Interview with Emilio Estévez, General Manager of COPLANT: “We are the most demanding just in time in Spain in the plant industry”


We talked to Emilio Estévez Martínez, general manager of COPLANT, a company that has been part of our board of trustees for more than 10 years. COPLANT Galicia is a trading and logistics platform that distributes ornamental plants from Baixo Miño to Spain and other European countries such as France, Portugal, England, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland or Norway. The strength of its logistics allows to place any of its 1000 live references in 72 hours anywhere in Spain, and in a week anywhere in Western Europe.

As a result of the collaboration between FEUGA and this company based in Baixo Miño, the project OC PLANT was born, focused on the development of a system to control and monitor the production costs of ornamental plants, and the tool Market&Stock Plants, which aimed to plan future stocks of ornamental plants, depending on the trends observed in the market. Both were developed thanks to funding through Pilot Projects of the Galician Food Quality Agency, AGACAL.

COPLANT started operations in 2004. Since then, how do you assess its evolution and that of the sector over the last 20 years?

The evolution is outstanding. COPLANT has two phases; the opening phase was in 2004, when the main nurseries in the area joined with the aim of grouping the brand and set up an S.L. to bill services in common; but the real commitment to COPLANT began in 2007 when it was decided to be an independent company in the operation, they hired external staff and, above all, decided to converge customers.

In 2007 I joined as General Manager and the commitment is significant already in the vacancy offer. They are looking for an industrial engineer; they are not asking for an agronomist, for example. They are already clear that they want to build a company with a focus on industrialization. That’s when we started a very interesting process for me, with an academic component as well. I am a professor in the master’s degree in logistics at UVigo, and for me it is a very nice adventure to set up a just-in-time and lean manufacturing system to ensure that our plants reach the places in Europe and Spain in the shortest possible time and with the highest rotation frequency. I am very grateful for the trust, since most of the companies that make up COPLANT are agricultural and setting up all this for them was science fiction. Thanks to everyone’s goodwill, we finally arrived and in that first year, in which not only I, but also my team worked, we had a turnover of 2.7 million euros and now we have a turnover of 15 million euros.

That is the significant evolution we have had, thanks precisely to this rotation system in which we are the most demanding just in time in Spain in the plant world. On order, we deliver in 72 hours anywhere in Spain and in the same week anywhere in Western Europe, with what I call the “law of the millionth”: we have more than a thousand references and more than a thousand customers, so there is a millionth chance that each order line will be repeated. And we are not a parcel company; COPLANT sells trailers with standardized plant trolleys.

The logistical requirement comes from the willingness to work in all the farms of the Baixo Miño, the management capacity of COPLANT and agreements with the University of Vigo, which is where FEUGA comes in. The foundation has been not only the entity that has sought the grants, but also coordinated the research projects that have allowed us all this just in time documentation. The documentary systems are “children” of FEUGA, which have managed to connect us with the university. The foundation’s team has also coordinated parts of the projects. For me, both Luis Carbia and Gonzalo Barrio, now enjoying his retirement, have been decisive people. I am personally very grateful to them for the great relationship we have and for their help. They have been fantastic professionals who have allowed us to be able to maintain a just in time document in a sector where conventional ERPs do not work. Our products grow; no one has a box of screws that changes gauge the following week.

With this information management, being able to have a thousand live references, of the 3000 references we have, and more than a thousand active customers all year round, has been what has allowed us to achieve such brutal growth and the Baixo Miño plant to be in fashion throughout Spain and in many parts of Europe.

 What has it meant for COPLANT to be able to count on R+D+I funding?

For us, counting on FEUGA has not been a quantitative or qualitative issue; it has been an all or nothing issue, that is to say, we would not have done it. We did not have that sensitivity. We met Gonzalo Barrio and he opened our eyes to a possible collaboration and, finally, we brought it to a successful conclusion. The first project we did was executed by Luis Carbia. They have both been with us since 2012, so a relationship of 13 years of success. They offered us to participate in the Board of Trustees of FEUGA and we accepted. Of course we did.

What has it brought to COPLANT to have such a close collaboration with FEUGA, being part of the foundation’s board of trustees?

FEUGA for us is key in the technological field. For me as a manager it is important to be able to attend these powerful conferences that are offered to the members of the board of trustees and the subsequent networking. I find it very interesting that FEUGA helps you to manage non-technological grants, an area that I think was opened with our projects and that is a source of pride for COPLANT. FEUGA acts for us as a global grant consultant. The talent part of the foundation is a total success, and it is a pleasure to be involved.

Do you plan to undertake any other project in the near future? In what areas does the sector need to innovate in order to be more competitive in such a global and demanding market?

We have already opened a new line of work with Innovation and National Projects. I hope that soon we will start working with the School of Engineers of Ourense to give a new twist to our just in time system and lean manufacturing to keep abreast of new technologies in the sector. We are already working in areas such as the digitalization of our warehouse, online sales, new marketing tools… We want to work again with FEUGA in this process of grouping different technologies.

What would you recommend to other SMEs that are thinking of taking a leap and looking for new innovative options for their business?

The first thing is that the small business manager should not be afraid of technology. He does not have to know the technology, he should hire those who know it. There are very good technology companies in Galicia, and the entrepreneur can be lucky enough to have one that allows fantastic developments. But if he does not know or does not have anyone to hire, FEUGA has the capacity to connect, to transmit knowledge, and to bring together those who know and those who need knowledge, and that is something ultra efficient. The foundation is a fantastic tool that also serves you in big and small things. We have always received the same affection in larger and smaller projects; there is no need to be afraid of transferring knowledge and technology.