, leaving that part of the market open to him as well.

SMI Industries later found business in the manufacturing of tanks. Some oil drilling companies wanted commercial storage tanks manufactured and the new equipment he had purchased made that possible. “We got business because we were effective, we did it quick and right,” says Maharaj. Under some Six Sigma certificates, he explained that the company always strived to cut waste and continuously improve its quality.

“Our customers are now getting an all aluminum truck body for the same price as a zinc-coated one,” he explains, as a result of better supply chain management. That strategy got him some popular names in distribution, such as Carib, S.M. Jaleel and Associated Brands and he points out that SMI Industries has close to 100% market share of the commercial vehicle market. The company also manufactures truck bodies for clients in Jamaica, Guyana, St. Lucia and Grenada.

SMI Industries builds and fabricates unique items but this competency comes from its marketing and human resources. “I do not focus on my competitors instead I focus on my customer and the business will grow by leaps and bounds,” explains Maharaj. He firmly believes that a business owner should stay close to his employees and help them to upgrade their skills. 

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