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Respected worldwide for their quality playing cards, Fournier is now offering much, much more to its customers. Casino International finds out why
Recently, Fournier – based in the beautiful Basque city of Vitoria, in Northern Spain – enjoyed a significant investment into their factory floor to the tune of several million Euro. The investment is for one reason only: quality. The main form it has arrived in, is a new printing press for their world-renowned playing cards, but it’s also been invested in adding layers to their quality control because, as Export Manager Javier Berasategui explains, the company’s reputation is everything: “The purpose is to improve our quality – we live on our reputation, our image, our quality. Ask any casino in the world – if they had a problem with our cards, word would spread very quickly because we work in a big business but it is still quite a small community. We are very clear on our strengths, and we want to maintain and improve those strengths by adding layers to our quality control, and also growing our production capacity.” Exciting times to be at Fournier then, with even more tools added to bolster an already-formidable reputation. It’s money well spent though, as Javier explains, and ongoing investment is key: “In this business if you want to keep offering the highest quality playing cards you need to update your technology and always have brand new machines, otherwise when they get older there can be quality issues. This is the first investment we have made, a new printing machine which cost us around 2m Euro – but that’s something a business like ours needs to do every five to ten years.”
Fournier has long been famous for its highly-skilled team of quality checkers, a squad of utterly focussed women trained to spot the slightest error on a playing card surface. These employees, says Javier, can never be replaced – but the system can be added to, in order to improve already stringent quality controls. “We have also bought in the latest technology to improve our quality controls. There is still nothing in the market to equal the quality control by our own employees because they do not go to the level of detail we need in terms of any mark, any dot on the back of a card. They can now scan every printed sheet and detect if there is any printing error on the sheet. After a certain number of sheets are printed, we take a sheet and scan it to check for mistakes.
“In the past, we did not have this so we have improved our quality controls automatically with its addition. We still need our employees to inspect the cards visually though, that has not changed.”
That’s not all they have added to – alongside new visual tools for accuracy checking and colour balance tests, after the decks are cut, a new technology has been introduced which checks the accuracy of the cut so once again, there can be no imperfections.
With the arrival of technology though, there is usually a human story alongside it of people being cast aside in favour of cost-cutting – but no staff have been replaced, says Javier. Some staff who have retired have not been replaced, but overall, staffing levels are similar to a few years ago. This is another positive for the company, as its identity within Spain is closely tied to the city it grew from; Vitoria is known colloquially as the City of Playing Cards, thanks to Fournier’s origins there – though the factory is now a few miles outside the city itself.
Fournier is still all about playing cards, of course – but the company is now offering more than this, with some beautiful layouts on offer under their own Dura+ brand, and a Security Baccarat Shoe also on offer. But it’s not diversification for the sake of it – card games are still their bread and butter, it’s all extensions of that main identity they are so loved for.
The other major change for the company has been a shift in perspectives following their acquisition by the United States Playing Card Company several years ago. It used to be that you could see both companies with their separate brands at various exhibitions, but now you will generally see one company offering all of the brands. More economical, more straightforward for the customer, and more exciting for the company!
Javier explains what this means for Fournier: “What we do now is, both the sales people in the Spain office and in the US offer both sets of brands. The brands are competing in a way, but they also offer a different position in the market, a different product in many ways. With the Bee brand, and the Bicycle brand, for example, as a company we are seeing a lot of growth in Asia.”
Does this mean changes for the US side of the company? Yes, in the shape of more investment and a new factory, says Javier: “In the US we have also invested heavily, with $30million investment in a plant with greater production capacity to help cope with the increase in orders from Asia. Years ago, they only had to handle orders from, say, the big casinos in Las Vegas, but the market for their cards really is growing worldwide. In Asia for example, the cards are only used once in a game of Baccarat, so the orders are very, very big because each deck is only used once then thrown – so the Bee paper cards are perfect for that. It’s not like a Blackjack table, where eight decks might be used many times.
“In their case, they had an old factory but they have moved to a new site, hence the greater investment required.”
When your brand – all of your brands, in this case – is so well known, growth can be difficult, particularly in mature markets, but this is not holding back Fournier, who have found growth in other places. “We are growing in both casinos and retail. Each region of the world is a different story; in Europe, for example, we are growing in retail. We have a Business Development Manager for that part of the business, and it’s really growing well and sales are increasing,” elaborates Javier. “On the casino side in Europe, sales are steady, and have been for a couple of years – but there are no big new projects to improve sales in a significant way, as we already have a very high market share. It’s very difficult to grow that without any major project happening.
“In Africa we have very, very high market share in the casinos – 100 per cent in South Africa and in many other countries too. Latin America, we are growing into Mexico, but it is a continent where there are many new possibilities. So there is still growth in the casino market, certainly.”
Javier sums up the company’s service nicely, as the Fournier team – which has grown as their international business has risen – embraces the challenge of selling the Bicycle, Bee, Aviator and Kem brands of cards alongside the classy Fournier brand: “With all of our brands across the board, we cover every requirement a casino could have for playing cards.”