The Milano-based URAI made its debut in the cosmetics market only five years ago and owes its success to the long-time experience it developed in the raw materials segment since it was established in 1948, as sales manager Pietro Patella explained in the following talk with KosWorld
URAI was founded in Milano by engineer Armando Giuliani in 1948 and manages today two main divisions. The Chemical division is focused on trading additives, pigments, resins, filters and a number of other products manufactured by leading international companies. In this area, URAI can display a technically-skilled salesforce able to cover the entire Italian market. The second business unit is devoted to Laboratory Equipment: it provides customers with exclusive tools and technologies addressed to a series of laboratory testing processes. In this case too, URAI’s technical and sales team is committed to assisting clients by offering such services as technical demonstrations of each products and software-hardware installation procedures. The Milano-based distributor has entered the cosmetics arena only five years ago, thanks to the innovative vision of Roberto Giuliani and his son Andrea, who strongly believed that, despite the economic crisis, the segment could still offer chances to succeed. URAI’s recent developments proved the Giuliani family was right, as sales manager, Pietro Patella, explained KosWorld in the following interview.
How could URAI switch from its original mission to the cosmetics market, mister Patella?
We have always dealt with additives and pigments for the Italian industry, and since the beginning we also offered such services or products as raw materials testing and laboratory devices. When the Giuliani family decided to operate in the cosmetics scenario, five years ago, we could already rely on our expertise in raw materials like titanium dioxide, commonly used in the beauty and personal care industry; and instruments like Brookfield viscometers, installed in the majority of cosmetics laboratories. But on the other hand we had to select a series of active principles manufacturers with a solid background in cosmetics. We needed them to be committed to innovation and to offer a careful and complete support both on the technical and regulatory sides, required by the tight rules the international markets and the European community have implemented. After completing this selection, we can today rely on a network of highly specialized partners who play as leaders in their respective segments. But it is also our duty to ensure the quality and conformity of the raw materials we distribute, to keep our customers informed about new available commodities and regulations.
What were the key elements for the company’s success in the beauty and personal care area?
Everyone at URAI, from the top management to the salesforce and the technical laboratory experts, firmly believe in the opportunities the cosmetics and fine chemicals markets can offer and this is why we keep investing in these areas, conscious that success cannot be achieved immediately. As I said, laboratory tests and analysis are challenging and take a long time to be completed, before launching a new solution. We achieved impressive results and our goal today is to grow furthermore, confident that to enter the cosmetics industry was a winning choice. Nowadays, URAI employs some 50 people and if cosmetics only represent 5% of our overall business, we also think its share will consolidate and expand in the next few years. The demand for innovative products and raw materials is booming and we are also looking forward to introducing new finished products. Transparency, both in terms of raw materials and active principles, is one of our points of strength.
What are the firm’s most important targets today and which needs does it aim to address?
Our target is to provide innovative raw materials for make-up, color cosmetics and skin care, including whitening formulations and sun care products, thanks to a series of commodities that make it easier for us to implement new generation sun care solutions. We are not operating in the sun screen market, yet, but URAI’s portfolio also includes such protection agents as the so-called boosters, together with anti-age and anti-wrinkle products. The innovative raw materials we introduce come from the developments of bio-engineering and are exclusively based on natural and organic elements that we are able to reproduce in our laboratory. They are all delivered by leading market players with a 30 year-long experience in the cosmetics industry and a unique offer.
What kind of dynamics are characterizing the global cosmetics market, in Your opinion?
I have been dealing with chemicals for the beauty and personal care industry for 25 years and I think the contemporary market is gaining momentum. Of course, it can take a long time, from two to five years (namely in the color cosmetics scene) to complete the test and development processes that regulators require and then launch a new product on the market. It takes a careful activity of tests and experiments on volunteers, in order to ensure that a certain raw materials is harmless to users. But Italy is still a leading player in this arena and the Made in Italy brand is still successful, being it perceived as a synonym of quality. Make-up today is the most effective driver: you always have to strive and create innovative formulations in order to improve the consumers’ look; and a constant research for safety is mandatory. Another rocketing sector, in terms of volumes and values, is that of nail care: it requires dedicated raw materials and specialties to be the least aggressive possible and this is what a very significant part of our daily efforts is usually addressed to.
Are You planning to expand Your business in other product categories and other countries?
Our opinion is that cosmetics and healthy nutrition are becoming the two sides of the same coin and prevention is replacing therapies, in terms of importance, with wellness emerging as the most important aim on the customers’ side. Cosmetics must ensure their ability to preserve the skin’s humidity and overall tone, threatened by arguable lifestyles and stress. Therefore, we look forward to playing in the nutraceutical arena too, in search for new business opportunities. In addition to this, we notice that while Italy is still suffering from the impacts of crisis, other driving markets could be identified with the Eastern European regions, with Middle East and Asia. Of course, top quality and high end premium products have more chances to succeed in such regions as Central-Western Europe and North America, growing, as well as Middle East, both in terms of volumes and values. An emerging middle class will boost the demand for cosmetics in the Gulf countries too.
URAI: FAST FACTS
URAI was founded by Armando Giuliani in the immediate post-World War II period with the aim of supplying the Italian industry with chemical products and laboratory equipment that were difficult to find in those days in Italy, contributing, with innovative products, to the technological and quality development of coating, ink and plastic industries. Today, after more than 60 years of activity, the company has added other industrial sectors to the more traditional ones: adhesives, rubber, leather, lubricants, paper, construction, automotive, textiles and ceramics and, last but not least, cosmetics and personal care. The company’s mission has always been to guarantee customers high-quality products and services and the continued assistance of an highly skilled technical-commercial personnel.
PARTNERING UP FOR SUCCESS
URAI is a member of the LEL Group, an European strategic alliance of distributors operating in the segments of chemicals, minerals, ingredients, natural and green chemistry products, manufactured by a Principal. The alliance includes six different players, namely Lavollee Sa, specialized in importing and distributing specialty chemicals for a variety of French Industries; the UK-based Lake, a technical distributor; Ricardo Molina, from Spain, focused since 1927 on the distribution of specialty chemicals; URAI itself; the Turkish distributor of technical ingredients Kemiropa and, last but not least, German-based C. H. Erbslöh. As sources at LEL Group state, the alliance can rely on a sales team of 120 technical experts able to provide «a European technically driven, problem solving route to market for 8,000 speciality materials into many applications at 9,000 customers». One of the LEL Group’s points of strength is represented by the access it has to «key decision makers in companies of strategic importance to our Principals as well as generating sales from SME customers», with LEL Group distributor sales across Europe amounting to 310 million euros per annum. The LEL Group was founded in 1999 and, alone as well as cooperating with other partner-companies, its participants manage to arrange the purchase of products from Principals, «as required by market opportunities». The alliance can also build upon a logistics operation organization able to ship «100,000 tonnes of cargo in containers and iso-tanks from Principals around the world into Istanbul, Barcelona, Genoa, Le Havre, Rotterdam, Antwerp and Felixstowe» and proved, throughout its history, to be a successful and valuable partner «for Principals manufacturing speciality products and needing distribution in any number of European countries».
by Roberto Carminati