Wojciech Inglot was a chemist, a cosmetics’ maker and a visionary, who set up his company in Przemyśl, in Cold War Poland near the border with Ukraine. He passed away on 23 February, 2013. Undoubtedly, one of his greatest achievements was creating a healthier nail polish formula. His heritage is Inglot, one of the world’s fastest developing cosmetics’ producers, with stores popping up around the globe.
Zbigniew Inglot, Co-Owner and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Inglot Cosmetics and the founder’s brother, talked to Andrew Wrobel, Head of Editorial of Emerging Europe, about his company’s amazing history and future plans.
There are 100 Inglot stores across the United Arab Emirates alone, and you aim to have 220 across the Gulf States by 2020. That sounds like a massive expansion, doesn’t it?
Well, first of all, in 2016 we’re celebrating our 10th anniversary of successful operations in Dubai. We work with our franchising partners in the Middle East region and the numbers you’ve just mentioned were set by them.
I believe it will be possible to have 220 stores across the Gulf, because in January alone, I personally agreed to 12 new locations. Our partners would like to have 100 by the end of this year, and 220 by the end of 2020, which is a very important year because Dubai will also host Expo 2020.
I will come back to the franchises in a moment, but let me ask you about other areas first. Are you planning to expand into other regions as well as the Gulf?
Absolutely! We are currently present in nearly 80 countries. Of course, there are countries or regions which are already very successful, such as the Middle East and countries where we started only last year and where it is still too early to see what the results will be.
Let me briefly mention our business model before I answer your question.
So you might touch on the franchise scheme too?
Yes, that’s also what I meant. We have several daughter firms which belong entirely to the mother company in Poland, beginning with stores in Eastern Australia, then Ukraine and Lithuania, and then a subsidiary in Sweden, which actually opened in December last year. By the way, it’s located in the largest mall in Sweden, the Mall of Scandinavia. We then have a company in Germany, in Italy, in the UK and in the US. As well as this we operate in other countries through franchising partners.
It is worth noting that even in those countries where we already have our own stores, we also allow our potential partners to open their stores. This is the case, for example, in Ukraine where we have two stores relatively close to our production facility in Przemyśl, and 15 stores which belong to our franchise partners. Even in Poland, where we have the largest number of stores as well as our mother company, let’s say 15 per cent of those belong to franchising partners.
You asked about the global presence and plans for other markets?
Yes, where have you recently opened a store and what are your other plans?
So, I’ll start by mentioning Eastern Australia again, which is a very important market for us. They’re very successful; we have 15 own-stores in the country. The most important was opened in December, 2015 in a beautiful building located in the centre of Sydney — the Queen Victoria Building (QVB). India is also another market that is very important for us. We also have 15 stores there now, and it has a massive potential for growth; that’s one of the reasons I’m going to India at the beginning of March. Then we have stores all over Europe, even not counting Poland. Ireland is showing fantastic results, and Norway, Spain, Portugal and Greece are generating great financial results, despite the crisis.
How about the UK?
The UK is a very important market. We have two stores there, one in Westfield mall in Stratford and the other in White City. Our next one will be a flagship store in Oxford Street. I’m going to visit London in March. I must admit it has always been my dream to have a store in Oxford Street.
And now it’s a dream come true. There is also the massive US market, where Inlgot is very successful, I believe?
Yes, we have a store in New York at the corner of Broadway and 48th Street, which is one of the most important stores across the world. Also in New York we have a beautiful Inglot Pro Studio in Chelsea market. This is where a lot of make-up artists, celebrities and sportsmen people come to try our products and cosmetics. We also have a great collaboration with Macy’s in the US.
Finally, as far as other markets are concerned, we have stores in three countries of South America: Chile, Peru and Colombia. We opened the first store back in November 2013 so, let’s say, this is really only a bit more than two years ago.
I think it’s an enormous achievement considering the fact that you started entering other markets only a decade ago.
Well, I still believe that we’re at the beginning, that we’re still only a start-up…
If you’re still a start-up, then I believe many start-ups would love to be in your shoes! But this is actually the moment when I would like to take a step back and ask about the beginnings of your company and about your brother Wojciech, the founder of Inglot Cosmetics.
The company was founded by my brother who passed away in 2013. His great advantage was that he was a chemist; a graduate of Jagiellonian University, which is one of the best universities in Poland.
Chemistry was a passion for him. He started working while he was still a student. He worked for several companies, not only just those located in Poland, to create some recipes for them. Then, after he graduated from the university, he started to work at Polfa, which was one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in Poland. By the way, I have to say that in those very, very long ago times when we were still under communist control, Polish chemistry was, and here I mean not only at the university but also the entire industry, at a very high level. Anyway, my brother spent several months at Polfa and the most important thing he learnt there was where to buy ingredients.
You probably know about that crazy time in Poland in the 1980s. You could sell anything, but it was unbelievably hard to buy ingredients and things such as packaging, chemicals, compounds and so on. So, once you managed to get the ingredients and to produce things, they went like hot cakes. When he set up the company and started production, their products sold very quickly. Ah, and yes, the first product he manufactured wasn’t cosmetics but a liquid to clean vinyl products.
Yes, I read about that. So how did the company develop in the 1980s and later on, at the beginning of the 1990s?
My sister Elżbieta joined the company at the beginning of 1980s and they grew step by step. I must say my brother was never a “high-spending” type of man, so whatever he earned, he always invested it. He worked very hard, and his favourite place was his laboratory. Step by step they grew and it during the 1990s nothing special happened except for one thing. In the middle of the 1990s a lot of foreign retail chains came to Poland and they made business really tough. For example, we delivered our products and we were only paid after 120 days.
So in 2000 my brother said ‘No way!’ and within just six months we had terminated all our contracts with retailers and had decided to create our own chain stores.
That sounds like a tough decision to make.
Well, it was very hard work but in 2006 we regained our leading position in Poland. At that time we had about 160 stores across the country and my brother saw that there was not enough space to grow much further. So, we started our international expansion in 2006, opening our first franchise store abroad in Canada and then a second one in the Middle East. It was a real milestone in our international expansion. After we opened the first shop in the Middle East people started calling us and sending emails, enquiring about franchising possibilities.
Today we receive those calls and emails from all over the world, maybe ten offers a day, so now we focus on choosing the best partners. I would say that despite the very hard work—sometimes 20 hours a day—we have a good life now.
Again, I would comment that there would be a few start-ups that would envy you. You have mentioned your own stores and I know that the company has grown organically because your brother didn’t really like loans. You also don’t like advertising, do you?
We don‘t tend to invest in big marketing campaigns. The most important thing for us is that our customers get the best products. We rely mainly on the internet and non-standard promotion.
We attend various types of exhibitions and shows that are dedicated to professional makeup artists. It works like a chain reaction, because professional makeup artists spend a lot of time with their customers, not only explaining the tricks but also talking about how products they use work. We have a fantastic collaboration with them and this helps a lot.
What also helps is our Time Square store, especially as it has a new and wonderfully eye-catching digital billboard located above it.
This is certainly great branding and brand awareness. You have a clean logo; a name that sounds a bit French and a brand that is recognised across the world.
Well, there are a few things that got us where we are today. For example, we started collaborating with TV stations and we do special collections for them, of products that contain HD pigments. This creates a good reputation because our cosmetics are very good for use on camera. Right here I need to talk about our very successful collaboration with New York musical productions. At the moment we are collaborating with 15 different Broadway musicals such as Mamma Mia, The Lion King and Finding Neverland. We produce ads together and we create special limited collections that are dedicated to each musical and which are exclusively related to the theme that particular musical show. They also like to advertise their shows on our bill board above the New York store.
That sounds very clever. What about your major competitors? You know we’re talking about a company that comes from Central and Eastern Europe and is actually conquering the entire world. How do you manage to you know to fight your competition?
I think all these elements I have mentioned contribute. Also, that we are a relatively small company with a horizontal structure, unlike large companies who have a complicated structure where decisions can take a lot of time. We complete all our orders for our partners in a very short time-period and it literally can take a few seconds from a concept being created till its completion. Even now I could change what is on the billboard in New York from our office in Przemyśl.
Nearly all your products are also manufactured in the facility in Przemyśl, in southern Poland.
Exactly! At the moment it’s 95 per cent. I would say everything that is related to chemistry is manufactured there.
What is particularly interesting to me is the question of whether Inglot, as a company originating from the CEE region, has ever had to convince partners or clients that the products are of a high quality?
Maybe that was true at the very beginning and possibly only in Europe. I would say Europe is very traditional. Right now there’s absolutely no problem, however, and the Australian market, the UK market and the US market are all very open. I would say those three countries help lead opinions for other countries. If we sell our products in those markets then we can sell them nearly everywhere.
Is there a piece of advice that you would give to managers and owners of companies from the CEE region?
Perhaps, one very basic thing; they shouldn’t start to consume at the very beginning; they shouldn’t start with posh cars. They should spend money on investigating markets, not only in Europe.
Of course, in the case of cosmetic products there are sometimes very complicated regulations in different countries.
For example in the US, right?
In that respect the US is actually not that difficult. Indonesia is tougher. I am planning to go there myself now, as we’ve been trying to get all the necessary permits for more than two years.
So hopefully you’ll manage to enter the country soon. Finally, how do you imagine the company in ten years?
I hope in that in ten years we will double the current number of stores and Inglot will be the most recognised Polish brand around the globe.
Click here to read more about the company and the products Inglot offers.
(All photos — courtesy of Inglot Cosmetics)