Comex Group

At Comex Group, “paint” is another word for “passion.” A leader in the fabrication and distribution of architectural paint and coatings in North America, Comex is one of the top four in its market, and with the 2004 acquisition of Professional Paint Inc. (PPI), it garnered more than 100 years of industry history and experience. This experience, coupled with the group’s intense love for the paint industry, is the driving force behind the success of a company that continues to dominate in its field.

Comex CEO Leon Cohen speaks enthusiastically about the business of color. “The world of coatings and paints is very passionate; it’s a fun world where we should take advantage of it all,” he says. Cohen intensely believes the role of his company – and all other companies in the industry – is to provide the community with new, fresh surroundings.

“All of the people who are dedicated to the world of paint are all doing something for the community, for society … to offer a different atmosphere,” he adds. “Because color changes your life.”

How it all Began

Today, Comex Group is the world’s largest exclusive paint retail network with more than 3,700 stores, but 50 years ago the company was just a hardware store in the center of Mexico City. Like other hardware shops, the store carried and sold all the paint brands on the market until a man came in one day who sent the shop in a different direction. He owed money, but didn’t have enough cash so instead he paid his debt by giving his old WWI paint mill to the store and staying on as an employee.

From that moment on, the company began creating its own quality paint and selling it at wholesale prices. “When people would come and see our paint, they preferred the Comex brand at the better price,” Cohen notes. Other stores also began selling Comex paint, which continued to grow in popularity for the next 15 years until one day it was met with opposition. Up to 10 of Comex’s biggest competitors established a boycott of the brand and called for retailers to stop carrying it or they would cease fulfillment of their purchase orders.

Retailers began returning Comex paint and demanding reimbursement. “We were holding all that paint in the factory,” Cohen relates. “You can imagine the factory was full of paint buckets from the store and all the way into the street, too, because there was nothing to do with them.” But, instead of accepting defeat, Comex used the situation as an opportunity to grow by becoming an exclusive distributor of its own brand.

In one month, the company opened 120 small shops throughout Mexico City that measured just 210 to 320 square feet (20 to 30 square meters) in size. It was an innovative idea.

The Comex stores were the only ones that specialized in one brand of paint; all of its competitors were multibrand shops.

Comex continued to expand, opening new stores with its employees as managers. As business grew and more shops opened, some managers became restless for more responsibility and asked to take over their stores. Although the company was hesitant at first, after careful consideration of all financial details, it was decided that Comex would allow the stores to become franchises, establishing them as a network of dealers dedicated only to Comex.

This change turned out to be the right move for Comex Group – the entrepreneurs took better care of the stores as owners than they had as employees and the company moved ahead as the absolute market leader. Today, there are 3,100 of these stores in Mexico.

What Sets Comex Apart?

The company’s passion for color transfers over to the quality of its products. “What sets Comex paint apart is the fact that it is designed according to the client’s needs,” Cohen notes. Each regional company produces paint formulations that have been rigorously tested to perform in specific climate conditions. In addition, the company has a strict quality system for the materials it buys, the processing of its products and its delivery. “That has made our products very well received by our consumers and that’s why we sell so well,” Cohen says.

With all the technology and innovation behind Comex’s paint and coatings, their performance is guaranteed. Its ISO 9000-certified manufacturing facilities, Polymer Research Center and Laboratory for Visual Color Evaluation are the only ones of their kind in Latin America. Continuous research and development allows Comex to offer products engineered to exceed the most stringent specifications.

Comex is not only ahead of its competitors in quality, but in choices, as well. Its vast array of products consists of more than just paint for houses, hotels and buildings. It carries specialized coatings for more uncommon structures such as drilling platforms, energy towers, ships, factories and petrochemical plants, as well as lacquers for furniture, specialized paint with faux and textured finishes, roof gardens and even adhesives.

The Team Behind the Group

Comex Group’s passion and subsequent success are the products of a dynamic team. “Our people are very innovative, always very advanced, constantly growing,” Cohen says of his co-workers. Although there is a lot of respect for the competition, the Comex team makes every effort to stay ahead of market trends and not follow them. The company studies carefully what the clients’ needs are in order to be able to serve them.

The most important thing, Cohen shares, is the belief that the people are the most integral part of the business; they are the most important part of what the company is and does. The turnover rate at Comex Group is low. “Employees feel very good about working within the company and remain passionate because it’s a company that allows them to mature and grow,” Cohen says.

In addition to passion and innovation, its people provide the company with considerable experience. Comex Group’s team of local businesses offers professional services to cover any need. Expert engineers, architects, designers and contractors advise and work closely with their clients to provide professional painting and coating services.

The company has experience in working extensively with different types of architectural projects including manufactured housing, new home construction and multifamily housing. Its array of professional services also extends to specialized industries such as healthcare buildings, theme parks and commercial developments.

Book Sense

The people at Comex Group believe “color is the most effective way to convey a concept in architecture; to project innovation, renovation and vanguard-ism; to express lifestyles and reflect the trends that affect the world market.” For these reasons for the past four years, the company has developed a book that presents color trends 12 to 18 months in advance ­and serves as a professional tool for architecture and design experts.

Optic Play, Rare Sensibility, Human Nature and Soft Loop are the styles represented in Comex’s most recent publication. They are inspired by “new values of conscience and humanity that are emerging in a world that is more involved in the environment and more than ever looking for emotional experiences based on advanced technological systems in a generation that communicates virtually.”

In the Optic Play section of the book, color is displayed as a form of fantasy, experimenting with new combinations of textures and matte colors and creating interesting reflections of light. In the Rare Sensibility chapter, readers see examples of a modern design where ’50s home décor meets coastal glamour, with a classic feel.

Human Nature is inspired by people’s tendency to maintain and improve themselves—its colors show vibrantly through elegant and lively textures and products. Finally, the Soft Loop section offers a seductive style with color designs that blur together, using crystal, mineral and animal elements in matte tones.

Plaza Carso

Comex Group’s most impressive current project involves painting Plaza Carso, the new commercial and residential center in the heart of Polanco. When completed, the development will have five buildings for residences and offices, a mall, a cultural center and the largest parking structure in Latin America.

The entire complex is more than 8.6 million square feet (800,000 square meters). The sheer size of it presents a challenge to the painters. From the exterior to the interior, from the parking area to the water cisterns – every inch of Plaza Carso will be covered in Comex products with service provided by Comex Group.

In the restaurant, Comex used its fire retardant coating. The water cisterns are enclosed and underground, so the workers had to wear scuba-like equipment to breathe properly. Plaza Carso opened in February.

Only the Best

Comex, once the No. 1 paint distributor in Mexico, is now number four in North America, but the group plans to rise to the top again. Being the largest company with the most volume and synergy used to be Comex’s advantage.

The company plans to take back its spot as the best paint distributor by continuing to grow in experience and size while providing excellence in paint quality and customer service. “We don’t want to be the biggest company on the market, we want to be the best, serve our clients better, be the best producers, be the best in service – that is what we want,” Cohen says.

Comex Group’s other goal is to continue to grow in all of North America and Central America, in addition to growing in new market segments other than decorative paint. mt