Sas, which has sold decorative cement elements for over one hundred years, weathers the collapse of the construction sector through international expansion and diversification. New England and France, their next objectives.
e started exporting many years ago. Otherwise we wouldn’t still be around. No one thought about what would happen with the financial crisis.” This is how the manager of Sas Prefabricated Cement Products explains how the company has survived the deadly crisis in the construction sector. This collapse has taken many Catalan prefabricated cement manufacturers down with it. Joaquim Sas, who is also Chairman of the Catalan Association of Manufacturers of Prefabricated Cement Products and By-products, remembers that there were 80 members of this association in 2007 and now there are only 23.
Despite their successful experience selling decorative cement products like window boxes, fountains and other elements, Sas has been working to market other types of cement products for some years now. They have recently signed an important contract with French rail company SNCF to improve some of the rail lines in that country, which the company will make public in the coming months. Another area in which Sas has opened up a place in the market, in this case in the USA, is cement counterweights for washing machines. “Very few people know that washing machines and dryers have cement counterweights,” says Sas. This market is “very difficult because it is highly competitive,” he adds. The company aims to move into US regions like New England and Florida, as well as Canada.
Despite this commitment, Sas revenue is still far off levels seen in the years before the crisis, when Sas posted turnover of 24 million euros. Today it is 11 million euros. “We’ve been able to carry on because we are highly motivated and didn’t have any debt, and because we’ve sacrificed the savings we had in order to keep the company running,” says Sas. Others, however, weren’t so lucky. “Banks turn off the credit tap and when you say you’re from the construction sector, they run away. We’ve been stigmatised,” he adds as Chairman of the Catalan Association of Manufacturers of Prefabricated Cement Products and By-products. To finish it off, the public sector, he says, has contributed to the closing of many of these companies “because they haven’t yet been paid” for work carried out.
Exporting since the 1960s
Sas was founded in 1900 and has been exporting since the 1960s. Then, explains Joaquim Sas, exporting “was very difficult and dramatic.” Lorries could spend days waiting to pass through customs. Before joining the European Economic Community in 1986, the wait could be “hours”. Today Sas exports throughout the European Community and to countries like Saudi Arabia and Chile. Exports make up 75% of the company’s revenue.