In the mid-20th century the Valle del Cauca department witnessed an industrial boom, with many domestic companies sprouting up and foreign companies moving in. One company in particular that is today a leading name in beauty products nationwide had its start in Cali as a beauty parlor.
used to be called La Madrileña. My father bought it and since he was French, he chose a French name for it,” recalls Georges Bougaud, President of Laboratorios Recamier. “In the early 1950s he got an offer from Nu-Tone in New York to produce and distribute their hairspray under the name Kleer Lac. Thanks to the service, the hairdressers’ professionalism and the Kleer Lac product, Recamier because the most famous salon in Cali.”
Without a proper laboratory, Mr. Bougaud’s father produced the hair spray in his garage. “He pressed the shellac with a meat grinder, a broom handle served as a mixer and he heated the mix up in his home’s stove. With a bicycle pump, he measured out doses for the bottles,” he explains.
Recamier’s humble beginnings were soon a thing of the past. The businessman began selling his product to other hair salons, making it the top hairspray in Colombia. By 1962, he had sold his own beauty parlor and dedicated all his time to the industry. In 1975, the founder died and 17-year old Georges was obligated to leave school and take the company reigns.
Today, Recamier’s retail line includes hair and skin care products, foot deodorizers, and sunscreens. Its professional line for beauty parlors, Saloon In, includes finishing, beauty, technical and retail products, tools and nail lacquers.
Nowadays, Recamier grows by 8-12% annually and exports to 14 different countries, including the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Ecuador, Peru and nearly all of Central America. Currently, Recamier has distributors in Florida, Texas, Georgia and Puerto Rico, yet Mr. Bougaud would like the North American distributors to open more states and turn over in the range of US$80-100 million.
Recamier continually makes strategic investments to maintain market share and improve products and productivity.
“In 2013 we doubled the size of our plant so that we could raise capacity in view of our international expansion plan. We also bought new, faster machines,” he says, adding that continual investments helped the company raise its operating margin in 2012 by 27% and by close to 50% last year.
Recamier also sends its chemists to fairs around the world to learn the latest in raw materials and active ingredients for the cosmetic industry. “We’re always up to date on the latest trends and we develop our products, if not faster, then at the same rate as the big global brands,” Mr. Bougaud says.
And while he claims that Recamier’s product quality is comparable to that of its world competitors, he recognizes that his resources are limited and rather than competing directly with the big names, the best strategy for a company of its size is to seek out and strengthen its niche markets.
Mr. Bougaud also stresses the company’s humanist philosophy of equality and his own determination to watch out for his employees, the latter of which is why he has no interest in listing on the bourse.
“Investors want results in three months and this company simply can’t work with such a short-term vision. We have to plan 10 years ahead. We have the social responsibility to create jobs, or in the worst case, to keep the ones we have. Right now we have 700 people in Colombia working for us. By going public, we’d have to produce results every trimester and to do that we’d have to tighten our belts and lay some people off,” he says.
“This company is very committed to the region. We’ve had numerous offers but we don’t want to sell, partly out of fear of the jobs disappearing. In fact, if we ever become a multinational, we hope to create jobs around the world.”