How has demand for your products changed over the past 20 years?
White goods sales correlate closely to overall economic movements. This is one of the segments where, when the economy is going well you see demand rise. White goods are also one of the first things customers stop buying during a recession. Most white goods are bought on credit in the expectation of being able to make the payments. One of the main drivers of our sales is construction because people tend to upgrade their white goods when moving home. What's more, we now have energy-efficient drivers. More and more people are aware that white goods directly affect their pocketbook. Having an old fridge is like driving an old car that consumes a lot of energy due to inefficiency. In contrast, we have new environmentally friendly materials. Our manufacturing facility is certified; it complies with the Montreal and Kyoto protocols. We work with the best eco-friendly materials available.
How is Haceb able to compete with international corporations in this sector?
First and foremost comes design, and we deliver a high-quality product to the market. However, one of our biggest assets is our customer brand loyalty. They trust our products due to their quality and after sales service. Our technicians go to at least half a million houses every year to repair products and we have a call center that can handle one million calls per year. Service is a key point in Haceb's strategy. Secondly, it is crucial to maintain the efficiency of our distribution networks and supply chain. Haceb is building alliances with suppliers, both local and international. We are also establishing partnerships with international brands, universities in Colombia, and designers abroad.
What are Haceb's key export markets today?
Brazil is an important market, but unfortunately, it is difficult to export in this region in our industry. Venezuela was a major partner for us but due to recent policies, we have limited operations in that market. In the past Venezuela made up at least 20% of our sales. Today Ecuador is an organic partner but we are experiencing some difficulties there as well because the government is closing down the inputs, mainly due to a trade balance. Ecuador is a US dollar economy and as there is a drop in oil prices, among other factors, input and output must be balanced. Ecuador is also reducing its imports from many countries. So while Venezuela and Ecuador were our biggest clients in the past, today Brazil holds that title.
What do you feel needs to be done in Colombia to improve institutional collaboration between the public and private sectors to increase competitiveness?
Management is a good example—integrity and trust are needed. There are companies that form successful partnerships with local governments in Medellín and in Antioquia, and there is trust on both sides. In terms of ties in the academic arena we have a collaboration project called Universidad Empresa Estado. In one example, Haceb partnered a university to develop an efficient water heater, as a result of which a patent was registered jointly by the Universidad de Antioquia and Haceb. We pay royalties to the university for this new product that is 15% more energy efficient, and the only product that can adjust automatically to its altitude. This means that it works equally well in Bogotá and Cartagena. Our engineers and the university's engineers worked for more than four years to create a real solution that became commercialized. Now, Haceb is returning this added value to the university via royalties earned through sales. The fact is that oil and energy add less and less to GDP, and the government understands that industry requires a boost to safeguard the country's strategic interests. History has shown that only countries with strong industrial sectors survive.