With the Help of a Transaction Advisor, This Haitian Company Has Expanded Its Production in the Face of COVID-19
Under Haiti INVEST, GECA provided transaction advisory services to La Perle, a family-run Haitian business that manufactures household, commercial, and industrial cleaning products. With GECA’s assistance, La Perle secured the capital needed to increase its production to meet the rising demand for cleaning supplies resulting from the spread of COVID-19.
By Jean-Marc Cuvilly, Haiti INVEST Platform Lead
Since 1973, La Perle S.A., a family-run business in Haiti, has been manufacturing household, commercial, and industrial cleaning products.
Last year, after being introduced to Gestion, Etude, Comptabilité, Audit (GECA) at an event hosted by Haiti INVEST, Jean-Philippe Labrousse, the CEO of La Perle, began collaborating with the transaction advisor.
Haiti INVEST aims to assist small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) such as La Perle in accessing financing for growth. It engages transaction advisors to help SMEs with their internal processes and assist them in finding sources of capital. Under Haiti INVEST, GECA worked with La Perle, performing an assessment of management objectives and a realignment of the company’s business plan, determining its capital needs, creating financial models, and helping the business with loan applications. With GECA’s assistance, La Perle raised the financing needed to improve its manufacturing processes, streamline its operational efficiencies, and purchase new equipment to expand production, all of which has become increasingly important in meeting the increased demand for products that has resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.
La Perle was originally founded to help address the high infant mortality rates caused by water-borne diseases. Their initial product line included a short list of surface cleaners and water-treatment products to help households with prevention efforts against several childhood diseases. Since then, La Perle has expanded its line to over 30 products including disinfectants, detergents, and a range of specialized cleaning products.
In 2002, after earning a degree in Chemical Engineering and Entrepreneurship from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, Labrousse returned home to Haiti to reinforce existing operations alongside his father. He didn’t know it then, but only four years later, he would have to help La Perle face one of the most difficult times in the company’s history.
During a time of heightened political turmoil in 2006, rioters stormed the La Perle plant, destroying everything in their path. Thirty-three years of investment was lost overnight. The business was devastated, but the Labrousses refused to give up on Haiti. Instead, they decided to start over.
La Perle slowly relaunched production on essential items at a temporary location. Three years later, the company was able to relocate to a new facility in a safer location. Labrousse seized the move as an opportunity to completely revamp operations and implement more efficient production processes.
Even now, Labrousse continues to focus on making improvements. He takes a data-driven approach to business management. With GECA’s help, he has put in place new systems that better track the company’s transaction, inventory, and manufacturing processes, allowing him to make real-time, data-informed decisions for his business.
Losing everything taught Labrousse many lessons about operating in Haiti, lessons which still inform his management of the business. Security, of both the physical assets and his personnel, remains his highest priority. La Perle operates its own in-house transportation to safely bus employees to and from work.
While constant disruptions related to political unrest are an ongoing challenge, Labrousse estimates he only lost five to 10 total days of production in the 2019 “Pays Lock” that shut down many operations nationwide, essentially grinding the economy to a halt. For Labrousse, embracing technology has been key in dealing with unexpected challenges: all essential La Pele employees carry smart phones, with managers having access to the company’s information system and the ability to input crucial data remotely.
When it comes to health crises such as the current pandemic, Labrousse says he’s had more experience than he would like in preparing for and dealing with the complexities they bring.
During the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti, La Perle actively partnered with key stakeholders including the World Health Organization (WHO), the Center for Disease Control, Haiti’s Ministry of Public Health Public, Direction Nationale de l’Eau Potable et de l’Assainissement (DINEPA) and others. Their collaboration led to the creation of Aquajif, a cost-effective and sustainable solution for water treatment in the household. This product became a cornerstone of the Haitian Government’s national strategy around household water treatment and storage, and its distribution created additional employment throughout the country.
Amidst a devastating cholera outbreak, La Perle made Aquajif available to the public at cost, a crucial step in reaching vulnerable Haitian families. For 60 cents, a 500 ml container of Aquajif treats 500 gallons of safe drinking water. Aquajif laid the foundation for La Perle’s Corporate Responsibility Program, which officially launched in 2012. It also reconnected the company with its original mandate to bring safe and affordable water treatment options to Haitian households across the country.
Labrousse realized early on in the pandemic that the spread of the coronavirus would bring additional challenges for La Perle, especially since most raw materials for the company’s products are sourced from Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Noticing the special measures being taken within his supplier network, he understood that the global industry was changing and immediately began to take necessary measures of his own, such as stocking up on essential items like masks for the safety of his employees. He made sure he had enough supply of the vital raw materials needed for his products, not knowing how long they would be available on the global market or at what price.
La Perle’s products play a key role in preventing the spread of COVID-19 throughout Haiti, a country whose infrastructure challenges make it difficult for people to follow the recommended sanitation guidelines. Frequent washing and disinfecting are key to mitigating the spread of the disease, and by ramping up local production to meet the rising demand for cleaning supplies, La Perle can provide meaningful assistance in helping Haitians deal with the crisis.
Labrousse says that the company’s collaboration with GECA has been essential to his early COVID-19 preparedness, and La Perle currently projects having enough raw materials to continue production for the next six to nine months without interruption. Once again, the company is working closely with key stakeholders, including health officials, and Labrousse feels confident that La Perle is ready to meet an even greater increase in demand for its products. Nevertheless, he will continue to monitor all his systems closely to help him stay one step ahead, for as he puts it: “No one knows how long this latest storm will last.”