“As a boy I wanted to be a firefighter.” The phrase can be extended to thousands of people who thought that in childhood. But for Miguel Pelaez, that early wish came true and forged much of his life. To such an extent that he decided to create a company that would allow him to continue to be linked to that dream.
“At the beginning of the 1980s, my dad was a member of the Alta Gracia Fire Department’s executive committee and I remember as a boy having already gone to the barracks. At 14 years old I entered as a cadet and until 18 years old I carried out training and support, but without intervening in claims. And from there I already began to participate in operations, “he recalls.
–How did Inforest start?
–It was in 2001. I worked in an auto part company in Alta Gracia under the First Step Program, one of the first to come out. Due to my vocation as a firefighter, I designed a water backpack, because in general it was what I had to use in fires. They sent me to work in La Pampa and, at that moment, the director of the Provincial Plan for Fire Management and representatives of the Nation asked me if I was encouraged to make them, because the ones that were imported. So I started.
–From firefighter to businessman?
–I started as a monotributista, assembling, cleaning and assembling pieces when I returned from college, at night, in the garage of my grandfather’s house. A year and a half later I became a registered person, until in 2013 we became SRL. As it had been an official request, our first client was the Government of Córdoba. The objective was to start exporting in a period of five years. In 2004 we made the first shipment to Brazil. Since then, we have always maintained foreign trade operations. Some with more presence in Europe, Oceania or Africa, but every year we have been increasing the export volume.
– Basically, what do you manufacture?
–80 percent of our production is equipment to fight forest fires. The other part has to do with rescue equipment and aims to complement the offer to attract customers. In any case, some niches have been opened to us with tenders, not directly, but through distributors, for example, for ambulance services. We have also made equipment for ski slopes that immobilize and facilitate the descent of people in the event of accidents.
This year we are going to finish with about 70 percent of exports and 30 percent for domestic consumption.
–What is the flagship product?
–In which we have invested more innovation and development in tooling and process is the water backpack. It is our workhorse and the “open door”, which then allows us to enter with some other products.
–Who do they sell to?
–The end customer always ends up being the State, which is the one that consumes the most and is in charge of providing the public security service. But our clients abroad are generally private companies that sell to governments in their countries. There is a market volume of direct clients, such as fire departments. Then there is the segment of private companies that are dedicated to afforestation. In Chile, for example, they have the possibility of deducting from taxes what they invest in prevention; There are companies there that have nearly 1,000 contracted brigade members for the fire season, a fleet of fire trucks, and rent planes or helicopters for several million dollars. In general there is a market for private companies, but the fort ends up being the State here and in the rest of the world. Today all the national parks in Argentina have our products, the personnel who work in national parks and in specialized brigades have our equipment.
–How many products do you offer?
–Approximately 85. In equipping the firefighter, we go from the helmet to the boots, which are not our own designs, but a company also from Córdoba. We have been working to develop specific products so that they are not the same shoe that the police use, but specific to work in fires. In gloves and goggles we work with third party teams, but our own products are also in development. In tools, all tooling is ours and we outsource specific processes. As for fireproof clothing, we have developed our own fabric and specific colors for low levels of absorption of solar radiation. It has certain characteristics of release of body heat so that the person who is working in the fire is not subject to the thermal stress generated by the same physical exercise that they are performing.
We are trying to focus not only on design and production, but also in the commercial area.
–Is it easy to get suppliers?
–We have had to learn from textile issues to those related to steel, so that, when making decisions, we can identify the best components. In fire retardant fabrics, for example, the price is the same when buying in China, the United States or Europe; The difference is given by the level of service of development capacity of each supplier.
– Do they have competition in the internal market?
–In general, they are more dedicated to marketing than to producing. We do not have direct specific competence. There are companies that make forest fire equipment, but they do not end up being direct competition, some because they are more informal in certification and documentation, and others because their focus is not so specific. 80 percent of the local market is ours and we are growing in exports. We have focused on South America and keeping clients in Europe and Australia. We do not want to make such abrupt growth that it could cause us problems in compliance or in quality standards.
–And globally, with whom do you compete?
–Our main global competitor is a Spanish company that has the same profile. Until 2009 he was our client, he copied products and had them manufactured in China. It has had a much stronger commercial policy and, although they started much later, they managed to capture more market share globally.
– Do you have another strategy there?
It is the turn we are trying to make, to focus not only on design and production, but also in the commercial area. Manufactured in China or North Africa, these products enter Europe and from there they go on the market as products made in Europe.
–Here is different.
–In South America, which is where we see it strongest, there is a policy of openness towards what comes from outside, which means that nobody is a prophet in their land. They look at us even below the teeth, but the one who comes from outside is welcomed with open arms. A little thanks to that we have redoubled the effort in doing things that live up to the expectations of the clients and not closing ourselves in self-pity.
–In the midst of a pandemic, how is the export coming?
–We have been working with the ProCórdoba Agency since 2007. We started with the support to participate in trade and multi-sector missions. Without that support it would have cost us horrors. Later, when the issue of humanitarian aid began to open up, we participated in 2012 at the Aidex fair in Brussels, in 2016 we went to the UN World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul and from there we began to participate in tenders in the public procurement within the United Nations Office for Project Services (Unops). The advantage is that they are good clients, with guaranteed payments.
80 percent of the local market is ours and we are growing in exports. We have focused on South America and keeping clients in Europe and Australia.
–As providers of the State.
–This year we won a tender within the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Costa Rica. In Argentina, for example, within the framework of the actions against Covid-19, we deliver peripheral products to medical equipment in Córdoba, Chaco, Buenos Aires and Santa Fe. Through the Unops Program we won a tender for elements of personal protection for the Park National of Brasilia.
–Who do you compete with in international tenders?
–It is mainly dominated by British companies that have developed the market very well. In general, international fairs in this area are organized by them and the process is well-oiled. In these types of tenders they are presented to provide from water tanks to forensic laboratories. Some have won the provision of mobile hospitals, for which they subcontract another local provider.
–How much does foreign trade represent in the company’s turnover?
–We are currently at 40 percent, but this year we are going to finish about 70 percent of exports and 30 percent for domestic consumption. Our goal is to grow 20 percent of foreign trade turnover every year and we have been supporting it.
–How many countries do you export to?
–They are more than 20. They are more than 20. In Europe we sell to Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Croatia and Portugal. We are working with some clients in Albania. In Asia we work with a distributor in Hong Kong, we have operations in the Middle East. In Australia we also have distributors. In Africa we mainly work with countries like Mozambique, South Africa where there is more afforestation. There are specific operations with other countries.
–How many are in Inforest?
–Today the company has 13 direct people, plus other contracted collaborators who do process engineering and quality management. We try to have a small structure and increase the level of technification.
“Are you still a firefighter?”
–I had to resign a year and a half ago, because I did not have time to dedicate to him with the commitment he deserves, but at some point I will return; if you let me …
A backpack to put out the fire
Name. Miguel Ángel Pelaez.
Position. Managing partner.
Business. Inforest SRL.
Likes. “Travel, read and ride a motorcycle”.
A data. He studied Chemical Engineering and then Environmental Engineering, both up to the fourth year. “I do not have the necessary proof for the study.”
Telephone. (03547) 43-0529.