Toly Group – More Than Cosmetic Improvement

Lots of the companies we profile have great stories behind them, but perhaps none are more dramatic than the story behind Toly Group.

“My father was one of the founders. He was born in Eastern Europe. During the Hungarian revolution in 1956 he walked across a minefield, got on a refugee plane, and arrived in the UK on Christmas Eve in 1956,” says Andy Gatesy, CEO of the Toly Group. “That was during the beginning of the plastic injection moulding industry, so he got work pretty quickly. But being an entrepreneur, he wanted to start his own business. He had no money, so he found partners and became a mould maker, not just building moulds but winning production orders.” We learn how a family firm has built a business to last.

That company would grow into the business we see today, a privately-owned company with a family spirit. As well as being founded by Gatesy’s father, three of his children are also working for the business.

Today Toly Group is a supplier of packaging or luxury packaging to the beauty industry, and it has been for more than 50 years. But once again, the story of how it got there is a winding one.

“My father’s company was active in the toy industry making cereal box toys, Airfix kits, and around the mid-1960s he won his first job in the beauty industry,” Gatesy says. “At the end of the sixties, he had a factory in London and was looking to expand. He was considering Wales, Northern Ireland, and Malta. Being a pioneer, he looked at Malta and said ‘Let’s try it’. He got a ten-year tax holiday, employed 40 people and today we recognise the benefits of manufacturing in Malta. The people there align well with our core values, people, passion pride and creativity. In the mid-1970s the company decided to focus on the beauty industry and I joined in 1986. My vision was to make the company more international. We opened an office in New York and started adding more customers.”

Today Toly supplies 23 out of the top 30 beauty brands as well as some of the most innovative emerging consumer brands launched over the last few years. It has been an incredible journey, but not one without its ups and downs.

“We got a lot of competitive pressure from Asia, particularly China. Instead of trying to beat them, we joined them,” Gatesy recalls. “In 2006 we opened offices in Seoul, Hong Kong and India. Korea has been a massive success for us. India was a disaster and we exited after a few years. Today we have a global manufacturing footprint with partners around the world. The last decade has been interesting. We have narrowed our focus to innovation, starting with moving all our corporate functions to Malta. By opening the innovation centre in Malta, which is unique in our industry, we doubled our business over 2018 becoming an over 100-million-euro business.”

Keeping it in the Family

While the company has certainly undergone some transformations over the last few decades, its core values have remained the same.

“We’re a privately-owned business with a strong family spirit. Most of our competitors are owned by private equity, they don’t have that privately-owned focus on a long-term business,” Gatesy points out. “We’re customer-centric, a small company by international standards but with a global footprint to support the big players sourcing in Asia, Europe the US. We have a global manufacturing drive and a model that’s agile, innovative and disruptive.”

Of course, few things are more disruptive than the COVID-19 pandemic last year, and the makeup industry, in particular, was hit hard by the outbreak. Toly has seen numerous crises come and go, but this was different.

When the going gets tough, people go out and buy lipstick because it gives them that personal sense of indulgence,” Gatesy tells us. “But this time we were hit by social distancing and wearing masks. Makeup is a very social habit, if you go out to work, to dinner, you buy makeup, you wear makeup. With people sitting at home on Zoom and Team calls, it does not help. If you put your mask on makeup it makes a big mess, so makeup across the world fell by 30% last year. Skincare held its own, fragrance suffered at the beginning but recovered.”

But while the challenges were severe, Toly Group’s ambitions never wavered.

“A lot of companies are focused only on survival. They’re not focusing on the future or using their creativity,” Gatesy insists. “But from the start, we knew we had to recover what we’ve lost. As I said to everyone last year, life’s not about waiting for the storm to pass. It is about learning to dance in the rain. We need to reignite our passion for this industry, this business, among our employees and our customers.”

It is clear, talking to Gatesy, how important he believes that passion is to the company and the industry.

“You need to keep your customers and your people at the heart of your business,” he says.

“Over the last three months, I have sat with all our staff to ask what they like about Toly, what frustrates them and how we can help them. People tell me what they like is they are not just a number; they are a person who can add value to the company. This is the family spirit that drives us.”

That passion also moved the Toly Group to support the communities it is working within.

“We give moral support to abused women. We took makeup artists to a shelter. For Breast Cancer Awareness we have an annual campaign,” Gatesy says. “We donate to food banks. There’s a lot of things going on.”

Looking forward, Toly Group still has grand ambitions, with Gatesy telling us the next milestone is to achieve 250-million-euros in turnover.

“But not at the cost of losing our soul and our spirit,” he insists. “It is not about profit and growth, it is about giving our people ambition. The most important thing is how to out-think, rather than out-spend our competitors. So, we are staying privately owned, building on the things that have made us a success and continuing to do what we’ve been doing.”

For Gatesy, the next big challenge for Toly Group is sustainability.

Sustainability is important to our business around the materials we use. We use recycled materials, look at how we design packaging. We want to stay true to our core values while playing to win,” he tells us. “COVID-19 and 2020 taught us never to take anything for granted. The world was rocked by sickness, economic despair, retail bankruptcies, and also racial discrimination and the need for more diversity. We need to stay connected, communicate and reflect on what’s most important.”

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