Volume 15 | Issue 3 | Year 2012

As a company based in Mexico and owned by Villeroy & Boch, a leading ceramics firm with headquarters in Germany, Vilbomex understands the advantages that both countries bring to the manufacturing table. “From Germany we’re getting a clear line concerning the need to expand our production levels in Mexico,” says Manuel Monge, sales and marketing director of Latin America for the company.
Vilbomex, which specializes in toilets, sinks, and bathroom accessories, has been forming plans to do just that: increase production in Mexico. “It’s not just a cost issue; it’s also to develop the local industry,” explains Monge.

The company currently carries two brands: Vitromex, which for more than 40 years has been sold in Mexico; and Villeroy & Boch, a high-end brand that offers products to enhance bathroom wellness. Villeroy & Boch has experienced rapid growth in the Mexican and Latin American market during the last years, and the company has its sights set on a continued uptick in sales for both brands in the near future.

TWO-SIDED HISTORY
Regarding the company’s history, “our story is really two stories,” notes Monge. The Mexican company Muebles para Baño Vitromex first began in 1967 in the northern city of Saltillo, Coahuila. At its start, the firm manufactured and sold ceramic bathroom accessories. During its early years, Vitromex formed part of Grupo Industrial Saltillo, a group of companies dedicated to the manufacturing of a wide array of products, including flooring products, ceramic and porcelain tiles for residential and commercial use, water heaters for residential and commercial use, and bathroom fixtures.

Throughout the next decades, the company’s presence grew in Mexico to the point where it became one of the most important brands in the production and commercialization of bathroom furniture, accessories, and fixtures in the country.

In June of 2006, Vitromex was sold to Villeroy & Boch, a widely recognized German firm dedicated to the manufacturing and commercialization of ceramic bathroom products and tableware. Founded in 1748, Villeroy & Boch is represented in 125 countries in today’s market.

The company Vilbomex – a combination of the names Vitromex and Villeroy & Boch – formed as a result of the acquisition. In 2007, products with the Villeroy & Boch brand were introduced to the Mexican market.

Today at Vilbomex, “we operate two very distinct brands, and have two different focuses to reach the Mexican market,” notes Monge. “On the one hand, Vitromex has 45 years of experience in the Mexican market and is one of the leaders in market share.” The brand covers a wide range of products, including low-cost, high volume goods, as well as higher-end products that are sold through a distribution network.

On the other hand, “Villeroy & Boch is more focused on the higher end segments of the market,” Monge explains. Some of the products sold under the brand Villeroy & Boch are manufactured in Europe and sold in Mexico; others are manufactured in Mexico. Approximately 20 percent of the Villeroy & Boch items produced in Mexico are exported to plants in Europe.

To carry out production, the company has a plant located in the city of Ramos Arizpe, located in the northern state of Coahuila. The plant employs approximately 300 workers. In addition, the company has a small artisan-focused plant in the city of Lerma, situated in the Estado de Mexico in the central region of the country. The Lerma plant employs about 50 workers, but the plant’s focus involves custom designs. “At that plant, we can make gold leaf sinks, or items with hand painted designs,” says Monge.

In addition to these plants, the company has corporate offices in Mexico City and Guadalajara.

ECO-FRIENDLY PRODUCTS
“As a brand, Vitromex is largely focused on ecological awareness,” notes Monge. Beginning 2007, the company launched a project to create water-efficient toilets that used just 4.8 liters of water. This shift involved changing the design of its products that had used six liters of water per flush to a water-saving model.

Today, the company has shifted the vast majority of its products into this eco-friendly design. During 2012, Vilbomex plans to discontinue its remaining products that currently use six liters of water. “While we’re certainly interested in producing appealing designs for the market, our principal criteria for new products is that they meet certain ecological requirements,” he says.

The company’s second brand, Villeroy & Boch, already has established eco-friendly requirements for its products, notes Monge. The brand operates under criteria that blend beauty, quality, and state-of-the-art technology to create an innovative, environment-conscious product.

COMPANY EXPANSION
In addition to producing components that are sent to Europe, Vilbomex has increased its presence substantially in Mexico’s neighboring countries during the last years. “In 2009, we opened a distribution network in Latin America,” says Monge. “We now have distributors and an exclusive brand presence in nearly all of Latin America.” The company has a project underway to reach Ecuador and Argentina, the two countries in the region where Vilbomex does not have a presence, during 2012.

Taking advantage of the current market opportunities in Latin America has resulted in an upswing of sales for the company. During 2011, the Villeroy & Boch brand grew by 70 percent in Mexico and Latin America. And company officials expect a continued increase in the near future. ““There wasn’t much market participation in this sector before; very few companies were dedicated to cutting edge innovation in bathroom products, so we’re helping to develop this market segment,” says Monge.

In Mexico, taking into account both of its brands, the company currently holds the second position in the national market. The placement, however, is a result of an ongoing strategy at the company. “Six years ago we had the number one position in the market,” explains Monge. “During the last several years, however, we’ve reduced our level of participation in the low-end, high volume market segment.”

As a result of this shift in focus, the company saw its overall market share drop slightly. Its current aim, however, involves an emphasis on products geared for the middle- and high-end market segments. This new vision has led the company to set up operations that accommodate this type of product. “We’ve given up a little of the overall volume in order to manufacture more complex products that bring value to the market,” Monge says. With the forecasted increase of sales for its middle- and high-end product lines, plans are in place to make two large investments at the company’s plant in Ramos Arizpe during the next three years. The modifications fit with the company’s goal of creating high quality, more complex products. “We’re open to the idea of manufacturing a series similar to those produced in Europe, in order to be more competitive in our market,” says Monge.

In addition to the manufacturing changes, Vilbomex expects to expand its presence on a national and international level. “There are still geographic areas in Mexico that we haven’t covered, and much more to expand on in Latin America,” concludes Monge.