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A brand apart: The enduring family business legacy of Mariano Puig Planas

By Ramon Sole

Puig headquarters, Barcelona, 1990, 9:12pm, a young inexperienced product manager was looking at potential packaging designs for a new Puig perfume. He had to pick at least two finalists for a meeting with his boss the following day.

Suddenly, Mariano Puig Planas (pictured left) appeared at the door to his tiny office and calmly asked him what was keeping him so busy this late in the evening. With a mixture of nerves and surprise, the young employee told him what he was doing and thought it was unusual to see him on this floor. Mariano looked at the options on the table and, in a friendly but firm tone, said: “Choose the option that builds the brand more solidly. The brand is the key.”

Mariano said goodbye and reassured the employee he would see things all much clearer in the morning.

Next-gen ambition

In 1950, Mariano Puig Planas joined the family perfume company founded by his father in Barcelona in 1914. Right from the start, brand construction was the maxim that drove him, as well as internationalisation. One demonstration of this was winning the contract to be the distributor for Max Factor, followed by other great brands such as Chanel.

 Prof Ramon Sole.At the end of 1968, he hired Paco Rabanne (pictured below), an unknown innovative Spanish fashion designer who was gaining attention for his original creations made from small metal plates. In 1973, they launched Paco Rabanne Pour Homme, which became a leading brand in their key markets for almost two decades, acting as a retail brand, like Nina Ricci, to ensure that the Puig umbrella brand was not restrictive as they were building the brand.

Mariano’s last milestone before the generational handover of the firm was the discovery of Carolina Herrera, a talented Venezuelan designer based in New York with a fledgling fashion brand that had begun operating almost by chance, but in which he saw great potential.

A passion for fashion

Paco Rabanne and Carolina Herrera are two brands built from scratch, with a clear strategic vision that connects fashion, luxury and fragrance, with the international profile that he aspires to achieve for the company’s brands: with the brands always at the forefront, generating creativity, innovation and design, without ever losing sight of financial viability and with their feet firmly grounded in the market.

The current brand structure of the Puig Group has grown, underpinned by the solid strategic pillars established by the second generation of Puig brothers: Antonio, Mariano and Enrique. They each brought a different, complementary aspect to the leadership of the firm, but shared a common vision: building luxury and international fragrance and fashion brands.

Paco Rabanne.At the end of the 1990s, they continued creating or incorporating brands such as Nina Ricci,  which the company distributed for two decades before it became the property of the group, with the clear mission of having the ultimate freedom and responsibility to create the brand for the long term. If we look at the profile of the brands that they incorporated, a clear pattern emerges: fashion, luxury, international, personality, values of identity and the potential to continue developing.

The handover to the third generation happened in 2007, with Mariano’s son Marc Puig Guasch taking over as president, and his nephew, Antonio’s son Manuel Puig Rocha, as the vice-president. Their complementary executive functions were, to a certain extent, similar to the roles held by their respective fathers, combining Marc’s organisational leadership with Manuel’s conceptual and creative vision.

From the shop floor

The cousins had worked at the company since 1995 and 1987, respectively, with various top-level operational and commercial responsibilities, both having started out as salesmen to gain a real understanding of the reality of the sector and insights into how the brands and the company were perceived in the market. Without a doubt, this unbeatable schooling is a distinctive feature of Puig as a unique family company.

Jean Paul Gaultier.The group tirelessly continued building brands. In one surprising and bold move, they took control of the Jean Paul Gaultier (pictured right) brand in 2012. At that point, the brand had been a global leader for the previous decade and it was starting to show signs of fatigue. Within three years of Puig taking full control of the brand, they had embraced the reconstruction of the brand with creativity and passion and launched Scandal, which acted as a catalyst driving the new dynamism of the brand, reaffirming its status among the top 10 in the world.

Another unexpected incorporation was Penhaligon’s, one of the most legendary brands in the history of perfumes. Building on its unique legacy, Puig masterminded a complete overhaul of the products and revitalised the playing field, showcasing it at the point of sale, pre-empting the luxury fragrance trend for signature perfumes.

Trusted advisers

Throughout this process, the executive team that support the Puig family has been a key feature that clearly sets the group apart in the sector. The level of commitment, complementary profile and stability of the board of directors is another of the company’s defining characteristics and critical success factors. The most senior five executives have been working for the group for more than 20 years. Moreover, the internationalisation and multicultural policy of the company’s directors and executives has a clear impact on the products and their positioning in the market.

Antonio Puig Castello.From the founder, Antonio Puig Castello (pictured left), all the way through to the latest generation, they have all started off in sales, an essential training ground for gaining insight into the true reality of the sector. This connection to the point of sale, the salespeople, the customers and the distribution channels is a constant feature that is crucial for building brands.

Of course, the quality of the fragrance, design, materials, distribution, communication and so on are all vital, as well as differentiation and creativity, but how the brand is expressed on the market and how the end customer perceives it is the ‘last mile’ that requires the greatest attention to detail. The level of creativity and innovation applied to the points of sale is astonishing, as we can see in airports and department stores all over the world. The whole process of strengthening your position in the world of fragrances, combined with fashion in a perfect symbiosis, is epitomised in Puig’s Beauty and Fashion division, which is why it ranks among the top five leading select fragrance groups in the world.

Mariano Puig Planas accepted CampdenFB's inaugural lifetime achievement award for exemplary stewardship in 2013.Commitment to growth

In 2020, Covid-19 arrived and the luxury fragrance sector was one of the hardest hit due to its exposure to travel retail and its highest dependence on the European market, which has faced the strictest lockdowns and commercial restrictions. However, the strategic roadmap was already designed and the new levers for growth involved strengthening the other two segments of the cosmetics sector: personal care and makeup.

The group has created the Skincare division with its brands Uriage, Apivita and Isdin. However, in the most remarkable move at the most uncertain, complex time of the pandemic, in June 2020, the group took control of Charlotte Tilbury, a clear commitment to growth in the makeup sector, creating a specific division for this brand. This was the largest corporate operation that Puig had carried out in its history, which is a clear demonstration of how courage and a bold entrepreneurial mindset are the hallmarks of this successful family company.

Mariano Puig Planas, family business pioneer, 1927-2021.The new, fascinating challenges on the horizon for Puig, for which of course they set high expectations, involve embracing the passion for breathing life into fashion, designing magical products and experiences, with endless creativity and innovation, and an entrepreneurial spirit committed to ensuring the long-term success of a truly exemplary family company.

Sadly, Mariano Puig died in April 2021, leaving behind a great business legacy and a lasting impact on anybody lucky enough to have met him, just like the young product manager who spent hours scratching his head trying to understand what Mariano meant by “build the brand”, when he was just thinking about a design.

However, after seven years working at Puig and later witnessing the exponential growth of the company, the author of this article learned the crucial lesson that Mariano gave me that night in Barcelona 31 years ago.

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