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Spring, 2007

The Republic of

by Jonathan Bell

Despite operating brands steeped in history, Republic Technologies never looks back - only forward.

JOB, ZIGZAG, OCB: These highly popular, yet venerable brands-some of the oldest trademarks in the tobacco business-are the three pillars upon which Republic Technologies International (RTI) is steadily expanding an already impressive market share worldwide in cigarette rolling papers.

"Worldwide" is apt, as the brands are to be found in stores in some 90 nations. "Venerable" is accurate as well, as JOB has been a brand since 1838, ZigZag dates back to 1894, and OCB was launched in 1918.

Yet it is the governance of these famous trademarks in recent years that makes RTI of special note in the tobacco industry. They have been steadily extended and updated, so that the lines have contemporary entries covering the wide universe of RYO paper niches. The brands are fabricated in paper grades, sheet sizes, and booklet stylings to match all the numerous RYO rolling customs and smoking preferences.

The company has followed the same policy as well with its other best-selling RYO booklet and MYO tube brands-Top, Rolling, Memphis, and Altesse. Each of these marks, as is true of JOB, ZigZag, and OCB, has its own personality and characteristics. Each owns its own customer base in different places, different market sectors.

RTI success has not come easily. It can be said that no tobacco product sector is more complex, varied, ever-changing yet intrinsically traditional than that of RYO cigarette papers. How the English roll and the papers they want is different than in Germany; what an American expects from RYO papers is quite unlike what a Turk will want.

And RTI can write the book: Consumer expectations in booklet business interleaves, the local paper qualities and styles commonly adhered to with the type of tobacco smoked, the local quantity of tobacco typically used along with the rolling techniques employed.

Republic Technologies has expanded rapidly because it has tenaciously tracked its consumer's preferences as well as the nuances of fashion-and fashion in RYO papers can be as startlingly fickle as that of the width of ties.

In so doing, Republic Technologies has seen its booklet sales virtually double in the past six years. It is top-selling booklet in France, Canada, New Zealand, Austria, and Bulgaria; and second in the UK, Germany, and Spain. It has a strong sales share in yet another dozen national markets.

In sum, in recent years, Republic Technologies-along with its parent holding, the Chicago-based Republic Group, which itself dominates the US RYO/MYO markets-has achieved strong growth in almost every market where it is present. The Republic Group ranks now second in the world market of RYO booklets.

RTI, producing and marketing for the Republic Group in Europe, Africa, and Asia, offers about 50 different papers in its array. These include "flat" from varying natural paper qualities, "interleaved," "watermarked velin," and "verge."

In addition, its factory must be versatile enough to produce 200 product references (adding together all line extensions, paper styles, pack styles, and packaging formats), and yet do so in enough volume to satisfy sales of 1 bn booklets a year.

Booklets carry attributes of a cult-they can be an obsession, and their papers most certainly demand an aura of purity and uniformity. Their packagings must either be reassuringly familiar and unchanging, or exciting and dynamic for contemporary taste. RTI booklet packs come out of Perpignan in an awesome array of graphic designs and looks, now extending to specialized holograms and foil stamps.

Visiting RTI at its headquarters in Perpignan, France, one finds a new production facility that has just again been expanded and upgraded at a cost of several million Euros. The expansion gives the Perpignan factory equal capacity to the largest of any RYO booklet facility.

The site now operates four separate workshops and nine different production lines, each equipped-according to Santiago Sanchez, RTI commercial director and sales manager-with the best that can be engineered for booklet making.

Sanchez notes that this is indicative of Republic's commitment to maintaining an unblemished ISO 9001 Certification (version 2000).

"In RYO papers, standards must be set high and maintained there," explained Sanchez. "Republic Technology results attest to the truth of this policy."

He added: "But while a strong booklet business begins with these standards in paper and packs, the business is then an ongoing study of different smoking cultures. It means juggling people's traditions with the trends that appeal to them. I think it is one of the most customer-specific mass products to be found."

In addition to RTI in France, Republic Group European holdings include the new Altesse MYO Tube factory in Austria and the PTC company in Spain where Republic RYO filters are made along with other RYO accessories.

Republic's RYO filter-tip sales have mushroomed sixfold in six years, and are number one in sales in France, and second in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and Spain.

As for MYO tubes, the company is making 12 bn units a year now, with sales expanding seven times in recent years. Republic tubes, sold under various trademarks, are in first place in sales in the United States and Austria, and second in Belgium, Denmark, and Sweden.

For its latest innovations, RTI recently launched OCB X-Pert, an ultra-light top-grade paper in a 1-1/4 size booklet (50 leaves). It is being bannered appropriately as the "Flying Paper."

This dovetails with the new OCB X-Pert XXL targeted at the German and Austrian markets. A king-size booklet with 32 leaves, it is meant for the carriage trade as it features an elastic closure system to maximize paper freshness.

Also, as another current addition to the OCB line, Republic Technologies has designed a new, fashionable OCB Metal Roller.

As for the oldest of its trademarks, RTI has regained sales of JOB in the UK. In collaboration with Zig Zag (GB) Plc., RTI is rapidly rolling out the complete range of JOB papers onto UK store shelves.

Distribution International - Spring, 2007
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