05 / 03 / 2023

Interview I – 100 Years of Oropal



On the occasion of Oropal’s centenary, Irurena Group has conducted a series of interviews with professionals who, in one way or another, have had a connection with the brand. Professionals who will reminisce about their association with Oropal and the evolution of one of the leading brands in the market within its segment. Commercial and industrial milestones will intertwine with personal experiences in a dozen interviews with a common denominator: Oropal.

Oropal is Irurena Group’s brand for industrial and decorative paints, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in the year 2023. It was founded by the Franco brothers in 1923. Here, you can chronologically follow its long journey throughout the 20th century.

We kick off our series of interviews dedicated to Oropal with Ángel Arruti and Juan Busnadiego, manager and commercial director of Oropal Paints for 35 and 40 years, respectively. Two individuals who embody the history of a paint brand that faced significant challenges, market changes, and its own disappearance just a few years away from becoming one of Spain’s few centenary paint brands.


Manager of Oropal Paints for 35 years | Lawyer and Economist

He joined the company at the age of 31. A very active individual in various professional fields until he decided to slow down and dedicate his time to Oropal and his family.

After the pandemic, he wrote “Donosti. Su historia con el aitona 2022” (Donosti. Its History with Grandpa 2022). A book edited by himself and distributed by the Elkar bookstore that recounts the history of San Sebastián from 1800 and transports his granddaughter through the narrative. The work had a significant impact on the city and its residents. So much so that, even to this day, he continues to receive thanks from readers who appreciate having been provided with such an enriching reading of the city’s history.


Commercial Director of the brand | Metallurgical Chemical Engineer

He started working at Oropal at the age of 25. He came from the world of metals, but he didn’t have much trouble adapting to the marketing of paint.

Over the course of 40 years, he dedicated all his efforts not only to marketing paints but also to organizing events, designing packaging, and promoting the brand through advertising.

Ángel and Juan welcome us leaning against the railing that borders La Concha promenade. This is not a randomly chosen meeting point, as one of the most recognized symbols of Donostia is painted with Oropal’s Orolex 284 Blanco enamel.

Prior to this, we had asked them to answer some questions about their work at Oropal Paints. This was to gain a better understanding of their roles in a different production, commercial, and work context than what exists today. Thus, they explain that Ángel was in charge of the industrial division, while Juan was responsible for the sales division of paint for construction and distributors.

What does Oropal mean to you?

Ángel: Oropal is a very significant part of my life. After all, I worked with the company for practically my entire professional career: from May 1, 1980, to September 30, 2015. That’s 35 years!

Juan: It signifies the image of a brand to which I devoted 40 years of my working life. Practically my whole life. I have friendships, memories, and anecdotes to write a book. I maintain contact with clients from Andalusia, Catalonia, the Basque Country, Galicia… Not just through phone calls, they also come to my house for a few days of relaxation in the city. And if I happen to be in their area, I always make a point to visit them.

What are the most important milestones you would highlight for Oropal?

A: Without a doubt, the different relocations of its manufacturing center. First, from the center of San Sebastián to Pasajes, then from Pasajes to Urnieta, and finally from Urnieta to Azpeitia. Each of these moves represented a significant modernization and adaptation to the demands of the time. It is also worth noting, for its impact on modernizing management, the transition from a regular collective company to a public limited company.

J: When I joined the brand’s management team, the owners kept the year of the company’s foundation hidden. They didn’t find it interesting to reveal it; they thought it was synonymous with old age, obsolescence, something that would diminish the brand’s prestige. When, in fact, it meant the opposite: experience. But they gave us the freedom to display it on packaging and in advertising, to highlight its value. Even though they had a different vision, they were open to change.

At that time, we began a new era that has brought us to the present day. We succeeded in ensuring that a modest company, in a complex market, continues to thrive to this day, celebrating a century of existence.


Fábrica de Pinturas Oropal en Urnieta

Oropal Paint Factory in Urnieta, close to San Sebastian

How has the brand managed to last for so many years?

A: Perhaps the most important reason has always been prioritizing the personal relationship with customers, creating a very intimate bond. In many cases, we have even established a family-like connection, which has allowed the business relationship to endure over several generations.

However, this approach would not have borne fruit if it hadn’t been supported by top-quality products and the unquestionable belief that customer needs have always been at the core and the highest priority in Oropal’s management.

J: I agree with Ángel. The secret has been the relationship with customers, built on mutual trust, and in some cases, true friendship. We knew the names of their children. We used to visit them, and they would invite us to their homes for lunch. We had to creatively meet the demands of customers and counter the large campaigns of multinational companies. This was achieved through close and entirely personalized attention to each customer. Some friendships endure to this day, so it wasn’t just a business relationship; over time, it became like a brotherhood.

It was a time when the way of interacting with customers was attentive and down-to-earth, one-to-one. To some extent, we can think that this way of working has disappeared due to the rise of online sales and social media, but companies like Irurena Group still maintain this approach to addressing customer demands. Something that large multinational corporations cannot offer.

What are you most proud of in your professional journey at Oropal?

A: I came from the injected plastics sector. That allowed us to enter a very innovative and high-value-added world at the time, such as painting plastic parts for appliances (control panels, portholes, etc.) and automotive (steering wheels, hubcaps, etc.).

Furthermore, that prior experience gave us a significant introduction to the elevator industry (OTIS) through the supply of waterborne paint for immersion baths for painting doors and motor blocks. Likewise, in the appliance industry for the electrostatic enamel painting of refrigerators and washing machines (FABRELEC, FAGOR).

Penetrating the large retail sector for the manufacture of their white-label products was also important. We proposed the idea of selling paint to Eroski. The way to achieve this was by delivering them personalized packaging. We went from producing 200 paint cans to 4,000. Working for a giant like Eroski expanded our production and forced us to relocate the factory.

Finally, I would also like to highlight that from the management, we promoted the change from a split workday to a continuous workday, allowing employees to develop personally in areas outside their work activities, even though there was no demand for it from the staff. Thirty years ago, we were pioneers in implementing work-life balance measures, which are so popular today.

J: Always, I had the freedom to develop the projects that were being proposed. We had to compete with large companies and carve out a niche in that market. To do this, we would have meals to close deals at the gastronomic society to which Ángel belongs. Clients from outside were amazed by the gastronomic society culture and our way of making agreements in the Basque Country.


Línea blanca de pinturas Eroski fabricada por Oropal

White line of paints by Eroski manufactured by Oropal.

How did you achieve the change in working hours?

A: We took advantage of the factory relocation to Urnieta to modify the working hours. Up until then, it had been a split workday, but the employees were given the choice between a financial incentive or switching to a continuous workday schedule. We opted for the latter. Thanks to this action, another afternoon shift could be created. In addition to the new work-life balance policy, this new shift resulted in increased company profits.

What would you highlight about the team that kept Oropal alive throughout the company’s journey?

A: Above all, the boundless enthusiasm and dedication, based on a strong identification with the brand as something very personal, which made everyday work very easy and enjoyable. It was an extra motivation to go to work.

As a result of this spirit, the remarkable fact is the low turnover of the staff, as in practice, the person who entered Oropal stayed until their retirement.

J: Although it may seem paternalistic, the relationship within the management team was almost like a family. Those were very delicate times, and it was necessary to unite forces to compete in a very complex market. With a well-designed organizational structure and a relationship of total trust, all the objectives were achieved.

Back then, there were no marketing, sales, finance, or export departments. The two of them managed to carry out the tasks that corresponded to each department.

A noteworthy anecdote is one that Ángel tells: one day, Juan showed up with his daughters’ markers and sketches of designs for new packaging. With this modest material, they began shaping the brand’s new image. Juan spent the weekend drawing, and on Monday, at the factory, they decided which design would go to market.

What did Oropal mean for the market at the time?

A: It was a leading brand in terms of quality, and its small structure provided it with the agility to adapt to the market’s needs at any given moment.

J: At the end of the 1970s, there were over 400 paint factories in our country, while Germany had only 200. Out of the 400, only around 120 were part of ASEFAPI (Asociación de Fabricantes de Pinturas y Tintas). Today, the top 10 paint companies account for 45% of total production, and the number of companies has decreased.

What did it mean for Irurena to continue with the marketing of Oropal?

A: Firstly, it meant preserving the workforce and avoiding the closure of 26 individual careers. We opted to seek an alternative. A strong synergy was created within Irurena Group because the end customers for their varnishes were very similar to those for paints.

Secondly, I would highlight the strengthening of the brand by integrating it into a large group whose ultimate market was very similar. This has resulted in strong commercial synergies. And finally, it has made it possible for us to celebrate Oropal’s centenary this year.

J: The entry of Irurena Group onto the scene in 2015, with an interest in marketing paint to complement the wide range of products they were already manufacturing, was a great opportunity to wrap up my long career and, most importantly, ensure that the brand didn’t disappear. All of this was achieved while retaining as many jobs as possible.

It was a new line of business for Irurena Group. Until then, they had only manufactured and sold varnishes, but with Oropal, they expanded their scope to include paint sales.

For me, it meant getting to know new areas, new distributors, and markets. It was two years of hard work, but I have fond memories of it. It was the culmination of my career, and it ensured that the brand didn’t disappear.

What would you highlight about the work that Irurena Group is doing with Oropal?

A: Irurena Group has maintained close and personalized attention to customers, providing assistance in every personal project and transparency throughout the process. They have also contributed to making Oropal an important player in the market again through significant investments in brand image, R&D, and the commercial network. This has resulted in Oropal becoming a brand with significant competitive advantages in this complex market.

J: The integration has been perfect, with the same enthusiasm that always accompanied us during the transition. Irurena Group has successfully embraced a veteran company, much of its staff, and propelled it into the future.



Thanks to Ángel and Juan, Oropal did not disappear. Just a few months before their retirement, they sought a way to convince both parties to transfer the brand to another coatings manufacturer. Perhaps one of the greatest milestones for Oropal, the one that ensured the brand’s continued presence in the market and contributed to us celebrating its 100 years today.



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