Juan Naya (Villanueva de Sigena, Huesca, 1968) is a man of perspective. The CEO of Isdin Laboratories has two photos in his office, an image of the Earth seen from the Moon and another of the Moon seen from the Earth, which help him to relativize the problems. They are a legacy of the time at NASA of this astrophysicist recruited in 2004 by the owners of the company —the Esteve and Puig families, each with a 50% stake— to lead it. Back then it was a leading local company in the photoprotection business, recalls Naya, which 18 years later has 14 subsidiaries “that are beginning to flourish”. The company is present in more than 50 countries and 55% of the 342 million euros that it invoiced in 2021 comes from abroad. “In Mexico, Colombia and Peru the brand has reached leadership positions,” says the manager, who has his eyes set on the gigantic markets of China and the United States.
Isdin plans to increase its turnover this year by close to 20%, up to 400 million —in 2021 revenues grew by 13%. And the idea is to achieve it at full throttle, without resorting to purchases, IPO or new partners. The dermo-cosmetic firm will do what it knows how to do very well: launch “new innovative products that make people fall in love”. Because, according to Naya, more than half of consumers do not complete their treatments. “They only work if they like to put them on. This is how they complete them, the efficacy is higher and their health improves, ”she says. The company has just released an improved formula for its hair loss capsules, it will also launch a new line of acne products this year and, in the area of photoprotection, its strong point with half of sales, it will launch a range of colour. Isdin’s CEO announces that they will also launch a range of cosmetic items. “We want products that help to have healthier and more beautiful skin. Health is the foundation of beauty,” he assures.
These novelties will be the spearhead of its business strategy, which has a second leg: China and the United States. 10% of its turnover comes from the Asian country, but, until now, through distributors, and during the pandemic, in which the contribution has been lowered, also through the electronic channel. Isdin plans to open a subsidiary there. “In China we are just starting. It is a market of 3,000 million square meters of skin and many nails. We could get to the Moon if we put them all together in a straight line from Earth”, he exemplifies. “In 10 years, this country would have to account for between 30% and 50% of our sales. It’s the future. Just as we see the United States”, where the company intends to strengthen its position. Isdin will invest between 10 and 15 million euros in both markets to achieve this.
impact of covid
But the present growth is in Spain, Latin America and the rest of Europe. The pandemic has impacted sales of sun creams in the Old Continent, but on the other side of the Atlantic the company has gained market share, according to Naya. In 2020 Isdin had a turnover of 302 million euros, slightly below the 309 of the previous year. Its operating margin, indicates the executive, remained around 15% in the last two years, with figures close to 50 million euros. “This year is going to be one of investment and we hope to improve the EBITDA, but profitability at a relative level will probably go down,” he predicts.
He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.
Isdin is facing the delay in world supply, which, for the moment, is not a problem for them, “although we feel the pressure”, admits Naya, who thinks that the situation is circumstantial and, therefore, prices will not rise. “If inflation and all of our costs continue to rise, we will act accordingly,” he qualifies.
The company is still pending the sanctioning file that the National Commission of Markets and Competition (CNMC) opened at the end of 2020 “for possible restrictive practices of competition” when setting resale prices in the internet channel. “We have been working for more than a year and we are actively collaborating with the CNMC. We believe that prices in a free market should be free, but what we do have to work on with a view to the future is in relations with partners to ensure the healthy coexistence of the channels. When we work with a pharmacy we have remuneration for display, presence on the shelves, recommendations… and, of course, if another partner is not doing all that work, they have to have different compensations. One of the things that the pandemic and, above all, this file has taught us is to modernize relationships with the new clients that have appeared,” acknowledges the executive.
Isdin also had problems with the Spanish Medicines Agency, which decided to withdraw its sun creams (also those from other companies) from the market, although it later retracted when it recognized that there is a problem of variability in tests on sun factors. “But yes [estas pruebas] are used as a throwing weapon between competitors, it generates legal insecurity. That is why we ask the Agency and the companies to unite criteria to ensure that there is clarity. Because right now there is no legal certainty”. In July of last year, Naya recalls, the Agency had to back down and Isdin returned to the market with its leading sunscreen, backed by 11 scientific studies. “There is no product that has so many studies, and this is because it is the product most loved by consumers and most hated by some [competidores]”, Explain.
Founded in 1975, a little over a year ago Isdin became the first Spanish B Corp laboratory, a certification with which they want to be an example in terms of sustainability. In its procedures and in its products, which will incorporate recycled and reusable glass containers. With 1,300 employees, it invests around 5% of its turnover in innovation. Dermatological products represent 30% of its sales, and aesthetic products, the remaining 20%.
Naya, who assures that he uses being an astrophysicist to inspire his team, who when stressed goes up to the terrace of the headquarters in Barcelona to contemplate the Sun through a telescope so that the problems acquire the correct dimension, He considers himself a passionate and dreamy person. That is why he has been embarking on a personal project for more than 12 years that, for now, has become a film. Through technology and under the direction of Jesús Garcés, director of the film Caravaggio, body and soul, has managed to reproduce the appearance of the painting room of the Sigena Monastery, in ruins for years. Now he works so that this recreation can be enjoyed by people, “perhaps in the metaverse”, where he also plans to take Isdin.