SOPPEC is a company that has come a long way for almost 50 years. Today, you may recognize us thanks to our logo, or thanks to our products and their particularities such as our emblematic safety cap: the TP cap; but did you know that we have not always been the specialist in marking paint?
We invite you, through this article, to discover the beginnings of SOPPEC, its history, its anecdotes...
At the beginning
It all began when the father of our present CEO Christian de Maillard returned from the Algerian war, where he had spent 26 months (from 1958 to1961) in the 13th regiment of dragoon parachutists: the dragoons of the Empress. Upon his return he bought PERIAL laboratories, a single company that specialised in encaustic type maintenance products, located at Chantelle in the Allier region of central France. He did not keep the name for any longer than 6 months, and in 1964 he chose the name that will ring in your ears today: SOPPEC, and while he was it he moved the business to Charente.
Safety standards in those days was not what they are today, and he made the products in his parents’ cellar – it was not exactly risk-free. As for selling methods, they were not as straightforward as they are today: Christian de Maillard took orders from customers, made the products the next week and then delivered them the week after at the wheel of his 2 hp car. It was a different era.
It was a less than ideal production setting, so a little later he decided to set himself up in a much bigger building: an old paper mill at Tudeboeuf which these days is a reception centre and accommodation unit for the Companions of Emmaus.
He changed premises later, moving to a barn alongside a family home that he restored. The business expanded, and Christian de MAILLARD changed premises once again: in the mid-70s set up at Angoulême in one of the family business bus depots (Transports de Maillard) located at the bridge of Pisany. It was then that he began producing aerosols for retouching and finishing furniture (varnishes, tints and so on).
Christian de Maillard and his wife
The transition to aerosol marking paint
In 1978 SOPPEC expanded once again and moved to Nersac (the old site) a place that was itself expanded 1 or 2 times. It was at this old Nersac site that SOPPEC developed massively. During the mid-1980s, Christian de MAILLARD foresaw the decline in wood furniture as big players such as IKEA came onto the scene. He made the decision to diversify to concentrate on formulating and making aerosol marking products, using as his reference point the big American brands such as Nelson and Fox Valley who were leading entities in Europe at the time.
It was hard work starting out in the world of aerosol paints – the formulations were not up to scratch, the pigments caked up and the paint didn’t come out. During the 1900s Claude Bernard Michelot joined the business, and the formulas were improved and made reliable. This period irrevocably marked the start of the development of paint marking, providing genuine alternatives to the American competitors. New product launches were undertaken thanks to the marketing rep of the moment: Claude de THé (who was close to the Maillard family). Some of our older customers such as the French National Forestry Office (ONF) will still remember him for his doggedness and somewhat assertive reminders.
Thibault de MAILLARD took over at the helm in 1996 and in 2004 he bought shares, becoming a majority shareholder. The business continued growing through the noughties, during which time the new site that you all know was built, and the business moved here. You will learn more in the next edition of Technimag, so watch this space.