"Adding new products and specialty chemicals, establishing a footprint into new territories in Africa and improving operational efficiencies through the adoption of new technologies remain the key focus for our success."
What are the latest developments at LFE?
Linkers (Far East) Pte Ltd (LFE) was incorporated in Singapore in 1982, and we act as marketing agent and distributor, representing several producers in Asia and are selling a wide range of chemicals and polymers to customers in various industries. We have continuously expanded our global presence, defining four key regions: Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Today we are growing our footprint into East and West Africa. Another development is that LFE is now more focused on expanding our specialty chemical business in order to complement our commodity chemicals (polymers, solvents, and other organic and inorganic basic chemicals).
What determined LFE to add specialty chemicals to its product basket?
The commodities business is growing worldwide, and with added capacities and more competition, margins have been declining. Adding specialty chemicals to our existing business model has created greater profitability and diversification. Ideally, we would like to have a mix of commodities and specialty chemicals, and we started by introducing special additives for plastics, and other performance chemicals used in rubber, paints and coatings. With our physical presence in different markets and our long-lasting relationships with the customers (who remain the same for both categories), we believe we are well-positioned to deliver value in the specialty segment.
Could you elaborate on your expansion strategy in Africa?
LFE is already well-established in North African countries, particularly in Egypt, where the business is very promising. We are now developing new markets in West Africa, starting with Nigeria- a big market with many challenges but also with exceptional potential. In East Africa, we have targeted Kenya and Tanzania. We are currently studying the best ways in which we could serve these markets.
What do you identify as the main trends affecting the industry, and how is LFE responding to these?
A number of market trends including sustainability, decarbonisation and new technologies have emerged. To meet these trends, chemical companies need to redefine their value chain, upskill their people and take advantage of digital technologies. LFE continues to expand, look for opportunities in new market segments and new territories and act as One-Stop shop to serve each customer with a full range of quality products at competitive prices.
China also creates a big shift; China is not only a big and rapidly expanding market but also the chemical industry in the country is identified as one of the main economic pillars. A wide range of chemicals and polymers are now produced in China, whereas these were previously brought in from Japan or Europe. As China continues to develop its technologies and improve the quality of its products, LFE will seek opportunities to introduce these chemicals into other regions.
How has LFE managed the pandemic?
LFE’s business model is diversified both in terms of regions and industries. When disruptions take place in one region, other regions we operate in give us a breathing space or a respite from these shocks. On top of that, our industrial chemicals and polymers are used in several industries including resins and emulsions, paints and coatings, printing ink, plastics, pvc, rubber, footwear, adhesives, paper, textiles, detergent and food industries, which again creates versatility and resilience. Rather than focusing on a single market segment, we are trying to add more products into each segment and into new markets to upkeep our diversification and robustness. Though 2020 slowed down the business for a few months, LFE closed the financial year still profitable and only slightly under target. We find these results and the current market recovery in 2021 encouraging.
What is LFE’s strongest advantage?
Our biggest strength is our reputation with business partners and extensive marketing network. LFE works as an extended arm for our suppliers in Asia, whom we help reach out to number of customers in different countries through our offices and contacts. For the last 40 years, we have mostly worked with the same principals who trusted and supported us. With our branch offices and staff present on the ground, we have an up-to-date intelligence and market reports as we interact with customers on a regular basis which provide a great value addition to our principals in the sales and marketing of their chemicals and polymers through us.
LFE understands the local customs and traditions, and we enjoy a sense of familiarity with our customers in different countries. Our supply chain has grown significantly; products that used to come from Europe or the US are now mostly coming from Asia, and this shift is a great advantage for us. The market is rapidly changing, but we have built strategic business partnerships that we continue to cultivate through our professionalism, comprehensive product range, customer-care and after-sale service.
What are LFE’s main priorities moving forward and what is your final message for our audience?
LFE’s business strategy is geared to long-term profitable growth, thereby, securing a sustained increase in corporate value. Adding new products and specialty chemicals, establishing footprint into new territories in Africa and keep on adding value to our business partners and improve operational efficiencies through the adoption of new technologies remain the key focus for our success.