At the heart of Sixth of October City industrial zone in Cairo, Egypt stands Luna Perfumes & Cosmetics factory, just a few meters away from the manufacturing facilities of two of the world’s largest multi-national consumer goods corporations: Unilever and Procter & Gamble.
With nearly 450 products, Luna is poised to become an international brand, according to its CEO Rania George.
“I see Luna as a young spirited brand that can be inspiring to the consumer and can build faith in Egyptian products,” said George.
Luna Perfumes & Cosmetics is a subsidiary company of Luna Group. In 1966, George’s father established Luna company after realizing that there is a gap in the Egyptian market for parapharmaceutical products.
“He decided to work for a pharmacy by day, and to develop new formulas by night. Here, came the idea of manufacturing,” recounted George.
Over the years, Luna had grown into a holding company with commercial as well as industrial activities. The parent organization owns three individual subsidiaries, including Luna Perfumes & Cosmetics.
In 2008, George, who was then working as an architect, was asked by her father to join the family business. At the time, her father had just inaugurated the colossal 12,000-square-meter Luna Perfumes & Cosmetics factory, which was equipped with world-class machines to produce high quality products.
“I felt then that there was a great room to develop our products and create an Egyptian brand that could compete with world’s top brands, such as L’Oreal and Nivea,” she added.
Nevertheless, her foray into the family business was not a smooth ride.
“At the time, I did not have any background knowledge in marketing or business operation,” said George, a holder of a master’s degree in architecture from Cairo University’s engineering school.
Since then, George had sought to learn all the intricate details of her father’s business by shadowing workers in all different departments. Eventually, she developed her own vision on how to manage the factory. She pushed for a power restructuring to professionalize the company management.
“Some restructuring was needed to turn this company into a real corporation rather than just a family business based on a one-man show,” said George in reference to her father.
At the helm of a high-potential company
In 2016, George became the chief executive of Luna Perfumes & Cosmetics, managing 700 workers and overseeing 450 products. The Luna brand has two distinct product categories: Luna personal care, which consists of skin, hair, body and oral care products, and Luna make-up, which comprise diverse products catering to women of different age groups.
As the new CEO, she pursued her vision of separate ownership from the group management by hiring professional managers who boasts years of experience in multinational companies.
“One of the fundamental changes that the company has witnessed lately was the hiring of people who had previously worked at multinational companies,” said George. “Such companies are like schools for those people. In time, those professionals feel the urge to leave a mark on Egyptian factories. They develop their own vision on how to improve Egyptian companies. They just need local companies that are willing to welcome them aboard.”
On another front, George took it upon herself to revamp Luna packaging in line with international standards so the products can compete with foreign brands available on the Egyptian market.
“Packaging is an essential part of any product,” she said. “When I first joined Luna, my background as an architect made me look at products differently. I looked at the form and colors. I checked whether the packaging served the purpose, satisfied the customer, bore some innovation and was up to date.”
By November 2016 when the Egyptian government decided to float the Egyptian pound, Luna could reap the seeds of its new marketing strategies and claim a bigger market share.
As prices of similar foreign brands had skyrocketed due the sudden devaluation of the local currency and the imposition of higher tariffs on imports, Luna products came to the fore as one of the best and more affordable local alternatives.
“The devaluation of the Egyptian pound was a golden opportunity for us,” said George. “Egyptian consumers became less inclined to spend too much money on multinational brands and started looking for Egyptian alternatives.
“Egyptian products that could not beat foreign counterparts despite their high quality, due to the consumers’ obsession with foreign brands, finally had a chance to thrive.”
George insisted that all Luna formulas are based on high-quality European raw materials. Yet, thanks to affordable labor and incentives granted to local companies, Luna could still offer competitive prices.
“You also have to reduce your profit margin so that you can compete with foreign brands. You should maintain that policy until your own brand becomes internationally recognized and gets exported everywhere,” she added.
Since 2011, Luna Perfumes & Cosmetics’ turnover has grown six times, according to George, who declined to reveal actual figures. The company had been exporting to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Libya and Sudan.
George admitted, however, that the regional political tension following the 2011 popular uprisings had impacted Luna’s exports to the Arab world.
Like many female entrepreneurs, George is juggling her business with raising two toddlers. But she believes that being a woman gives her an edge over male entrepreneurs.
“A businesswoman is more capable of receiving ideas from men and women, young and old,” said the 41-year-old CEO. “Because a woman is flexible by nature. She is a person who can run a company and a family at the same time.”