Written by: Klára Smolová
Photo by: Jan Vágner
During the 13 years since its founding, Ravak, a manufacturer of shower stalls, bathtubs, and bathroom fixtures, has become a leader on local and European markets, with a presence in the East.
RAVAK’S HISTORY is similar to many others this magazine has presented. Two friends who were builders were in on the beginning, and in the first half of the nineties – when the market economy was arising – decided to take advantage of the opportunity and go into business. They started in a small office, but with great enthusiasm, and being in the right place at the right time was crucial. There were several attempts, but only one was successful and grew to be an international company, with 15 foreign branches, exports to 50 countries, and sales of CZK 1.8 billion last year.
– finding market niche and filling it
– investments in development & design
– well-planned expansion abroad
– emphasis on high quality and customer service with good value
When Jiří Kreysa (57) and Jindřich Vařeka Sr (75) visited a construction trade fair in Paris in 1991, they became interested in shower stalls, as they were lacking on the Czech market. They reached an agreement with a French businessman and founded Ravak (the name comes from the initials of the entrepreneurs), and for three years they manufactured licensed products. “However, the cooperation wasn’t very successful. The shower stalls were overpriced for the domestic market, and the design was obsolete, so they didn’t sell very well,” explains Kreysa’s son Patrik (34), today the vice chairman of the board and marketing director. So the firm came to one of its most important decisions – to invest in developing its own products.
They hired an able, experienced manager and built the R&D department that became the company’s driving force. The first line of Ravak shower stalls was an immediate success. “The Supernova line is still the best-seller,” Patrik Kreysa notes. He believes the key was that the firm decided not to bet on cheaper products – which Italians were supplying – but instead on high quality and customer service on the German model. With prices ranging from CZK 8,000 to CZK 16,000 they managed to address the middle segment, at that time, around 1995, the company’s sales were shy of CZK 100 million, but within a few years of Supernova’s launch Ravak achieved a major coup – over 50% of the market.
Patrik Kreysa says 1996 saw another Ravak breakthrough, when it decided to enter foreign markets. “We decided to build the brand and a subsidiary for each country,” Kreysa explains. The initial targets were Slovakia, Poland, and Russia, but in a few years Ravak covered almost all of central and eastern Europe, as well as competitive Germany, the United Arab Emirates, and China. Ravak currently holds market shares in most of them of 33% to over 50%. The firm entered the latter two in 2000, and at last year’s end production was commenced in Shanghai. This will make penetrating other Asian markets easier. Currently 70% of Ravak’s production is exported, and its goods are succeeding in England, Scandinavia, and Benelux.
The customer is king
Along with the branches, the product line grew delightfully. The Elegance and Glassline lines were added, using increasingly popular combinations of glass and metal, then came shower tubs and classic bathtubs. Although Ravak gambled on high quality and customer service, part and parcel of its offer is its own specialized kits that facilitate installation, and cleaners for individual surfaces, the use of which guarantees long product life. To make the offer complete, there are also bathroom furnishings: bolsters, handrails, seats, radiators, drying racks, etc.
Ravak invests tens of million of crowns in promotions each year. The greatest emphasis is on so-called below-the-line advertising – sales room furnishings, vendor qualifications, etc. In accordance with the strategy of comprehensive customer services, information in sales outlets and trained personnel play key roles in sales. Once a year Ravak publishes a large catalog in 40 languages, and a media campaign has been ongoing for four years, including the traditional mix of billboards, TV program sponsorships, and advertisements in professional and trade magazines.
The family jewels
Even with such expansion, the owners have maintained the sober approach to financing that has worked well for them. Although Ravak regularly takes out operational loans from banks, when financing development it has as its priority venture capital from a silent partner, who plays no role in the firm’s management, which remains solidly with both families. The two founders and their two sons are members of the board of directors, with strictly delineated areas of responsibility. Last year they gave executive power to the professional management.
In its own way Ravak reminds one of the First Republic. Nearly all of the family members are involved, and the firm remains true to the town its roots are in. For example, in Příbram, where the firm employs 600 people in its manufacturing halls (plus 200 elsewhere in the Czech Republic and abroad), this year it bought a polyclinic, which is currently being refurbished and will be rented out. “We wanted to maintain and improve health care in Příbram,” Kreysa explains. The firm-town relations can also be seen in its support of a church and an orphanage. “But these are private activities, not advertising,” he modestly points out.
|Utilitarian beautyIN 1998, when Ravak added bathtub production to its offer, it decided to work together with a specialized design firm. “There were many manufacturers in the Czech Republic. We wanted to assert ourselves, we had to be different,” Patrik Kreysa says. They went for the best – the Austrian Design a Storz, which works with Porsche, BMW, and Audi, among others. “We didn’t want just beautiful design, we wanted utility as well,” he explains. This allowed for the creation of practical bathtubs with unbelievably graceful shapes: Love Story, a small-large corner tub for two; Magnolia, classic dimensions, but wider, deeper bathing space; Rosa, the best-seller and the cleverest, as it uses asymmetry, thus allowing comfortable baths and showers alike; and the newest, unusual microtub, Avocado. But this year’s hit is the Whitewater shower stall, designed by the Austrians and supplemented by state-of-the-art technologies. “Everything about it is original,” Kreysa says, praising Ravak’s flagship.|
|Innovation is keyWhile people complain about the lack of financing for R&D in this country, some private companies understand that this is exactly what their success and futures depend on. Ravak is definitely in the latter camp, as borne out by many patented technologies and inventions, such as small shower tubs with foam that can bear up to three tons, and Anticale glass protection against rust. Together with the multinational GE, Ravak has developed special fungus-resistant silicons for bathrooms. Twelve people work in the R&D department, which is equipped with state-of-the-art technologies, as is most of the plant. Each year it turns out five to ten new products, with each taking an average of 2-3 years. To this end, Ravak cooperates not only with material suppliers, but also with other specialized institutions such as Merck and the Chemical & Technological University.|