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Igor Skyba – CEO of Atma Company – a leading paper manufacturer in Ukraine. Cleaning Industry as a Lifetime deal, Work as a hobby

Today we are going to have a talk with Igor Skyba- CEO of Atma Company – a leading paper manufacturer and one of the main distributors of sanitary and hygienic products in Ukraine. Igor Skyba will share with us Ukrainian company’s achievements and highlights on European market, he will tell us about challenges and solutions under the conditions of Covid-19 pandemic, acquaint with long-term plans and prospects for further development of own manufacturing.

Igor, do you remember when you have started to work in cleaning industry? What decision encouraged you to develop your business in this direction?

At the beginning of my career I started working in sanitation. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, extremely new, never-before-seen business lines started to develop. Then all my peers were looking for a lifetime business. I turned onto cleaning and sanitary-hygienic products and machines. I chose this branch in order to implement business ideas. Soon afterwards customers began to apply for sanitary and hygienic solutions, impelling us to develop this direction.

What is cleaning and cleanliness for you? What place does the cleanliness and hygiene industry take in your life?

Cleaning industry is my lifetime deal! I am constantly thinking about it no matter whether it’s a working time or not. I think about the improvement, development of a business, about new tendencies which we can manage to implement. Therefore, I use gained experience and knowledge to improve products manufacture.

Cleanliness and maintenance are crucial components of modern life. Food service and catering, industrial enterprises, large corporations and even small offices – all need cleanliness and cleaning. When you enter a facility where a high-quality cleaning is made on a regularly basis, and there are clean toilets, shining floors and a good air freshener in WC – it costs a lot, and you enjoy staying in such a place or working, or just having a rest. Cleaning industry takes the first place in my life. This is my professional business, which over the years has already turned into a family business.

Let’s move from general to particular case, that is, we would like to know more about your company. As far as we understand Atma Company is already more than 20 years old. It would be interesting to know the history of the company’s creation. How did you get the idea to bring up such a great project?

Initially, there was no thought to build up a large company, but there was a huge desire to develop the direction of sanitary and hygienic products. I put all my resources into this business. The first company Atma was established in 1998, the second company with the same name was opened in 2001, which operates to this day. So, if you count from the first day of its opening, Atma has already celebrated its 22nd anniversary this year!

Atma became such a successful company as it is today, rather due to the fact that we did not sign a contract as an exclusive distributor with such large and significant manufacturing companies as, for example: Tork, Kimberly-Clark, Merida, etc. … and thus they did not impose on us the products that we should sell on our market and consumables, respectively. We are free to choose and change the sales policy, as well as make those marketing decisions and solutions that we like and are suitable for our market now; in fact, we considered that products to be necessarily ordered from our importers. This, probably, is precisely the difference and value of the result obtained today, and if we were initially the exclusive distributor of any European brand of sanitary and hygienic products, they would dictate their conditions to us: which dispensers to sell and for what price. We, in turn, chose our product range on our own.

The company has been an experienced distribution expert of cleaning and hygiene products for a long time. Tell us about suppliers you work with?

First of all, I would like to note that we cooperate with TTS Company, it is an Italian manufacturer of professional cleaning equipment for manual cleaning; Mediclinics, it is a popular Spanish manufacturer of electric hand dryers and metal dispensers; Mar Plast is an Italian manufacturer of plastic dispensers. These are main suppliers from Europe, one might say, the skeleton, the trunk of the tree of our product range since 2000 and we are proud to have such large and well-known manufacturers in our product portfolio.

For many years, Atma Company is a constant exhibitor in various Cleaning and HoReCa trade shows in Ukraine and for several years in a row it has been actively exhibiting in INTERCLEAN Amsterdam. Trade shows seem to be an integral part of the company – the essence, the nature of Atma. This evokes deep respect and genuine interest: what goals does the company pursue by tireless enthusiasm and participation in such events?

We are pursuing two goals. The first is an interest in market monitoring, what is new on the market, what is going on now and where this industry is moving. And the second goal is to make a good name for the company – we present our products, primarily paper products, it is a direction in which any distinguishable changes are not expected soon. We are interested in exporting our products to Europe, we improve the quality of our products, we control the quality of our products. On the one hand, we sale our products and promote them in European market, on the other hand, we are studying innovative solutions of the market with the main aim to determine whether we should add them to our sales portfolio in Ukrainian market.

Being a Ukrainian manufacturer on the international market is a great leap for Ukrainian cleaning industry, and to be honest – a breakthrough among the post-Soviet countries! Tell us more about your first experience on an international platform. What were your first impressions of Dutch show?

I would like to emphasize that before exhibiting in Amsterdam, we exhibited at ISSA / Interclean East & West Europe 2013, which took place in Warsaw and was intended for the market of Eastern Europe and the CIS. It was conducted on a quite high level with an interesting program, and taking into account the fact that at that time I travelled a lot to Poland, it was easy for me to go to a neighbouring country by a car, and present our own products, which we had already sold in Ukraine for several years.

As I remember, we arrived there in a group of several cars, consisting of seven or eight people. Where to settle, where to leave your cars and which gate you need to enter in order to unload our exhibition equipment – we had to solve these important issues on the spot. Unlike the trade show in Amsterdam, where we exhibited for the first time as exhibitors in 2014, the solution to various organizational issues was somehow more structured and more understandable for exhibitors.

I remember a funny situation during the trade show in Poland, when a representative of Wepa came to our booth, and he was interested in deliveries within a strictly defined time frame, but he was aware that delivery from the CIS countries tended to be delayed. Then this issue played an important role in the further development and became a turning point both for me and for the company. We knew that we have high quality products, now we need to solve issues with service and logistics, which will help to expand the sales market.

As a matter of fact, we got our first experience in exhibiting at an international trade show. We were proud to be able to represent our products on European market, alongside the well-known global brands of cleaning industry and compete with leading manufacturers.

What pushed you to make such an important decision – to exhibit and declare yourself at a global international trade show, ISSA / INTERCLEAN at that time? What products did you demonstrate?

Since 2013, we have demonstrated TISCHA PAPIER paper products, and already in 2018 in Amsterdam we additionally presented our metal product range, consisting of dispensers and urns.

Above all, the experience of exhibiting in an international European trade show was interesting, and it turned out to be successful for us. Therefore, we decided to continue to establish ourselves in the international market through participation in Interclean.

I can say that initially the confidence that the quality of our products is not worse than European ones pushed us to the participation – this is on the one hand. On the other hand, European market imposes its terms and conditions, it has its own traditions, and it was interesting for me to compare our products in terms of quality and product range and find out the needs of the Western market. Also, our European partners showed an interest in our products. Exhibiting in an international trade show helps us to adjust our marketing tools and technologies for products manufacture, and participation in the trade show as a visitor contributes to getting acquainted with new directions and innovative products.

Please share your successes. What products are in the greatest demand and which countries do you export them to? We’ve also heard about your UK manufacturer’s representative. Please tell us more about it.

The main products that are exported are paper products: roll towels, as well as folded towels and toilet paper, which are in demand, since we have special UltraAirPocket or Point-to-point technologies (increased water absorption of paper towels) which not all European countries have. We are faced with very strong competition in European toilet paper market, so we got some difficulties before entering the market. But despite this fact, we have certain plans to improve the technological process, and we will develop this direction in near future.

We export these products to the UK, Romania, Estonia, Ireland, Slovakia and are currently negotiating to continue deliveries to the UAE.

In the UK, we have got a representative since 2019, where we should carry out the deliveries on a regular basis. Now, we supply paper products and dispensers of our own production there, in the future we are going to expand the range in accordance with the requirements of the customer. So far, due to COVID-19, they cannot develop, expand as they would like. I would like to point out that they have a completely different range in comparison with Ukrainian company: that market is oriented for the end user and for a high-quality product, where, for example, mini jumbo is 200 m. In our market, the distributors are main consumers who dictate their conditions, interested in the lowest procurement price, the smallest length for the highest resale proceeds, without worrying about the quality of the purchased products. And this is clearly noticeable when large tender purchases are carried out. We can note that in the UK, business is built in a completely different way: loan scheme, management and a product specification are completely different.

We would like to pay attention of our readers to the own production of Atma company. How did you get the idea to manufacture products under your own brand?

I’ve got an idea to manufacturer our own products in 2004, when I was at a Chinese trade show in Guangzhou and I saw the V-Fold-Paper machine there for the first time, which produced folded paper. As I remember, these were face wipes. My experience and education as an engineer told me that we could cope with this technology very quickly. The only thing remained was to find the appropriate specialists to implement the manufacturer. Plus, at that time, we ordered consumables from Europe from one of the German companies and it was quite expensive for us, that’s why the question of manufacturing our own products was on its own account. By the time we started manufacturing our paper products, we already needed a brand, as well as an advertising campaign for its recognition.

We launched metal products in 2012, starting then with bins manufacture, and a bit later the production of dispensers was launched. Importing bins from China was an expensive affair , for the reason, which was also with paper, and also 20% of the costs accounted for spoilt production after delivery to Ukraine and the thickness of the metal was 0,6 mm, unlike ours, which we made with a thickness of 0,8 mm.

We also noticed that your company devotes a lot of time to trainings and seminars. Share what is the mission and role of Atma in organizing this kind of events?

At local trade shows, as well as trainings and seminars throughout Ukraine, first of all, we acquaint our customers with the products and new products that we import: dispensers, electric dryers, bases for mops, etc.

We organize seminars and trainings with the participation of representatives of the companies we cooperate with: TTS, Ecochem, Mediclinics, Mar Plast, both for our managers and for our customers, so that there is no unnecessary doubt about the quality of the products we sell. As soon as we receive any important questions on the use of products from our customers about the product they are interested in, we organize meetings and offsite events.

We would like to point out that you are a member of ISSA, the largest international cleaning association. Please describe briefly how long ago the membership decision was made and what was the main motivation?

As soon as we started exhibiting in the trade show, we realized that membership in ISSA has its own benefits and it became a more profitable option for us. At the time when the World Cleaning Association was united with INTERCLEAN, it was more convenient to exhibit as members of the association, in contrast to exhibit exclusively as exhibitors.

Judging by the fact that you often travel abroad, attending specialized trade shows, you get definitely inspired by ideas and experience. What is the most valuable thing you bring with you after such exciting trips?

Each trade show provides something new: it can be raw materials for paper products, or new paper products have been demonstrated at the show, and I am also interested in a new range of sanitary and hygienic products.

These and other innovations in cleaning industry, the experience of foreign companies set a standard for our company and motivate us to expand product range, and to improve technological process for products production: metal dispensers or paper products. And, of course, there are new directions which I would like to master in order to keep up with the times and understand how cleaning industry is developing and in what direction.

Last year was kept in our minds because of many bans for a well-known reason – COVID-19 pandemic. Can you characterize your working year? What message did last year send you, what lessons were learned?

Last year there was a general drop in turnover by 10%. The demand for paper products fell, in some months, up to 30%. Therefore, we were looking for new solutions: for example, we launched the production of antiseptics and disinfectants, plus we increased advertising for our products, primarily for paper products.

The pandemic pushed us to the development of online sales, online advertising campaigns, to work with marketplace platforms, for example, with Rozetka.ua. And this turned out to be a successful solution and very convenient in modern world, when you can solve almost everything automatically, and questions like finding a person and choosing a product that you need simply exhaust themselves. Also, since COVID-19, we launched the production of disinfectants.

We did not close the office and interrupt the manufacture, but some of the employees worked from home.

Igor, please share the plans of Atma company for the future. Any ideas, projects in the years ahead?

First of all, this is the expansion of the representative company abroad; the next is to develop and improve the manufacture, namely to increase technological efficiency for dispensers manufacture, to create a brand so that these products can be sold under a new brand and correspond to the standards of Ukrainian market and at the same time European one. The company also plans to launch the production of floor care products with a disinfectant effect in the nearer future.

It would undoubtedly be interesting to visit ISSA North America in Las Vegas this fall in order to get new information; compare ideas and innovations that are across the ocean with those that are on European market.

What inspires you besides work? What hobbies really inspire you?

In fact, my work is also my hobby, therefore, I spend almost all my free time to review an existing equipment, namely, I am curious about machines for the production of paper products and polyethylene – I wonder how the industry is going to be developed regarding these issues, what kind of packaging will be and what is going to be with polyethylene.

When I have a spare time, I also like to watch promotional video, commercials and reviews of the latest equipment from those companies which have supplied us machines and now these machines are successfully used in our production. These videos demonstrate clearly how the machine works, how raw materials are supplied and what the result is. It really inspires and energizes me!

Let’s imagine for a moment that you published a book … What the idea and the topic of the book would it be and why?

I believe that it is still too early for me to write a book, there is lack of experience and knowledge to share with the world and teach others. As we export a lot of products, and we import even more, I can confidently say that this would be a book about business, about my activities and life path.

We have such an opportunity to pass the baton on to a person from cleaning industry, whose interview it would be interesting for you to get acquainted with. Whom would you like to see in this role?

It would be interesting for me to read an interview with a person from a similar business (Kyiv Cardboard and Paper Mill) – this is Away from home sector in Obukhiv. Kyiv Cardboard and Paper Mill launched similar products to ours, targeted not for the end user, but for the business. It is of great interest for me to know about the person who developed and produced these products to the market, why they decided to enter this segment.

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