How has Centro Cerámico positioned itself within the Ecuador's ceramics industry, and how do you see the sector's potential as a whole?
Some 40 years ago, Eljuri Group acquired Centro Cerámico, which includes different industry stakeholders from extraction to commercialization. Since then, we have quadrupled production by introducing innovation through Spanish and Italian machinery. Although we have a good hold on the local market, our production level allows us to export to other regional markets. Within the group, we have different companies that target different market segments, including luxury high-end products and a full range of construction materials and equipment on our retail chain, Keramikos. We have also developed specific distribution commercial chains for each of our factories. To diversify our operations, we recently invested in related industries such as industrial adhesive for ceramic, porcelain, natural stone, and other materials used for coverings in the construction industry. Another current focuses is sustainability. The industry could have the better standards, but we are responsible for investing in machinery and technologies that reduce electrical consumption and pollution. Our ceramics business is fully compliant with all the regulations and standards of the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources.
How is Centro Cerámico innovating in both processes and products?
We regularly visit international trade fairs and events to stay ahead of the curve on global trends, technology, and tools used by leading companies around the world. We recently implemented new machinery to cut, rectify, and polish our products in many different sizes. For us, the most important thing is to have our people acting like a team who looks at the entire process and judges based on parameters. Our factories are at level of automation needed to introduce a design on a computer and print it at any shape or size, which reduces waste to almost zero. The Eljuri Group is also partners of the Ferro Corporation Group, who we have joined to open ESFEL, a factory with a product development laboratory where our best designs have been created. This allows us to create our own products and innovate whilst gaining Ferro Spain and Mexico's knowledge about new inputs and materials. For that reason, we are not restricted to buying existing overseas formulas. We have our people work at Ferro to learn how to produce the newest products and transfer that knowledge to our factories in Ecuador to produce these products on a larger scale. Centro Cerámico has invested in European technology, world-class standards of quality, and environmentally-conscious production. Currently, 80% of our high-end production is sold locally, with the rest going to US, Colombia, Peru, Jamaica, Panama, Costa Rica, Salvador, Honduras, and other markets in smaller quantities. Due to the US tariffs on Chinese ceramics, we now represent an attractive market for the US. Our factories are working at a 75-80% capacity, and we are able to meet the demands of that market should their interest materialize.
How is Centro Ceramico dealing with the recent contraction of the construction sector?
According to our forecasts, 2020 will see a change in that contraction trend. We have many projects in our pipeline. Looking the last half of 2019, we feel bullish about our expectations as we have seen many projects restart, and construction companies invest again. We are due for an economic turnaround and want to be ahead of the curve. We will continue to invest in new technology and expand our operations. For 2020, we will continue to open stores and invest in further expanding our product portfolios. We are open to partnering with foreign groups that want to enter the local market, similar to the way we have successfully done with Kohler for many years, as well as partner with international companies that see potential in their market for our products.