ZAPHIR REVELS IN THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS

Zaphir is the original brand from Chemarome for the Middle East market

ZAPHIR REVELS IN THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS

The preference is personal, the appeal individual. Despite the challenges, Zaphir appears to have found its proverbial elixir. The aroma of accomplishments wafts through its corporate boardrooms as Laura Vera, the company's affable and genial Managing Director and Chief Perfumer with a nose for business growth is driving the brand along the whiff trail to greater successes.

Wearers are fastidious about fragrances, selective about scents and odour-power lies in the nose of the beholder. This is a world of individual preferences. As a wise wit once observed - the nose knows.

Based in the Catalonian capital Barcelona, Spain's international Chemarome Group, the renowned designer, developer and producer of a large range of essential oils, aromatic chemicals, essences and fragrances has got the mix right for the region. In a spin-off reminiscent of and reflecting the legacy of the Arab - Moorish influence in Spain's Andalusia region, the company created its subsidiary Zaphir in 2001 to cater specifically to the Arab markets of the Middle East and specifically the GCC peninsula. The company currently has offices and manufacturing facilities in a dozen countries worldwide.

Zaphir's love relationship with the region has a fairytale flavour. Managing Director and Chief Perfumer Laura Vera fell in love with Mukhallats (perfumed oils) and Bakhoors (scented chips) during a holiday trip in Dubai when she was just a teenager. Ever since she developed a keenness and proclivity for the region and cultivated a deep sensi-tivity for the region's fondness for Arabian perfumery products.

VAST ARRAY AND ASSORTMENT

"We hold a library of roughly 10,000 different scents ranging from industrial aro-matics such as home cleaners to the most sophisticated Mukhallats based on natural ood (scented wood). For the Oriental market our current catalogue comprises over 1,000 mukhallats, 500 bakhoors and few hundred bases such as rose reconstitutions and ood blends," affirms Laura.

The company currently manufactures mainly in three factories based in Barcelona, Jakarta (Indonesia) and Porto Alegre (Brazil). Zaphir sources its ingredients mainly from Europe for the chemicals and worldwide for the naturals. India is also a major source of natural distillations obviously, but has a small, select set of suppliers for essential oils in every continent.

LOCAL PRODUCTION

The company also plans to commence production in the region. "Zaphir will commission its first manufacturing plant ever in Saudi Arabia in the next few years," reveals Laura Vera. As part of its expansion strategy, the brand also plans to potentially make for-ays into Iran in the foreseeable future.

Zaphir continues to stay Middle East-focused, being conceived from and for the region, according to Laura. The company's main markets are the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Saudi Arabia is the biggest by volume and Kuwait is the biggest by revenue. UAE positions itself between these GCC member-nations. The company has also been operating in Yemen for over a decade now.

CURRENT CONSOLIDATION

Presently, the regional market is clearly saturated in Laura's opinion. "The industry grew exponentially in the region for over a decade but since 2015 there appears to be a consolidation that we believe is healthy for the industry and only the best will survive and thrive," she states.

One of Zaphir's attributes is that the company fosters personal relationships and is customer oriented. "I personally travel to visit customers few times a year in the region. We customize products and work on a project-by-project basis and we seldom offer catalogue products used by someone else. As a corporation, we maintain and cherish the personal touch as our way to do business and engage with our customers," assures Laura Vera.

ECLECTIC APPEAL

The brand also caters to the non-Arab expatriate segment in the region. "Many of our French style creations mixed with oriental touches are very popular among Indian and other Asian communities. Our French division Parfarome supplies this European scent through our retail network," she claims.

For perfume companies the Holy Grail is the sweet smell of success! Zaphir has made it to a top slot down the scented path in the Middle East with its premium perfumed offerings.

ZAPHIR'S SWEET SCENT OF SUCCESS

Survival in the regional perfumes sector over the past tempestuous decade has been no mean feat, says Laura J. B. Vera.

COULD YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT ZAPHIR CONTEMPORARY? HOW WAS IT STARTED?

Zaphir was launched in 2001 as a niche concept for the promising Gulf market. We don’t manufacture the retail products you find in stores. Instead we design the scented oils used by our institutional clients. The Zaphir brand belongs to Chemarome International Group and finds its origins in Barcelona, Spain. The core concept revolved around capturing the tastes and scents of the Orient and the Arab World in particular, taking inspiration from the Al-Andalus heritage in my country.

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY WAS YOUR CORE STRATEGY IN GROWING THE BUSINESS?

The market back in the early years of the millennium was dominated by French houses that had little interest or expertise in the heavier mukhallat (oil-mixture) trends. We understood fairly quickly our unique selling point was our focus on oriental scents. Zaphir wanted to be the oriental supplier for mukhallats and bakhoor (incense) oils. I started by researching with my team the best sources of Indian attars and Asian agar wood oils (oudh). We knew we couldn’t “cook” the best dishes without the best ingredients. And like it or not, industrial chemistry has a long way to go in matching the quality you get from using natural source materials.

HOW DO YOU FEEL THE REGIONAL MARKET IS PERFORMING IN YOUR SECTOR?

The market was extraordinarily lucrative for the first decade of the century, booming much as every other industry sector was. With the onset of the global financial crisis, our operating market suffered a few initial slowdowns, but quickly picked up to become stronger than ever. However, in 2012 the market began saturating dangerously. You just need to peruse any souk or mall to recognize perfume shops are ubiquitous in this part of the world. Since 2014, the fragrance market has undergone a noticeable contraction. It is not that the buying public has developed an aversion to perfumes, but consumers are allocating less of their disposable income to such products. As a result, the industry is consolidating and we don’t expect a recovery before the last quarter of 2016.

WHAT DO YOU THINK DEFINES A SUCCESSFUL COMPANY AND WHAT ARE THE REASONS BEHIND YOUR SUCCESS?

We focused on the right segment at the right time and on the right customers when times changed. And now we focus on our most-valued customers, and have fewer product launches than before, but each product is developed to a higher degree of quality. Some 10 years ago we would develop 300 formulations for over 100 customers all over the GCC. Today we develop less than 100 products for around three dozen customers. But our revenues are 50% above that of a decade ago.

WHAT EDGE DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE OVER YOUR COMPETITORS?

There is no idea too big or project too small for us and we customize our response to any customer. Our bigger competitors have burdensome MOQs (minimum order quantity) and long project delivery cycles. We deliver an exceptional, personalized service and use ingredients many of our competitors have not even heard of, all of which has magnetic appeal in a region with such a strong perfume culture.

WHAT ARE YOUR EXPANSION AND GROWTH PLANS OVER THE NEXT FEW YEARS?

We don’t see much room for growth in the next five years and feel that mistakes will be costly. We don’t see a possibility for high double-digit growth unless Iran joins the market. But Iranians are not so keen on Oriental notes, preferring French directions.

WHERE DO YOU SEE THE COMPANY GOING OVER THE NEXT 10 YEARS?

We will take it one step at a time. This is a volatile region, so we will monitor the market for the best opportunities. We will focus on organic growth with existing customers and add a few more only if prudent.