Bogdan Panainte has set out to turn commonplace plumbing products into a must-have in a market where glass building and new block construction is growing in abundance. Bogdan Panainte entered the world of business after realising that the employee’s job didn’t suit him. His youthful CV didn’t seem to appeal to any employer so, together with his brother, he set out to sell gas detectors in Bucharest.
Ambitious and with a well-developed sense of aesthetics, Bogdan now builds his own products, his business, Homplex, being the only manufacturer of smart thermostats in Romania at the moment.
“I used to carry the detector in my bag. That I didn’t have anything, I didn’t have a presentation leaflet and I was going to each installation company individually. Slowly, slowly, I started to gain customers, things started to evolve. Soon after that we started importing, then in 2013 we said we should set a path. And that’s when Homplex was born, which at the time was called Division Gas Solutions”, says Bogdan Panainte, CEO of Homplex, for spotmedia.ro.
At first, the detectors were “imported”.
“But I had to find a way to offer a quality product at a low price. That’s the way it is in Romania in general. You have to offer good quality at a super price,” he recalls.
That’s how he thought of producing a detector. He researched and got directly involved and went from one detector to a whole product portfolio. A portfolio of thermostats followed.
“I didn’t know anything about moulds. So I did with detectors, so I did with thermostats. Time passed, I was lucky to have good partners. Right at the beginning I signed with Dedeman,” he recalls.
“After that, I remember we went with the detector we made at e-On, we were a small company, but we did our job well.”
Bogdan Panainte is an entrepreneur with a “build it” mindset driven by innate ambition. “If you tell me I can’t do it, I’ll show you I can,” he says.
“We developed the partnership, we started to develop the product portfolio, we started to work with installation companies and operators in the energy segment.”
In 2018 he also made Europe’s first all-radio solution, a solution that all players in his industry needed.
“In a block of flats, for example, there’s a radio gas detector in each apartment that communicates on the stairwell with a device, it’s called a Finder. Why is it called a Finder? Because it identifies the apartment number in case you have a gas leak. If you have a leak in flat 38, for example, it shuts off the gas to your whole block and tells you that you have a leak on column 2 with flat 38. It’s phenomenal for the plumbers, because they used to have to pull cables up the stairwell, to connect I don’t know how many dozens of cables from I don’t know how many dozens of apartments,” explains the contractor.
At the same time, Homplex started to look at ways of improving the sheet metal flanges (metal boxes) in which the gas meters are mounted. Looking to the future, Homplex has set out to create a 20-year composite flange ready for smart meters.
“Investments for a new product range from a few tens of thousands of euros to a few hundred thousand euros,” he says, confessing that he could not have made these developments without support.
“I find banks absolutely sensational, it seems to me that they have to exist in the life of a business, because you can’t do without them. It seems to me you have to have help. Because at some point, it helps you on the cash flow side. You generate a profit, but a lot of times the profit doesn’t help you grow that much and then if you want to grow, you go to a loan, you go to a line of credit, you go to all kinds of discounting, payment instruments. There are a lot of products and I think you should also look at the cost of using the money, which I haven’t looked at so much in the past. You have an amount, you invest it, it’s not for nothing that EBIDA exists that you have an interest there that you have to pay. You have a cost of use and you move on.
I remember many years ago, when I started my relationship with the first unsecured credit I got from BCR, it was a 1 million lei line of credit. And I know everybody used to say that if you want to develop a partnership with a bank, the first thing you have to do is to open an account and you have to run some amounts with them, to see how good a payer you are and then they will give you a line of credit. In my mind it’s all about indicators and how good a payer you are. If you have some good indicators, you will most likely get support from them. Now, even if you’re not that good, if you’re able to back up your story and say why I’m not that good right now but I’ll be better in the future, you’ll definitely find people who will understand that and give you support,” Bogdan Panainte tells spotmedia.ro.
What is your heart project?
Also through 2018-2019, we started our smart home project. It’s the newest and greatest. When designing this thermostat we had the design idea in mind. We felt it was important to have a device that you didn’t want to hide when guests came over. If you have a thermostat in your house, most of the time it sits on the fridge, covered in dust, so no one can see it. And we said, “Let’s make a cool product that looks good in the house.” We worked on it for about 3-4 years, it’s on the market now. It’s at the beginning of the whole architecture, that it’s clear that we’re going to build more and more devices in this smart home area. I’m proud of the whole thing.
When you start building, you realise that theory has nothing to do with practice. It’s only related in principle, but when you start putting it together, you actually see the differences. But what came out is very beautiful. And beauty has nothing to do with the usefulness of the product. Of course they have to be good, they have to be qualitative, but they don’t have to be built by engineers. Let them be more human.
For example, our thermostat also has a wheel that you turn to increase the temperature. It can also be controlled from the phone, during this period we do releases, updates, every two weeks for stability, for the server, for the app, for improvements. There are all kinds of optimizations, user experience stuff, to make it look better, to make it look clearer, to tell you the steps and it’s a period where we keep building. Right now we’re in Dedeman, Hornbach, MAM Bricolaj and we’re in open discussions with several retailers.
We hope that, in a few years, Homplex products will be on the shelves of all relevant retailers in Romania and that we will be the first choice for installation specialists because we have products that offer an optimal quality-price ratio.
So are you moving more into the smart home area?
We are present all along the chain. We are also present on the area of infrastructure that is being built, i.e. all the pipes. When network extensions are made, products are needed. And we have calibrated ourselves to the customer profile. Because that’s how ideas come. You go out and talk to people and they tell you how they would like the product to be and at some point you try to incorporate all that feedback.
We work with companies that develop gas, water, sewage infrastructure. We work, at the same time, with operators who develop their own infrastructure, we work with residential plumbing companies who we provide with gas detectors, thermostats, fittings – all the way to the house. So smaller plumbing firms, larger plumbing firms and retailers.
What is different about us compared to most Romanian installation companies is that we have the capacity to produce. That is, to build things from scratch. We also have a special mindset, I’m “crazy” enough to start building them.
Are you personally involved in design and creation?
Yes, I couldn’t stay away. I often cut them, because it seems to me that if it’s not beautiful, it doesn’t make sense. On this area of product development, yes, I’m directly involved and will continue to be because I love doing this. Just like I’m involved in the sales area, because I like the interaction with the customer.
What inspires you when designing these products?
My model is Apple. We’re clearly not on their level, but I’m generally attentive to detail too. I like to see a job well done. I was looking at one of these detectors, which is a trivial thing, but it has a finish that you can feel when you put your hand on it, it has a cut line, it just so happens that here we were lucky enough to implement branding into the product. And then things that are about functionality, a super stand that you put on the wall, things that are about performance.