Belgrade's M-Spirala long time partner of Rilecart – Moving part of production from Italy to Serbia planned

Source: eKapija Thursday, 20.10.2016. 13:58
(Photo: Marko Andrejić)
The graphics and publishing company M-Spirala was founded in 1996 and has been spiral binding all kinds of products from the printing industry – calendars, notebooks, catalogs, books – for 20 years. It has been achieving good results from the very beginning, and it's been following the world trends by participating in big graphics fairs in Milan, Düsseldorf, Birmingham.

This year, they had an exhibition at the International Graphic, Paper and Creative Industry Fair Grafima in Belgrade.

– We've been investing in the modernization of the production process year by year, and in 2002 we became the general representative of professional industrial equipment of the renowned Italian company Rilecart (Cartiere Paolo Pigna S.p.A. Divisione) for the former Yugoslavian market. We sell their spiral binding machines, from the manual ones to the semi-automatic and automatic ones, at prices ranging from EUR 300 to EUR 300,000. We also sell processed materials for the machines, spirals of all types, sizes and colors – says Mladen Kotaras, the director of M-Spirala, in his interview for eKapija.

The Italian company was founded in 1871 and is present on all continents. Our interviewee explains that the cooperation came about purely by chance.

– When I started doing this business, I asked people what the best company in this line of business is. They told me that there were two very serious ones – one in Germany, the other in Italy. I believed that I would find a common language with the Italians more easily – Kotaras says.

Meeting with owner crucial to cooperation with Italians

He contacted both companies and offered to cooperate with them, even though he was a David to their Goliaths. Nevertheless, he was lucky to be attending the 1996 Milan fair, where he met one of Rilecart's owners.

– I presented him with offers for spirals from England, Germany, France, all much more favorable than the Italian ones, and I told him I had a problem - “I want to cooperate with you, but why are your prices so much higher than those of the competition?” It was cheaper for me to get the goods from the north of England or from Germany than from Bergamo. He was practically unfamiliar with what his team was doing, as he's a millionaire living in Florida, where he owns a house and a yacht, and he could only say – something's wrong here!

(Photo: Marko Andrejić)
He called one of the directors, who explained to him that Rilecart had earlier had a representative for the entire Yugoslavia, whose prices, i.e. margins, had been very high. The owner said that it was not normal for an Italian company to have prices nearly 30% higher than an English company in Belgrade, reviewed all the papers and approved production prices to Mladen.

– I knew then that I would succeed and that the road was open for me. A long and hard road, but the opportunity was there – eKapija's interviewee emphasizes.

Investments so far exceed EUR 400,000

The entire production is carried out in Bergamo. M-Spirala imports goods which are light, but have a high volume, which is why they always look to fill out the trucks in order to reduce additional expenses. They import around EUR 300,000-400,000 worth of goods annually.

– Our main buyers are large printing factories in the region, from Slovenia to Macedonia, calendar manufacturers, companies which produce a large number of spiral bound items in Valjevo, Kragujevac, Novi Sad. There's no manual production there, as it would take too much time – Kotaras says.

Investments made by M-Spirala so far amount to a little over EUR 400,000. Mladen started the business with 40,000 Deutschmarks, and, as regards results, he says that “in Serbia, you have to be satisfied as soon as you no longer owe anything to anyone”. M-Spirala pays taxes and employees' salaries regularly, and it has been working for 20 years in a rented space.

– I don't regret it, I'm glad all the obligations are met on time. We have seven employees at the moment, two of whom are my wife and me. We employ up to 25 people in shifts during the season – the period when items related to the New Year are produced, as well as some larger jobs, roughly November-December. That's when several printing facilities address us at the same time and we are incapable of servicing everything on our own. We're talking tons of paper to be handled manually.

(Photo: Marko Andrejić)
In addition to selling machines and spirals, M-Spiral does binding per order for other printing facilities in its premises in Zarkovo. They also own two warehouses, one of which in Kumodraz.

– There's competition, for sure. Everybody's trying to do everything, but we're lucky to have a company with a large capital and a large brand behind us, with tradition dating back to 1871. Of course, some time was needed for me to earn their trust and for them to invite me to work for them at world fairs – Mladen Kotaras reminds.

Human capital and support by business partners

Our interviewee is proud that his company hasn't received a single complaint in 20 years. He also points out that they don't owe anything to anyone.

– It's not easy achieving such results, but it's all thanks to people who are working hard, on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, whenever needed. I try to be fair to my workers, and they repay me my giving it their best – Mladen expresses his satisfaction.

He emphasizes that M-Spirala hasn't used any support programs so far, nor is it planning to.

– I've never needed any loans, I've been helped by the Italians when it comes to machinery and materials. They often ask me at banks who I'm cooperating with and whether they're relatives, as all my invoices are open, without guarantees, which is very rare in our banks. Foreign companies rarely set aside certain amounts without any guarantees, because most of them are reserved in doing business here, due to previous experiences of cooperating with Serbia – Mladen says.

The biggest difficulty in the local market for him is lawlessness, as certain individuals are allowed to constantly open new companies, incur debts, cheat people, not pay what they need to...

– The plans in the coming period include moving a part of the production from Italy to Serbia, if we manage to get certain favorable arrangements regarding the land from the state. That way, we could develop our own production premises to the benefit of the entire state. We'd be more productive, the export would grown, and there's also the possibility of exporting to the Russian market. We are moving towards it, but very large investments are required for this to happen – Mladen Kotaras says.

Marko Andrejic
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