Leading the way
Diving through the heart of rural Czech Republic to reach Moravia Cans, it was hard to imagine that this sleepy town of Bojkovice is home to the third largest supplier of aerosol cans in Europe. But then again, Moravia is not your typical can maker.
A FAMILY BUSINESS
With its roots dating back to Czechoslovalian Soviet state ownership of the Zeveta group from the 1960s, Moravia Cans in its present form was founded in 1991 from the post velvet revolution and the state divesting of businesses. This new private ownership allowed for a new company direction and there is no coincidence that a new company ethos was developed with a freedom to innovate right at its core. Moravia Cans’ sales and marketing director,John Broks, takes up the story.
“Moravia was essentially founded in 1991 and is a 100 per cent family owned and privately run business,” he said. ”Innovation is at the core of this business; whether you a.re talking about alloys, light weighting or more advanced technologies seen in our aerosol business, we are looking to set the bar high. 99 per cent of our company portfolio is based on aerosols, with a heavy focus on deodorants and antiperspirants.
“Although the company in its present form is still relatively young, our Czech manufacturing heritage dating back to the 1960s ensures that we have the required knowledge and skill to more than compete with our competitors from a skill perspective.”
On first glimpse, the remote Bojkovice location appears to be an unusual setti11g for a company of its size. However, the fact that in essence the company is made up of experienced, local people is actually a positive, according to Broks.
“We have some talented people here,” he noted. “The Czech people tend to be well educated and from an engineering background – there are lots of good engineers in the region. We have well over 50 years’ engineering experience, but what you see here is that the location is relatively remote. As such, the people tend to be local and work here for a long time. This fosters a real community feeling.
“There are only 4,000 people in Bjokovice and we employ 450 people here, which is a significant proportion of the town. ln the early 2000s, most of the industry was made up oi· family-nm businesses, but with the change in the industry recently, this isn’t really the case now. It gives us an advantage.
“The company has a firm footing here, so when it came under new ownership, they had little reason to move. Setting up a new factory often isn’t feasible. Other recent greenfield start-ups have found it difficult getting things started initially.”
With Broks’ impressive CV within aerosols, there is nobody better placed to describe why Moravia places so much emphasis on innovation. Having worked for Unilever for 25 years in a number of senior positions, including with.in their aerosols business for 12 years, when Broks speaks you tend to listen.
“Our owners have a very open philosophy and direction; it’s about pushing the envelope on new things,” he said. “Take the eighth line we installed in 2011. We are continuing to push the boundaries of what can be achieved and at the tin1e of installation, it was the fastest line in the world at 250 cans per minute.
“Moravia want to go that little bit further other businesses don’t have that philosophy. They put identical lines ir1 all the time; it’s all about elliciency. Here it is different – it’s about developing the next best piece of equipment to advance the aerosol business.
At Unilever, I was always told that developing a I 00 per cent recycled can doesn’t make sense and is not technically possible. Moravia took the challenge in a closed loop and made a can fully from recycled material. In reality you could never do high volumes, but it just shows Moravia’s approach and investment in tin1e and money to succeed.”
INNOVATION SUCCESS STORIES
Few would find it hard not to be impressed by Moravia’s list of innovation successes. As well as the aforementioned, in 2004 Moravia was the first to developed idea of a prenecker, not Mall and Herlan as commonly perceived. The first line necking machines to have I04 stations arrived two years later, compared to the usual average of 40-50 stations elsewhere. But is there a cost implication to being at d1e forefront of the innovation game?
“Of course d1ere is a cost for innovating, but when big players do innovations, they need someone to lead – some companies have to follow,” explained Broks. “Moravia is happy to lead. We believe in added value and innovation.
Some customers don’t believe in ironing as it adds about €1 million to each line. However, it does save up to 30 per cent more material and ironing d1e can is more precise. Usually the initial added cost is worth it.”
Every facet of the unique setup of the Moravia Cans facility is designed to ensure a competitive advantage. Take its in-house tooling area for instance – this isn’t just for the maintenance of tooling, but for making their own tools too. For Broks, this specialism is something you seldom see within the aerosol sector, or the wider can making industry.
“Our own in-house tools shop gives us a competitive advantage as we can control what we make and when we make it – we can prioritise for customers if needed. From a cost perspective this is very attractive compared to Western Europe for tooling.
“Take the current axe can which is popular at the moment – to build that tool is very difficult. We have the capability here to be able to do that.
“We can make parts for the line so if it breaks down we can do that and be back up and running within 24 hours. Many of our competitors obvi-ously hold spares, but if anything happens to their machines they are likely to be down longer.
“Let’s not forget our R&D capabilities. We have the ability to produce 3D working models of new designs to facilitate new projects. We are able to quickly check to see cap/actuator fit and overall design impressions. Our offline double necker has 80 stations for R&D – it means that work can be done without the pressure of the line being held up.”
As well as in-house tooling and R&D capabili-ties, the company also has an independent quality department that reports directly to the managing director. This means the lines can be stopped if they don’t meet expectations. This emphasis on quality has obviously worked, as Moravia is the only aerosol can producer to get an A rating for print quality from P&G, and also has a D & B Rating 3A1, which shows the company is on a secure footing (strong, with minimal risk). It is no wonder then that Moravia has shown impressive growth figures.
“In the early days our customer base was mostly smaller businesses in the UK. We still retain these smaller accounts that we had in the early 2000s, but now we have the likes of Unilever, Henkel, L’Oréal and Reckitt Benckiser as customers. We are also about to enter production with Procter and Gamble which is exciting.
“It’s not just about the big guys though, it’s about having a varied portfolio.”
The pace of growth that Moravia Cans has experienced is obviously impressive. However, maintaining growth is often the biggest challenge for fledgling companies. With the recent Ball buy-out of Rexam, and with Ardagh taking some of Ball’s divestments, there are certainly going to be challenges for the company in the next few years with two major global companies at the head of the aerosol market. Broks admitted this will be a challenge, but the company is still in a position to flourish, despite the changing market conditions in the industry.
“I’m sure we will see fiercer competition from some quarters – our competitors are all good manufacturers,” he said. “We didn’t have many challenges on an innovation front in the past. Now the market has changed, and Ardagh has got involved, the market is different. Ball did a great job with its ReAl can, so the competition is there.
“We do need to up our game as a result. There will be challenges and growth will be harder as we are up against vast competitors. We can’t compete size-wise with Ardagh and Ball financially, but we can move quickly. We are a family business and decisions can be made quickly – bigger organisations aren’t capable of that. It depends what their focus is – whilst they have deep pockets, huge organisations usually have a core product they tend to focus on.
“We have the momentum on the innovation side though, so they will take a long time to catch up. That’s if they want to catch up.”