ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT

Colombia 2014 | INDUSTRY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Mario Hernández, President & Founder of Mario Hernández, on the brand's unique products, international expansion, and working with organizations to improve Colombia's image as an investment destination.

Mario Hernández
BIOGRAPHY
Mario Hernández worked from childhood to build up a sales, and eventually, a real estate portfolio throughout the 1970s. In 1978, he purchased Marroquinera SA to produce leather accessories, and continued to develop his business through the 1990s when the economy opened up to the wider world. He sells his products internationally through exclusive distributors and his web platform. Up to 40% of his production is sold overseas, and he expects to expand his company fourfold by 2016 by opening across 15 countries. He has managed to position his products as luxury and high-end items in a number of Caribbean and South American nations and has recently opened a store in Moscow.

What is the background story of Mario Hernández?

We opened the first stores under the name of Cuerolandia in the early 1970s, whereas the factory, Marroquinera SA, only opened in 1978. The story of Marroquinera is complex, because it was born out of a merger between two small companies, Cuerolandia and Marroquinera, after I acquired most of the shares of both from close friends. We incorporated the production of Swiss Bally. Over the years, we also opened in New York; an experience that helped me realize that Marroquinera was not the best of trading names. After some international market research, I decided to change the name of the company to Mario Hernandez. That meant a fresh start for the company, and in the intervening 17 years the company has been growing both nationally and internationally. We now employ over 500 people and have manufacturing activities in several countries, all determined to produce products using the best raw materials available. We strive for progress and product differentiation through quality, endurance, and social responsibility. The Mario Hernández brand is famous for hand-crafted leather goods inspired by an affinity for well-made products.

Could you tell us more about the international presence of the company?

Today, we have 55 stores in Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Venezuela, and Aruba. In all, we are present with Mario Hernández stores located in the most prestigious shopping malls. In terms of future expansion, we prioritize existing for the long term. Our five-year plan foresees the company reaching 120 stores and increasing international activity, with a special focus on the US, which will be our top priority.

How would you assess the development of the Colombian leather industry?

The number of players has declined compared to a few years ago. Previously, we used to commercialize rather cheap leather and there were many manufacturers, thanks to high demand from countries like the US. However, that changed some 15 years ago, and leather became a more expensive product, changing also the manufacturing patterns in the industry toward more traditional and unique methods. That drove prices up and reduced the number of players in the industry leaving those with brands focused on consumer experience. Over the past decade, Colombia has been working hard to promote its leather as one of the finest quality in the world, and make our leather production highly recognized in the international arena. The supply chain is diminished due to the flight to lower labor cost countries. However, the biggest challenge is procuring raw materials and hardware.

What are the competitive advantages of your company?

I think we are unique in terms of service, quality, and manufacturing methods. We believe that differentiation is the only road to success in the globalized world, and for that reason we have worked hard to achieve the denomination of origin in Mario Hernández, something we proudly did some years ago. Another of our distinctive features is our products' unique identity. Our challenge for the future is to ensure our business grows.

How has the company developed over the past five years and what are your key future plans?

We have been growing at an average annual rate of between 15% and 20%. In terms of future priorities, we plan to expand our international profile, while acquiring more international expertise in the industry with some of the best professionals out there. We are on the way to building a global and international brand, and we have already drawn the attention of several global investors. So far, we have refused any potential deals, as we think we still have a long road ahead of us and there will be a moment, in the future, when we will be in a stronger position. So far, we are prioritizing re-investment in our utilities and continuing our expansion in terms of international activity and store number.

How closely do you work with Marca Colombia and Proexport Colombia?

They both hold us up as a solid business exemplar for companies keen to expand their activities to other international markets. Overall, we collaborate closely with them, as the government has offered its hand to many companies to grow internationally.