If he were Minister of Economy, he would move the ministry to Porto – claims Duarte Nuno Pinto, P&R Têxteis CEO, the company from Barcelos who made the sports equipment for Olympic medal winners Usain Bolt, Nelson Évora and Fernanda Ribeiro
he first years were tough for P&R…
We withstood 13 years losing money. My family suffered a lot to keep the factory running with 30 workers. For ten years, I kept working part-time at a cannery just to get a salary.
Why was it so difficult?
We were a small company, which was still learning and dealing with the market’s fluctuations.
You need to be pretty stubborn to hold 13 years in the red…
It wasn’t stubbornness. It took persistence and faith. We are not quitters. We had excellent collaborators on our side, giving their all in order to survive. And we do believe in “no pain, no gain”.
How did you turn it around?
In the early 90s, it became clear that the best strategy would be dropping casual wear and focus on sportswear, a sector with a lot more growing potential, opportunity for differentiation, more technical products and sophisticated raw material. It was the right decision.
Did the results of that strategic move become immediately evident?
No. It was a slow process, a gradual change. Besides investing in new machinery, we were required to gain experience and know-how in a highly technical field, as well as becoming appealing to new customers. However, the most important thing was that we knew where we were headed. We started working with Decathlon and Reebok, before we got to Adidas…
How did you accomplish that?
We had a customer, Intersport, that also sold Adidas. We asked our contact at this store chain if he knew anybody there, and he scheduled a meeting for us with a sourcing manager, at the brand’s headquarters, in the suburbs of Nuremberg.
Did the meeting go smoothly?
We show them a few cotton rugby jerseys, as a sample of what we made. He was interested, and promised to visit us the next time he came to Portugal.
Did he keep his promise?
Not only did he keep it, as he entrusted us with a tremendous challenge. He told me he had a project of substantial responsibility just for us. If we accepted and things went well, we would have Adidas’ doors open to us. If we failed, not only would those doors close forever, we would also get fired.
What was the challenge?
To produce the overwhelming majority of the Adidas sports equipment for the next year’s Olympics, in Atlanta. We took the challenge, things went very well, and we were greeted with open arms at Adidas. Since then, they come to us for most of the sports equipment for the summer and winter Olympics. When it comes to textiles, we are Adidas’ longest-running regular supplier, worldwide.
Was that the decisive moment?
1995 was the first year we made money. Since then, we have been always winning, after 13 of losses. For us the number 13 is not bad luck. The company was founded on May 13th. My wife was born on April 13th. We are Catholic. In the Bible, the journey through the desert took 40 years. Ours took much less, just 13 years.
Atlanta ’96 was the great turning point?
Atlanta was important because there is a golden rule for success in the world of business – People and Reputation, coincidentally the initials of P&R. A company can’t survive and prosper without both. We already had the people, a team of talented and dedicated collaborators. We lacked the reputation, which we made at the Atlanta Olympics.
Are you ready to embrace the growing demand for more personalized and customized products?
To manufacture sports equipment for the Olympic athletes – Adidas, but not only: we also supplied Puma at the Beijing and London Games – has endowed us with strong skills for the tailor-made and customized products. During the Tour de France two years ago, we had to make a new suit for Froome in just 24 hours because in the Alps stages he had lost five kilos.
Is flexibility the key?
We are flexible, not only industrially, but also in the massive number of sports that we supply for. We had an El Corte Inglés manager over, who stated: “Hell! You just don’t make bullfighters’ suits!”
Have investments gone in that direction?
During the past three years we have invested five million euro in the facilities and machinery at the São Veríssimo factory. We were too small. We doubled the industrial area and gained space in all nuclear producing sectors, along with the social areas (canteen, etc.). With this modernization, we improved in quality and speed, becoming even more competitive.
What do you mean?
Companies have to create wealth and that doesn’t mean only to grow on EBITDA or in sales. The companies have to be a part of the community, redistributing a slice of the profits. A percentage of our income is shared with firefighters, volunteers, the disabled, sports organizations, etc. And not just locally. For over 20 years, we have been paying for school and snacks for 13 children in Mozambique through an NGO.
Can the sustainability rhetoric be misleading?
Yes, if recycling hides the social dumping and fast fashion practises. The correct way to respect the environment and the planet’s resources is to consume and produce less, and to reuse more. This is good news for the Portuguese textile and clothing industry, which produces durable and high-quality clothing, worthwhile to keep and fix – instead of using and throwing away…
Would you consider yourself a sustainability sceptic?
I’m not sceptical about the importance of sustainability – besides ISO 9001, we are SA 8000 and NP 4457 certified. I’m sceptic about the exploitation that some make of the subject.
Why did you launch your own brands?
We have always prioritized product development for our customers’ brands. We only created Onda because we saw a gap in the market: in Portugal, a country with 700 km of coastline didn’t have a single Portuguese surf brand. Besides, we only went for it because that intention did not collide, in any way, with our customers’ interests.
Meanwhile, you have expanded the scope of Onda to triathlon…
We created a spin-off, CMD, which is in charge of selling our sports brands. In the surf case, the brand is undergoing an image remodel and it’s now being linked to Nazaré beach. For triathlon, we supply the Portuguese Federation.
…and you made Flynx for cycling…
We don’t have any collection for cycling; we only supply clubs, brands and institutions. In Portugal, we sponsor the Rádio Popular/Boavista team and the Portuguese Cycling Federation. In the last Tour de France, apart from making the yellow, green and white jerseys for Le Coq Sportif, we also supplied the Education First team.
Are you planning on launching an own brand for any other sport?
Own brands represent merely 15% of P&R’s 15-million-euro turnover. Our core business is selling for global brands, who work with several sports or that specialize in one single type of sport.
Growing own brands is not P&R’s strategy, then?
Our main goal is to keep P&R profitable and sustainable. We want to maintain ourselves focused on the clients and supported by strong partnerships, for the joint development of products and businesses, and boosted by a continuous process of technological improvement.
As an economist, I have been studying the relationship between industry and brands. There is no brand in the world that can ever succeed globally without first becoming strong in its domestic market. It just so happens that Portugal is too narrow of a market, as well as geographically marginal, to become that fundamental business pillar.
Innovation is the soul of your business…
Do you know what we tell our clients? If it’s very difficult, we will do it. If it’s impossible, give us another day 🙂
How many people does the R&D department employ?
We have a department with a dozen people, but as I usually say, R&D is a collective sport, played by every single one of our 220 employees.
Sportswear will be one of the highlights at PV. Fashion wants to adopt the sports’ innovative solutions. Is this an opportunity?
We are a highly technological company, dedicated and specialized in developing and producing extremely technical clothing for sports. Not only are we not thinking about leaving that department, we don’t even have the internal productive capacity for that. The one we have is completely taken.
What concerns you the most, right now?
Knowing which human resources we will have, within a few years, to work in this industry, and how the textile industry will remain attractive to young workers.
How do you solve that?
Providing better work conditions, in terms of comfort and salary. At P&R we pay above average. However, that’s not enough. European politicians mustn’t ignore that we compete with countries that do not respect human rights and pay miserable wages.
A globalization issue…
I fully agree with the words of Karol Wojtyla – one of the 20th century men that I admire, who used to be a goalkeeper like me. I am in favour of globalization, given there is social justice. There is no social justice when a textile worker in Myanmar makes 80 dollars a month while working 60 hours a week. And I can give you other examples…
Duarte Nuno Pinto, 64 years old and the only child of two elementary school teachers, he was born in Barcelos, where P&R Têxteis is based. Having completed high school at Sá de Miranda, he then moved to Porto, where he graduated in Economy. He is married to Maria da Ascensão, a former elementary school teacher turned entrepreneur, with whom he has three children: Daniela, 37, a radiologist at Hospital de São João; Mariana, 33, who has a bachelor degree in Management (Universidade Católica), and works for a multinational; and Nuno, 28, whose bachelor degree in Economics (Economy School of Universidade do Porto) and master’s degree in Management and Marketing got him working at P&R
Which context costs affect P&R’s competitiveness the most?
The tax weight on the workers’ salaries. It’s a pressing matter, to reduce the abyss between the salary duties that a company holds towards its worker and the money that the worker receives at the end of the month. I have proposed to our Minister of Economy that overtime work should be fiscally exempt, 100%.
Which is P&R’s recipe for success?
Throughout this life, I have had failures and successes. And to face failure, the right attitude is the humbleness of the goalkeeper who, after conceding a goal, gets the ball back, raises his head and keeps on playing.
Which was the most challenging: winning medals for the Quinta do Montinho wines, or developing textiles for the Olympics?
We have won several medals with that wine, made in our Vila Verde estate. Wine is a hobby that I indulge myself into developing as a business. It always reminds me of the summer holidays that, as a kid, I used to spend helping my grandparents with the harvest. Both are satisfying for me – the medals at wine competitions, but also those won by Fernanda Ribeiro, Nelson Évora or Usain Bolt, with sports equipment developed and manufactured by us.