It was 1969 when four Catalan families founded the Astral company in Sabadell to manufacture components for swimming pools. Despite the tourist boom at the time, the components were imported. Nobody produced in Spain and in Europe only a small company produced filters. The material came from the United States and was available at high prices.
More than 40 years later, this seed has become a Spanish multinational, a world leader in the swimming pool sector that has developed numerous water treatment applications and bills almost 600 million euros a year. The four business areas are now combined under the name Fluidra. Most important are pool and wellness, which contribute 68% of sales. This is followed by water treatment with 19%, liquid line (8%) and irrigation (5%).
First Europe, then the rest
Fluidra is a good example of internationalization. In fact, it was one of the keys to his success. “Because the sector was in North American hands, we clearly saw that we had a gap in the market, but we weren’t just thinking about Spain, we were thinking about Europe. This process of Europeanization lasted until 1982, when we started looking at the whole world,” explains Joan Planes, President and one of the company’s founders.
The first delegation was France. They are now present in 35 countries and sell in 170. “In some markets we entered through the acquisition of another company. We have carried out this strategy on those who are already highly structured and it is better to invade hand-in-hand with someone,” explains Eloi Planes, CEO. This is the case in Austria or Australia, with a very strong market in this sector, where they took over Hurlcon, the second largest company in the country, which dominated the residential pool sector. “Before, two years ago, we sent a person to thoroughly research the market. We looked at the options and we were right, because this company was on the rise,” says Planes.
The company prefers to grow under its own steam and before the market is structured. For Eloi Planes, “we know the countries because we sell in them, we observe them and when we see that there is a turn, we establish ourselves and become the reference manufacturer, even if at first we may not produce there”.
This is an important difference from its competitors who prefer to export their products rather than settle down. At Fluidra, they prefer the word globalization to globalization.
“Globalization means I’m of the world and when I’m in Egypt, I’m Egyptian,” says Eloi Planes. This means that, unlike our competitors, we adapt the product to each country. The filtration process and the characteristics and regulations, for example, are not the same in all countries.” This means that they employ 3,600 people worldwide. And because of the required standards, the products they sell to Germany, for example, have to be of higher quality and therefore more expensive, and on the other hand, those sold in Morocco have to compete in price with those made in China.
Foreign acquisitions can be made because a particular company has advanced technology that they do not master. Such is the case with the recent purchases of North American Aqua Products and Israel’s Aquatron Robotic Systems, which have allowed Fluidra to integrate a technological leader in the manufacture of intelligent cleaning robots and open a door in the difficult North American market.
The Fluidra catalog is very extensive. “We’re like a dictionary: in our catalog you can find everything from the simplest to the most complex parts, with absolutely everything you need for a swimming pool,” says Planes.
The need to adapt to different countries has just forced them to expand the portfolio: “I don’t create a product and I’m going to sell it, but I look at what the market needs and I make it”. Its production therefore includes complete ranges for swimming pools as well as accessories for water filtration and liquid piping.
But the company not only produces, it also sells. “Our highly integrated business model, manufacturing and marketing, allows us to achieve double the margin and this allows us to maintain very competitive prices,” explains Eloi Planes.
For distribution, they have an automated logistics operator with an area of 55,000 square meters in Massanet de la Selva (Girona) and a capacity to ship 150,000 pallets per year and carry out 20,000 daily box picks. “We have changed our entire distribution model. We used to have many factories (each with a warehouse) and again a central warehouse in each country, plus those of the delegations. Now we only have one in Massanet de la Selva to which all factories deliver. From here it goes directly to the customer. It’s faster, safer and cheaper,” Planes explains.
In addition, at Fluidra Management, they implement management without waste. According to Planes, “We have a very long chain and processes can be improved to become more efficient. The storage space they had in their delegations is redistributed, transforming them into more attractive spaces, leaving one area for storage and another for business.
Worse not only that. Starting from its activity in the pool sector, the company began a natural process of diversification into other nearby sectors. “When I make filters for swimming pools, I can easily think of making filters for water treatment,” confirms Planes. Then came the diversification into the field of chemical products, which could also be used for swimming pools or water treatment. The company creates synergies with manufacturing and sales. You can also sell garden watering products to the professional dedicated to the pool.
About the company Astramatic Fluidra designs and builds water treatment systems. An example is the Baix Llobregat treatment plant or the study carried out with the Catalan Water Authority and the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce on the reuse of purified water from textile dyeing and finishing for internal use or for third parties. This plant regenerates 12,600 cubic meters of water daily. It is the largest facility of its kind in Spain and the second largest in Europe.
Going forward, the company plans to continue the four existing business lines and expand them to other opportunities. There is a huge field in wellness that they want to target, as well as urban and industrial water treatment.