“We Have Built Brand Features that the Market Values”
24 March, 2014
Urban fashion, sports clothes and professional clothing – but in the beginning it was just tubes to protect your neck from the cold. That’s the way Buff has evolved since 1991.
At the start of the 1990s, Catalan businessman Joan Rojas, textile sector veteran and motorcycling enthusiast, designed an accessory to protect him from the wind when out riding. The invention was very simple: a seamless, microfibre neck tube.
This groundbreaking piece of clothing has grown into an 8,000 sq metre factory and office complex that boasts four business lines, is active in 70 countries, has had stable annual growth of between 10% and 11% over the past decade (except for 2012 when it fell to 6.5%) and two affiliates, one in Germany and the other in the US. These are the figures behind Buff that vouchsafe the results of that first neck tube Joan Rojas made.
The businessman drew on his knowledge and experience in his family’s textile company to create the firm in Igualada which currently has a turnover of around €27 million per year, according to figures from the last financial year.
“We will close the year in April, but we already know we have returned to the growth that we saw in previous years. There has been a recovery on the Spanish market. In this sense, the weather has a huge impact on the fashion textile sector and this year we had a very good season through to Christmas,” says Buff CEO David Camps, summarising the year.
In relation to the urban fashion collection the company launched three years ago, which “is still in the introductory phase”, Camps underlines the complexity of using the multibrand store as a new distribution channel for this product. “It’s very different to the sports clothes distribution channel,” he says. “Our figures for the Urban collection are good but at the same time we are aware that the multibrand store has taken a big hit in the past few years even though, as I said, last financial year was particularly good”.
Targets and results
We are speaking with the Buff executive a few days after the firm visited IPSO in Munich, one of the most important elite sports fairs in the world and a key tool in the promotion and marketing of Buff products. Despite its recent foray into the fashion sector, the CEO says that, “90% of Buff’s activity is still focused on the sports channel, while between 10% and 15% lies in fashion neckwear accessories and head and neck pieces from the professional and industrial line”.
In May Buff will begin a new financial year which, as Camps says, will be marked by continuing with the same goals as to date. “We are working to shore up the four business areas we already have. We won’t open a new line, what we want is to strengthen the ones we have and ensure that they all contribute to the company’s overall growth”.
There may not be many new products for Buff in the short term, but in recent years they haven’t stopped striving to improve their product offer and redesign the brand’s image. A new creative director joined the firm in 2010 and the identity of the different product lines was unified and a new logo presented in 2012.
Since then, the company has been convinced that “flat is boring” and says so to its customers with its slogan. To reinforce this idea, Buff has for many years sponsored elite sportspeople in activities including trail running, climbing, mountain biking, Olympic skiing, motorbike rallies – in short, says Camps, “spectacular sports where we can get maximum bang for the buck”. Núria Picas, Emma Roca, Berta Martín and Jordi Viladoms are just some of ambassadors the label draws on to underline that it “supports people who do special things”, as the CEO puts it.
Speaking about spectacular, from the outside Buff is distinguished by the way it has gone global and consolidated the idea of production carried out entirely within Catalonia. How did they do it? He doesn’t deny that it is “through effort and by sacrificing some of the profit margin” that the company can ensure the whole of the production process is done at the factory in Igualada.
”We have sought and continue to seek ways of making local production possible. Obviously this means we have sacrificed part of our margin. But there are many positive aspects to this: customers value our production model. We have built brand features that the market values. That is what has allowed us to keep the production unit in Igualada,” he says.
This question leads the Buff CEO to talk about the fast turnaround time for orders which is made possible by producing here. “Replacements are very important in accessories. We can supply 100% of the collection to Europe within 24 to 48 hours. We react very quickly to demand,” Camp says.
Another value Camps points to with pride is the firm’s ability to innovate, which can be seen, for example, in the neck tubes it makes as part of the professional line and which are designed to protect against flames. “We have the DNA of a manufacturer, dating back to the company’s founder. We are also highly knowledgeable about the art of weaving and about dyes and this experience allows us to innovate. R&D is possible because we have a very good knowledge of the product and processes,” the Buff executive says.
This leadership in innovation has enabled the company to export close to 90% of its production to around 70 countries. Its main market is Europe, particularly Germany, which accounts for 10% of exports. Next comes the US, where the firm exports 20%. Persistence and adaptation have made its implementation in America possible, a country difficult for foreign firms and where Buff now has a team of 20 people working at its affiliate, in areas including sales and marketing. But Camps says it is important “to understand the differences of each market and to be very flexible. Also, in the case of the US, you must realise it has many singular features”. That’s why he doesn’t talk about ‘foreign’ but ‘natural’ markets. “We take a global view and treat each market differently, right down to the product and publicity.”