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Delivering chemistry, distributing knowledge

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“The physical distribution is a result of the knowledge we provide,” stresses Managing Director Dr. Richard Smith. “It is more of a knowledge business expressed through the chemicals we supply.”

Surfachem is a distributor of chemicals for personal care products and cosmetics as well as pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals and the homecare & household markets. The company partners with such leading manufacturers as Evonik, Lubrizol and Shell Chemicals.

“We aim to offer our clients the benefit of our experience, and excellent customer care is our core expertise,” continues Dr. Smith. “We provide support in a wide range of themes connected to the chemical industry, from logistics, warehousing and safety to technical insight into chemical formulation, and marketing trends.”

The company has innovation centres in the UK and a formulation laboratory in Germany, where it helps clients to develop ideas and formulations, and solve problems. It also provides technical training to clients.

“In conjunction with our manufacturing partners, we can bring together a group of clients in our laboratories for demonstrations; here they can interact, and we provide back-up information,” adds the Managing Director. “Our holistic approach to technical support and transfer of know-how is our most important USP.”

The group was established in 1981 as a chemical distributor in West Yorkshire, and has grown over the years, mostly through organic growth and selected acquisitions. In 2007, Surfachem itself was bought out by 2M, which owns a number of chemical distributors and chemical service companies.

The group subsequently set up a sales office in Poland and joint venture companies in the Nordic region and Brazil. This year, FrankenChemie, now Surfachem Deutschland, in Germany became its most recent acquisition, to support the company’s planned European expansion.

The German firm’s key focus was chemicals for the personal care and cosmetics market, and this is Surfachem’s most important area of activity too. The countries where its subsidiaries are located are, naturally, its most important markets.

The company works with some of the world’s leading consumer goods and pharmaceutical brands and, at the other end of the scale, sole entrepreneurs who have great ideas for new products. “We help them to get into the market,” Dr. Smith underlines. It is, perhaps, something of a cliché to claim that a company’s people are its most important asset but, in Surfachem’s case the broad experience of its team of 130 staff has undoubtedly contributed to its success. “Most of our clients and suppliers recognize that we have some of the best people in a very niche market,” says Dr. Smith. “It is difficult to find good people. We have some staff members who have been with us for many years; nevertheless, we are continually seeking a mix of talent from different industries, and we offer extensive training and a leadership programme through our 2M Academy. We also have a talent pipeline of summer interns and industrial placements from UK universities, which we are looking to replicate in other countries.”

The chemical sector is extremely dynamic. Along with many other industries, the current trend is for more natural products which are more environmentally friendly and gentler for the end consumer. Nevertheless, the products must still create economic value.

“We help our clients to formulate products which are both commercially sound and meet consumer demands for greener and milder products,” Dr. Smith says. “More exotic products, such as those from the Brazilian rain forest or made of marine algae are also extremely popular right now. Our mission is to deliver chemistry for a better life.”

Growth is also firmly on the agenda. “We acquired the German company to support our growth plans, and we want to exploit the great potential that we see there. Of course, although it was not the reason for buying FrankenChemie (Surfachem Deutschland), it will also help us manage whatever Brexit scenario emerges. No-one yet knows what will happen in that respect, but we have a wide portfolio of products all over the globe, so we have enough diversity along our supply chain to deal with any negative and positiveeffects,” concludes Dr. Smith.

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