VALOIS PUMPS UP THE VOLUME
Byline: Soren Larson
NEW YORK — It might not reside on the glamorous side of the business, but Valois considers its role as essential as any in the world of beauty.
The company is the industry’s largest supplier of metered dispensers — the pumps and sprays that may be taken for granted, but are necessary to the commercial life of any finished beauty product, from a high-profile designer fragrance to a run-of-the-mill moisturizer.
And as beauty has developed over the last decade from an image-based industry to one that depends on the latest technologies to service demanding consumers, Valois claims it is able to adapt to its surroundings and fill the need for a variety of specialized delivery mechanisms.
This ability to customize, company executives say, is how Valois sets itself apart from the competition — firms like Pfeiffer, Risdon, Emson, Sar, Calmar and Sofab.
Gerard Perrot, president of Valois of America, based in Greenwich, Conn., noted, “This is a company that only makes dispensing systems. That is what we specialize in. This specialization has resulted in certain strengths: a high quality of product and a wide range of products that are offered.”
Valois was founded in 1947 as a maker of aerosol sprays. Over the years it has expanded into different areas — notably, pumps tailored for cosmetics products — and markets, including Asia and the U.S., where the subsidiary opened 16 years ago. But it wasn’t until 10 years ago that the company began to discover its true niche, according to Pierre ChAru, director general of the Le Neubourg, France-based Valois SA. “We had a revolution of thought when we realized that we are here to service special needs,” he said.
“We’re a supplier whose specialty is customizing,” added Eugene Matarese, vice president of Valois of America. “We’re involved in customizing and we’re heavily involved in a product’s image. It’s not a mass mentality. Before Valois came to America, everything [in beauty] was big and bulky, and there was a sort of hardware-store mentality.
“There are a lot of services we offer that continue even when a product’s on the market,” he added. “If we discover better components, we can alert a client and then apply them to the product.”
Matarese said the company is integrated, meaning it buys its own raw materials and does all its own molding and assembling — Valois has three factories in France and one that opened in Norwalk, Conn., last year — and thus can react quickly to client requests or unusual product profiles.
“Some products themselves are revolutionary. The [alpha-hydroxy acids] like EstAe Lauder’s Fruition were a breakthrough in skin care and they needed special packaging,” said Matarese. “When we have a project like this, it’s all about the compatibility between the product and the pump components,” he continued. “Fruition was actually a challenging one — we had problems with an unwanted odor with some of the delivery systems. But we were able to fix that through research and experimentation.”
Valois is divided into three divisions: pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and perfumery. The pharmaceuticals category involves working with medicinal products like Primatene Mist; the company’s other two areas count as clients the most prolific manufacturers in the field, like Lauder for skin care or Calvin Klein for fragrances. The company worked on CK One, for instance.
“We want to be considered the highest quality of manufacturers,” said ChAru. “The products can be expensive, but we think they provide the quality.”
“We have only one defect out of a million pieces produced,” added Perrot.
A Valois dispensing unit usually will cost a manufacturer between 30 and 50 cents per fragrance bottle. The lotion pumps are more, about $1 each.
Last year, the company delivered 500 million pieces and reached a volume of $200 million (1 billion francs). Perfumery accounted for 52 percent, and cosmetics generated 19 percent of the pie. Sales are expected to jump as much as 15 percent this year.
The executives said the industry has been changing rapidly, and the company must deal with hypoallergenic products, or products that have eliminated preservatives.
To keep up, Valois strives for innovation. In the latest technological advance, Valois has designed a spray for fragrances that dispenses the scent without employing a “deep tube” that extends down into the bottle.
“The design now is to have an applicator on top, then the mechanism, then a deep tube,” said Claire LeBlanc, director of worldwide communications. “But this one has no tube. You have to shake it, and then you can just spray the product.”
LeBlanc said the invention had been developed for esthetic reasons — “this can be used for packaging where a deep tube can look bad, it gets in the way of the design” — but also with pragmatic concerns. If a product has an unusual shape, “the tube just might not fit in the bottle. This gives the designer freedom to do anything he wants.”
The company also recently developed the Airless System, a vacuum-filled package that purportedly protects a product from oxidation.
As its product range has been changing, so has its client list: Valois has been adding more mass market firms.
“There’s been a surge in what I call high mass,” said Matarese; “those products like Coty, like Avon, who don’t want to be prestige, but they don’t want to be cheap or generic, either. They’re between prestige and low mass, and that’s a big change, considering that we didn’t deal much with mass market products before.”
The firm has adjusted to changes in the consumer climate over the years.
“Baby boomers are now 50 — they have a bigger and bigger interest in treatment,” said Matarese. “This is no longer just goop in a bottle for them anymore.
“In the old days, [vendors] took standard product A, B or C and lived with it,” he continued. “Now we try to give the client control over the product. You can’t just throw things out onto the market these days. The stakes are just too high. Because consumers are more educated than ever, our clients need the latest technology more than ever.”
To get its message across in a more complex marketplace, Valois has created an introductory CD-ROM, which its salespeople will use to show the firm’s offerings and demonstrate its ability to create highly specialized products through engineering and chemistry.
The company will continue to stress the very basic but sometimes overlooked need to dispense a product in a manner that is efficient and pleasing to the consumer.
“Customizing is one thing, whether you’re fitting a cap or adapting to a design concept,” said Matarese. “But if the pump is choking up and doesn’t work, you’ve lost the design and package and the bottle and everything.”