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The beauty of a family-run business

Article - December 9, 2013
Laboratorios Recamier is one of Colombia's leading cosmetics companies. Its history of hard work and eventual success is inspiring
Mars, the company that produces Milky Way bars and M&Ms, was founded in 1911 by Frank C. Mars. Over 100 years later, the Mars family is still in charge of the business, which makes $30 billion each year in revenue. Like Mars, Colombia-based Recamier is also a family-run business. Although it doesn’t have such an extensive history as others like it, it does make for quite an interesting tale. 
“Recamier was born as a beauty salon called La Madrileña. My father bought it in 1947 and, since he was French, he searched for a more francophone name,” explains its current president, Georges Bougaud, son of the company founder. Mr. Bougaud Sr. thought of Madame Recamier, the painting by Jacques-Louis David, and decided it was perfect. “It was easy to remember and pronounce in Spanish and it made reference to one of France’s most beautiful women at the time,” says Mr. Bougaud. He is referring to Juliette Recamier, who hosted a saloon for artists and intellectuals in post-revolutionary Paris. The painting portrays her as an ideal of feminine elegance.  
“In the early 50s he got an offer from a New York-based lab to produce and distribute a hairspray called Kleer Lac. Thanks to the great service and professionalism of the stylists and to Kleer Lac, the salon became the most famous in the city of Cali,” recalls Mr. Bougaud. At first, the production was very rudimentary and it all happened in his father’s garage but as he saw an opportunity to grow, he started selling to other salons. “Kleer Lac became the number one hairspray in Colombia. In 1962 my father sold the salon and dedicated himself fully to the industry,” he explains. Mr. Bougaud Sr. decided to launch a shampoo line and it, too, became one of the most popular in the country. 
By the 1970s the company was doing great and it even represented Garnier Labs (then bought by L’Oreal) in Colombia. But in 1975 Mr. Bougaud Sr. passed away and left it all to his son, only 19 years old at the time. “I was obligated to drop out of school and take the reins of the company. Without any diplomas or experience, I had to learn this profession by trial and error,” says Mr. Bougaud. 
He recalls how hard it was at first and that for the first nine years he didn’t seem to see any results: “but I learned to persevere”. He has been through many crises in his career but, overall, success has been the norm ever since the mid-1980s. One of Mr. Bougaud’s most important lessons in the industry is the need to invest in innovation and renewal. “Thanks to the investments we have made in those fields, last year we augmented our operations margin by 27%. This year we expect the growth to be of 50%,” he explains. Today, Recamier grows up to 12% each year and exports its products to 14 countries in three continents, including the United States and Saudi Arabia. 
But Mr. Bougaud is so proud of his company’s success because he can help the people from his country. Recamier employs almost 700 people in Colombia alone. “And we hope to keep on growing with those 700 people,” says Mr. Bougaud, “because this company was founded on a humanist philosophy. My family came into the industry by accident, so we have kept that idea that we are all equals here, we are all treated with respect and love.” 
So all this is what makes Recamier great, but what is it that it does, exactly? It creates and sells cosmetic products of the highest quality, designed to be used by women, men and children. “We specialize in hair products: we offer gel for both men and women, hair care (shampoos, conditioners, hair treatments and creams), and any other hair products you can think of,” explains Mr. Bougaud. They also still work with beauty salons and offer them a complete line of professional products. Tanga is the leading sun protection line in Colombia and they are also very strong in the feet deodorant market.