Keeping a business an industry leader, especially in the face of growing competition, is far from easy but that's exactly what Walter Dwyer has done since the inception of Cosmopak. By establishing itself as a boutique packaging innovator for the cosmetic market, Cosmopak became the first to supply the US market with tooling for cosmetic pens. Immediately it became known as a brand willing to innovate and deliver at competitive prices.
With consumers tightening their belts and cosmetic companies on a never ending search for profit, packaging-technology.com's Natalie Coomber spoke with Cosmopak chief executive Walter Dywer about the importance of brand reputation and innovation during challenging economic times.
Natalie Coomber: Cosmopak has always had a strong reputation for innovation. How did the company first establish itself?
Walter Dwyer: We are considered a market leader of flow-through brush pens, a category we pioneered in the late 1990s. That was the product that launched the company. The main focus of that was through a company called Stila that launched the Lip Glaze product. This was considered an industry-changing product because it was the first real automatically dispensed lip product and it became a runaway hit. We were fortunate enough to be part of its success.
NC: How do you maintain a strong brand identity when your products go on to be used by cosmetic companies that establish the product as their own?
WD: We are not an open-to-public company but there is a whole sector of business that does what we do. The people that we are selling to are always looking for packaging suppliers so it is always about trying to target them. We do this through direct media, having a presence at trade fairs or sending them product ideas by mail.
NC: Have you noticed an increasing number of competing companies launch over the past few years?
WD: I think there are a lot more. The internet has decreased barriers to entry in this sector. It is very easy to set up a website and very quickly launch a business. There have been a huge number of Chinese companies coming into the market so competition has dramatically increased, particularly within Asia. However, I don't think that there has been a sharp rise within Europe.
NC: Have you noticed that cosmetic firms have been particularly keen to change their packaging as they try to win more market share when consumers have that little bit less to spend?
WD: Multinational companies are working 12 to 18 months in advance so any packaging that's hitting the market now will have been well advanced in the pipeline. If anything, numbers have been pared down slightly but we haven't witnessed any dramatic decrease in demand.
What you will find is that it in the next 12 months consumer habits may change, but this is hard to predict. There are going to be conservative estimates put into the system but I don't think companies have changed their product development process based on the economic climate.
NC: Do you find that once you have penetrated a company with one packaging solution that they become more receptive to other products you have on offer?
WD: Yes, absolutely. It is very difficult to get into companies for a first time but Cosmopak has been able to do that.
I think the reason behind that is because we have a good value offering; we are reliable, we have good quality products, we are competitively priced and we have good service. But I think those are implicit – if you don't have those you won't even survive.
If a company wants to buy a product, they would look at all their suppliers. If their supplier base doesn't have that product then they would have to look externally. That's when we would have an opportunity.
The other way to create an opportunity with a company is to provide a solution where we have expertise or by problem solving. For example, we had a company that was having a leakage problem with one of their packs. We came in and gave them a solution which allowed them to move away from their current supplier and work with Cosmopak.
NC: Does Cosmopak make bespoke products for specific companies, and if so has this trend been increasing in the past few years?
WD: We have just done a fantastic launch for a company in Holland for a totally bespoke pen but I can't say it has become more of a business. I think there have always been companies that have been prepared to invest in it.
Obviously if you want a bespoke package you have to pay for the tooling and to have your own design. Some companies go that route and some companies don't. My opinion is that it is better to build yourself something that is unique that separates you from your competitors.
NC: Have you noticed the companies you supply moving towards a more eco-friendly edge?
WD: I think everyone was talking about environmental issues until August 2008 before the economic downturn hit because there is a premium that comes with these products. We offer post-consumer recyclable plastics and the cost increment is 25% to 30%. I have noticed that no one is really talking about environmental issues since the recession hit.
NC: Are there any future products or new materials that you are working with which you are particularly excited about?
WD: We are the first to launch a 100% post-consumer recyclable plastic lipstick case and we have a nail enamel pen which is interesting because it is a different configuration.
We are also working with another material which is soft and malleable. It is used on the outside of a product and will change shape when the consumer holds it before going back to its original form when it is put down. I think the heart of our business is still very entrepreneurial. Product development is driven by a gut-feeling by the owners of the business in conjunction with feedback from customers.