“Queen of the toilet”, she runs a R$ 1 billion business
Businesswoman Ana Oliva likes to say that her field of work is unglamorous. Ahead of home products companies Astra and Japi, she calls herself the “queen of the toilet”, as the toilet seat is the flagship of her billion-dollar business. “The first thing I do anywhere is go to the bathroom and look at the seat mark,” she jokes.
But the item is far from the only one in the portfolio of Oliva’s companies. Installed in Jundiaí, in the interior of São Paulo, Astra and Japi sell from PVC pipes to bathtubs, passing through mirrors, plant pots, windows, trash cans and even products for pets. There are about 7 thousand items, and every year the company includes about 200 new items in the catalog – and discontinues many others that did not have good public acceptance.
The extensive range of products is part of an old company strategy: spraying. Astra is in about 35 thousand points of sale throughout Brazil, between large and small. To serve customers more efficiently – and increase the size of orders – the company started to offer an increasingly diverse range of items. “I can meet almost all the needs of that small client”, he says. In order to remain present in the corners of the country, the company has some Fiorinos that work as a mobile show room and travel to regions further away from large centers.
History and innovations
The model was designed by the businesswoman’s grandfather, Francisco Oliva, who ran the business for decades. Founded in 1965, Astra started out as a woodworking shop, producing wooden bathroom cabinets and toilet seats. But the business was not going well, and the founders asked Oliva for financial help, who some time later took over the company.
In the following years, still in financial difficulties, Astra started to manufacture products made of plastic. The new raw material gave the entrepreneur an idea: “He was inspired by a children’s pool float and created the blown toilet seat”, says granddaughter Ana. The product was a success. Patented, the blown plastic seat earned royalties for Astra and brought the company out of the red.
In the 1980s, yet another innovation: inspired by a bicycle seat, the entrepreneur created the padded seat, which is still Astra’s best seller today, and is available in more than 30 different colors.
In 1993, the entrepreneur founded another company, Japi, which began as an importer of padlocks and over time began to produce items that were not in Astra’s portfolio, but that were in demand in the market. Recently, Japi started to produce ceramic toilets, a complementary item to Astra’s main product. Unlike Astra, which has three families among its partners, Japi belongs only to the Oliva family. Today the two companies are managed together – three directors take care of the day-to-day running of the two companies and report to Ana, who is chairman of the board of directors.
Succession and pandemic
Francisco Oliva was in charge of the business until 2013. His granddaughter, who until then was dedicated to the command of the family finance company, Finamax, started to follow Astra more closely and took over the company shortly after. “My grandfather always said: ‘If you didn’t attend the previous meeting, you can’t give an opinion’”, remembers the businesswoman. “I decided that I had to participate in everything I needed to be in the day-to-day,” she says.
The granddaughter has maintained her grandfather’s management style. The company operates without indebtedness and has a policy of growing at the pace that its legs can handle, no more, no less. In the last five years, it had an average growth of 10% per year. In 2021, it reached the mark of R$ 1 billion in revenue, considering Astra and Japi, with Japi accounting for 25% of this amount. The expectation is to reach R$ 1.1 billion in 2022.
The more conservative model was essential for the company to go through the pandemic. Astra operates with a looser inventory than usual in the market. This gives more security to the company. When covid-19 arrived, the strategy allowed it to continue serving its customers, in a period of disruptions in the chain.
The toilet seat brand
More recently, the company is focused on getting closer to the end consumer. The goal is that, just as consumers know brands like Tigre, for PVC pipes, they also know the brand of their toilet seat. “I believe it is important to strengthen our brand. The new generations are demanding a different shopping experience”, he says. To this end, the company recently opened its first own store, in Campinas, which showcases its extensive portfolio. With the pandemic, it also improved its presence on the internet.
Ana Oliva sees growth opportunities in the future both in Brazil and abroad. “The country has around 100,000 building material stores, we are only at 35,000. We have a long way to go,” she says. With the strategy of pulverizing her customer base, the entrepreneur says that her biggest customer today accounts for only 2% of her revenue.
On the export front, the company currently exports to around 30 countries, especially the Americas and Europe. And he sees many opportunities to grow looking to other continents, such as Africa and Asia. A plus point is the exchange rate. With the cheaper real, it is more advantageous to sell abroad, and Astra’s intention is to take advantage of these opportunities.