“It’s been a ride; I can’t believe it is 25 years,” said Tairo International co-founder Robert Bassan at the start of his reminiscing interview with TMI. The Miami-based fragrance and cosmetics distributor, which handles the Caribbean and Mexican duty free markets, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The company has made a major impact in its market since it was founded in 1996.
From starting out by distributing small independent European brands, the company grew to be the regional distributor for beauty giant Coty (and P&G before it became part of Coty) and L’Oréal Luxe Travel Retail, among others.
Bassan had actually grown up in the business, as his father Mike Bassan worked with electronics brands. Robert also got a few years of spirits business under his belt before deciding to focus on fragrances. His wife and partner, Tania Bassan, meanwhile brought her prior teaching experience to bear in designing top-rated trainings.
”I’ll never forget. I called around to see if people knew of any companies that were looking for distributors. I was woefully ignorant – thinking that every manufacturer was looking for a distributor in the Caribbean!” he quipped.
“It’s an interesting business, to say the least,” Bassan continued.
Relationships at core of success
Tairo is very proud about the special relationships it has developed – and nurtured – over the past quarter century.
“I was talking to the team today and we realize how fortunate we are to have so much to be thankful for over the 25 years we have been in business. We are thankful for an amazing group of customers who have really supported us during these 25 years. It’s not a typical supplier-customer relationship,” said Robert Bassan.
“Our customers have become family to us, and really helped build our company. They have been the biggest cheerleaders of our business, and in many cases, our relationships with our suppliers are the result of these same customers recommending us and telling the suppliers about the good job that we were doing in the market. So we are very indebted for that,” he said.
“Our customers are not just the store owners—it’s not just the buyers, it’s not just the Beauty Advisors, it’s not just the store managers. It is every single one of the components of our clients that has helped us to be the success that we have been over these last 25 years,” adds Tania Bassan.
The Tairo owners say there are three pillars that have built the company.
“The first pillar is our customers. The second is our suppliers. We really have amazing partnerships with all of our suppliers, for many, many years. And the third pillar is our team. I have to say that we are very fortunate that we have had a fantastic team – a team that has been there for a long time. Some of our employees have now been in the company close to 20 years,” says Bassan.
“Most of our employees have been with the company more than 10 years, with an average of 15 years,” added Tania Bassan. “We are really fortunate that we have had such longevity. It’s really a point of pride with us.”
The Bassans give a special shout out to Tairo President Bryan Hollander: “Bryan has been an integral part of our growth,” confirms Robert.
Tairo’s milestone events included the store managers, owners and beauty advisors, noted Bassan.
“In addition to Tairo’s 5th anniversary cruise, we’ve done quite a few of these events in Miami, we’ve done them in Orlando; these have been real milestones for our company,” said Bassan.
Robert and Tania also consider their ground-breaking instore activities as an integral part of the company history.
“We’ve done so many trainings and events in-store on the islands, enlisting many of the Beauty Advisors,” commented Tania Bassan. “We are in a very unique market – I don’t think there is any other market in the world where the owners of a company that has been in business for 25 years can walk into a store and recognize Beauty Advisors that were there when we started 25 years ago. And that happens a lot for us.”
“These Beauty Advisors have been such a big part of our success,” adds Robert. “They are loyal to us, we are loyal to them. It is a symbiotic relationship. It is amazing. Tania and I will walk into stores today and the BAs say – I remember this launch or that launch! This has really made our business a success.”
Reminiscing on specific launches, the Bassans give a special shout out to the Ferrari fragrances, which they began distributing in 1999.
“The Ferrari fragrance really put us on the map. Because the number of activations that we did in the region, it really opened the eyes of potential suppliers, to see what we were doing,” said Bassan.
“When we first started with Procter & Gamble, which was eventually purchased by Coty, the Boss Bottled launches for Hugo Boss was a standout. Also Lacoste Touch of Pink was a huge activation for us throughout the region. With Coty, Cool Water Deep was a massive launch, as was all of the Marc Jacobs launches, such as Daisy,” said Tania Bassan.
Tairo also revamped the Yves Saint Laurent brand in the region; and the YSL Libre fragrance was an especially memorable launch.
“The beautiful thing about Yves Saint Laurent is that over the years we have really helped make it a reference brand in the Caribbean, not only with the travel retail customers but also with a really large local following. It is really amazing how that fragrance is still doing well with the local market consumers,” commented Bassan.
And their favorite island is…
While the Bassans would not indicate a favorite island in the Caribbean, they did admit that Nassau holds a special place in their hearts.
“Nassau was the first island that we opened up, getting a listing with The Perfume Shop from Tim Lightbourne. That was when we were first starting. Tania and I would fly in for the day and we would literally walk down Bay Street (which at that time had dozens of perfume shops, one on every corner) and work every single one of those stores,” said Bassan.
Even now, the Tairo area managers spend time with the Beauty Advisors at the point of sale.
“The DNA that we created 25 years ago is still alive and carried out by the team members who are there day in and day out , with the exception of course of this last year and a half,” said Tania.
Mexico Duty Free
Tairo also has a special relationship with the Mexican duty free market, where its main clients include Sears and UltraFemme, and Pama in Cozumel.
“Mexico provided us with the ability to showcase and do things instore on a grand scale that really weren’t being done at that time. It solidified for us the ability to do large scale events. And we were able to use that as a blueprint for stores in the rest of the region in the Caribbean. It was a great opportunity for us to help our brands shine instore,” explained Tania.
Added Robert: “We dressed buses and installed billboards, going beyond just a window display. The Mexican market gave us the ability to do real 360 degree launches. And we still do this today.”
Tania Bassan also highlights special activations they did, like instore engraving events and parties with DJs.
“Engraving events are particularly successful, to such an extent that we need to take pre-orders so the engraver can start the process days before we actually start in the store to accommodate the demand,” she said.
In 2013, Tairo expanded, using its experience as a fragrance and cosmetics distributor in Caribbean Travel Retail to create a sister company dedicated to the distribution of consumer products for the Caribbean local markets, called Somar.
Somar represents such brands as OPI, Moroccanoil, Wella Hair care, Cover Girl, Max Factor, and Energizer batteries, among others.
“While Somar has not been around as long, it helped us diversify our business,” says Robert Bassan. “It really catered to the changing consumer behavior. We see consumers migrating to two poles of the beauty spectrum. We have high end customers looking for expensive, luxury and niche brands, and then we have other consumers who are more value conscious, looking for semi-mass and masstige products.
“So whereas Tairo supplies travel retail stores with more select brands, Somar is more geared to the drug store and super markets market and local consumers.”
Whichever end of the beauty spectrum the Tairo companies supply, the Bassans say their same theme and philosophy applies: “Our business continues to focus on our three pillars– our customers, our suppliers, and the team members who have been with us for as long as they have. They spell our success.”