Building Simplicity: Vigon at 25
In the first part of his career in flavor and fragrance, Steve Somers,
owner and president of Vigon International (East Stroudsburg,
Pennsylvania), quickly learned that the business was a “battle of
overhead, efficiency and simplicity.” The industry, he explains,
is “plagued with logistical challenges,” creating widespread
inventory difficulties driven by a large number of materials and
uncertainty surrounding the potential success of any new flavor
or fragrance launch. Ninety percent forecast accuracy on such
projects is simply not possible, he explains, adding that the greater
the scale of the company, the greater these challenges become.
When Somers purchased Vigon in 1998 from founder Victor
Fulgoni, he focused on small- and medium-sized customers
that distinguished themselves on superior service. He realized
they would expect the same of their supplier, and there would
be value associated with that. He gradually grew the company
from 10 employees to more than 65. Vigon rolled out carefully
curated partnerships with multinational ingredient suppliers,
while expanding its own manufacturing capabilities, with a core
focus on value products rather than commodities. The philoso-
phy is simple: “For our 2,000 items, we must have stock, and
ship today in any pack size with no minimum order.”
Throughout the supply chain, people are being asked to do
more with less, says Somers. With everyone under ever more
pressure, and having less time to do their jobs, the market craves
suppliers that bring “peace of mind”added value. It wasn’t always
this way. Twenty years ago, Somers explains, companies would
accept longer lead times and take regular price and inflation
increases as a given. Even as the automotive industry and oth-
ers were innovating and squeezing costs out of processes, the
flavor and fragrance industry remained relatively distant from
the challenges of price sensitivity. Those days are long gone.
“You’ve seen more automation, the need to be more efficient,” says
Somers, adding that about 70–80% of Vigon orders are shipped
out same-day. “As a smaller company, we want to do a great job
without having to bring in all that overhead.”
“What we’ve always done here is look at what resource
requirements we need and fulfill them without adding that
[extra] overhead,” Somers continues.“That’s where the war is
being fought in our industry, especially on the fragrance side.
How do you make it quicker, cheaper, better and environmen-
tally safer, [and address] quality control and quality assurance
in the most efficient way?”
To serve a market that is increasingly cost-conscious and
stringent on lead times, Vigon built simplicity: leaner, simpler
processes programmed into a customized enterprise resource
planning (ERP) system. Somers says, “If we make it easy for
us, we make it easy for the customer.” Simple information tech-
nology (IT) tools such as customized dashboards are found at
every workstation, from customer service to quality control (QC),
production and shipping.
“These tools, drawing data from our ERP, were conceived by
the users themselves,” says Somers, adding that recent investments in IT made the entire QC process paperless. “Every
sample is now barcoded, and analytical results (including GCs)
and conformance are automated and captured electronically.”
To support increasing regulatory requirements with the advent
of a globally harmonized system (GHS) and growing export
sales, a new SDS-authoring (safety data sheet) software allows
Vigon to issue globally compliant documents in a multitude of
languages at the click of a button. In the reaction-distillation
plant, an electronic process control system is deployed to track
and record all key production parameters so as to simplify and
ensure process repeatability. A customer relationship management (CRM) software is also being customized to further simplify
all sales processes, from market intelligence to marketing campaigns, from quote management to seamless order processing.
Meanwhile, the company continues exploring opportunities for
gro wth, including international markets and new product categories. Twenty-five years in, Vigon continues its pursuit of simplicity,
focusing on one simple concept—building a team and culture
revolving around having fun.
Vigon’s manufacturing capability includes a reaction, distillation, and an extraction area
utilizing human-machine interface (HMI) and PLC technologies.
Vigon’s QC lab features a paperless system utilizing barcode and touch screen
technology, electronic GC imaging, and benchtop tablets for recording analytical results.
Vigon’s warehouse and distribution management systems utilize wireless barcode
technology to manage container level inventory.