The microfiber products of Arpe are proof that European production at competitive prices is possible. The recipe for success of the family company: Know-how, a highly specialised product range and the focus on design and quality.
It was among the winners of this year’s Promotional Gift Award: Slif, a creation by Manufacturas Arpe. The smartphone or tablet sleeve made of microfiber not only protects the device, while at the same time cleaning the display, it also offers a generous advertising surface and can be full-surface customised with a digital print for minimum order quantities of 250 pieces. A further positive characteristic of this item is not visible at the first glance and is bound to surprise many people: Slif is 100% “made in Spain”. Namely, the microfiber products of the Catalonian company are not imported, they are produced in Arenys de Munt, just over half an hour’s drive from the centre of Barcelona. “I don’t know any other supplier of microfiber products in the promotional products industry that manufactures in Europe,” said General Manager Joan Pera. “But we manage to produce in Spain competitively, precisely because we have strongly specialised ourselves on one product segment.“
The family business started off as a clothes manufacturer, specifically for the sports sector. “My father, who is also called Joan, founded the predecessor of today’s company around 50 years ago,” explained Joan Pera. “In 1991, he shifted the focus from clothes to textiles for the automotive accessories industry. In the same year, he renamed the company ‘Arpe’, which is an anagram of our surname. At the beginning of the Century, my father retired and sold the company. At the time, I was working for a bank after having completed my degree in Economics, however I decided to re-found Arpe together with my sister, Montse. I was responsible for the financial side of the business, whereas Montse took over responsibility for the design and product development.“
In 2002, the “new” Arpe was launched – with four employees and a new strategy: “In the light of the strong competition from the Far East, we placed the emphasis on specialisation from the very start – and on a corporate philosophy that is not purely based on the lowest possible prices, but on quality and design instead,” reported Joan Pera. From then on, exclusively microfiber products were produced in Arenys de Munt. “We offer added value in terms of the design – for example we even create the packaging ourselves,” explained Montse Pera. “The first market we penetrated was opticians, whom we supplied with personalised cleaning cloths. We soon began to sell our microfiber cloths to the promotional products trade in general, which is our main pillar today.” A further sales market: museums. Microfiber cloths, cushions, towels or tablet and smartphone sleeves imprinted with motifs of famous pieces of art, which are produced and imprinted in-house by Arpe, can be found in numerous European and American museum shops. “Several museums in Southern Europe have even listed us as their exclusive supplier,” reported Montse Arpe. “The museum market is however complicated – especially because of the image rights, which are often very complicated and laborious to solve. This is why we work together with a sales partner in this area.“ A further, relatively new branch of business is the retail sector, which Arpe launched an own brand called Tuva Towel for in 2010.
The customers definitely profit from high quality, small order quantities and short delivery per-iods. Almost all work steps are carried out at the factory in Arenys de Munt, which spans 1,500 m² and which is certified according to the ISO 9001 (quality management) and ISO 14001 (environmental management) norms. First of all, polyester or polyamide yarn is knitted into comparably coarse tubes on eight knitting machines. This raw material is slit open and cut up before being sent to a nearby partner factory to be finished. “The further processing phase, during the course of which the fabric is cleaned, dyed and receives is ultimate haptic qualities, is very time consuming and highly-complicated, which is why it is more practical for us to outsource it,” explained Joan Pera. “First of all, the fabric is cleaned to remove all traces of oil that have been caused by the needles. Then, it is shrunk at high temperatures, dyed in the desired colour, roughened, stretched and finally fixed so that it doesn’t shrink any further afterwards. The fabric is then delivered back to us, where it is cut into pieces and further processed – for the Slif products, the microfiber has to be coated with foam for instance.“
The customising methods include hot embossing, transfer and screen printing as well as digital printing, which enables the realisation of sharp printing results in photo quality. The imprinted cutouts are then lined and sewn together – by hand using several sewing machines. “Many visitors are surprised when they see our production process, because they can hardly imagine at first that our products can be manufactured in Europe at competitive prices,” commented Joan Pera. “However, we don’t really consider manufacturers from the Far East to be our competitors – they may be cheaper, but they nowhere near achieve our level of quality.“
Today, the company has 15 employees, the turnover has increased from the initial 200,000 Euros up to around 1.2 mil. Euros last year. Joan Pera: “We also succeeded in achieving slow, but constant growth during the crisis years – primarily because we expanded our export business. In the meantime, we deliver our products to 13 countries, our key sales markets are France, Germany and Switzerland. Over the next year or two, we would like to increase our export share from the current 30% up to 50%.“ Manufacturas Arpe surely doesn’t lack convincing arguments to achieve this target.