Continuing evolution

With a new shareholding structure and growing sales, Calligaris is planning to reinforce its position in the sectors of lighting, outdoor furniture and contract, with an increasingly global design approach. We talked about it with the CEO Stefano Rosa Uliana


Text by Raffaele Panizza


It is usually hard to find such continuity in a revolution. Starting in October, Gruppo Calligaris has a new shareholding structure, but the same vision as in the past: that of dressing the entire home, from chairs to mirrors, carpets to upholstered furniture, tables to small, amusing decor complements (an operation that has already begun with the launch of the CoDe line). Without overlooking the hotels and restaurants, a growing sector which the company, in its new organization, plans to approach with decisive force, relying on a network of over 650 stores around the world.

“With a policy of strategic corporate acquisitions and collaboration agreements, we will reinforce our operations in various market and product sectors where we were weak in the past, completing our offerings,” says the new CEO Stefano Rosa Uliana, previously in charge of the group’s expansion, from 2010 to 2015, in the United States and Latin America.

The Alpha Private Equity 7 fund, which has acquired an 80% share of the company, will not only inject new resources, but will also act as an industrial partner.” In the headquarters at Manzano (Udine), with its immense facade redecorated with a pattern of white steel that resembles the straw weave of the chairs produced here one century ago, the strategy meetings proceed non-stop.

In the large showroom visitors can see the new Liberty chairs created by the architecture firm Archirivolto, with a long history of collaboration with the brand. The pink velvet tones of the Fifties collection stand out against a structure with a black nickel finish.

On the huge Sky carpets stand the Stellar and Icaro tables, surrounded by dozens of decor complements of austere, almost masculine elegance, thanks to the ceramic finish in shades of black, and the onyx used in the latest collections presented at trade fairs all over the world.

“Tomorrow morning I’m off to Paris, where we have just renovated the 300 square meters of the store on Rue du Bac,” says Uliana, 51 years old, with a passion for the triathlon. “France is one of the most important markets for Calligaris, where we think we can make even better progress in the near future.”

Driven by a Cartesian spirit and the pragmatism of Friuli (he has a degree in engineering from Trieste and lives with his family in Pordenone), the new CEO acts quickly to identify the areas of greatest interest, but also proceeds without haste, convinced that each step must be carefully thought out and planned.

“We will definitely make reinforcement of our range of upholstered furniture a priority, with a new collection to present at the Salone del Mobile in Milan, developed by Ditre, the upholstered furniture brand we acquired last year, with which we will boost our synergic relations.”

It is no coincidence that the De Marchi family, founders of the brand and shareholders in Calligaris, has remained a presence in the company as a stakeholder, as well as in the appointment of Michele De Marchi as sales director of the entire group.

“We will also be trying to complete our ‘total look’ offerings with a new approach to lighting, for which we are presently seeking an industrial partner,” the manager says, a veteran of important experiences steering the international growth of brands like Electrolux and Elica. The lighting sector, in historical terms, has always been one with particular complexities, from the supply chain to distribution, technology to the required certifications.

Another factor of solidity is the ongoing role of Alessandro Calligaris, who has retained a 20% share and thus remains in his office at Manzano, as the company’s president. His presence represents a guarantee of public relations that is very important for a sense of corporate continuity. Alessandro Calligaris is the historic owner, representative of the third generation of the family, which already in 2007 ceded part of the stock to LCapital, only to repurchase the shares after seven years, bringing the company to its 95th anniversary, and leaving a legacy of an updated brand with its points of sale aesthetically repositioned for the higher segments of the market.

“We have very beautiful stores, and some of them are in the most prestigious districts of cities like London, Paris, New York, Washington and Shanghai,” the CEO continues. “In the coming months the energies will be focused on the preparation for the Salone del Mobile in Milan, both to complete the product range in the categories where we are weakest, and to reinforce our retail model with the aim of supporting our partners and expanding our presence into cities and markets where we have not yet been in operation.

After Milan, I am not ruling out the possibility of developing the outdoor category, one of the few areas – together with the bathroom and the kitchen – that has never been covered by the Friuli-based firm: a category that has very specific sales channels, but at the same time is breaking out of seasonal cycles in a very interesting way.”

Objectives for the immediate future include the expansion – in advance of the High Point Market fair slated for October 2019 – of the offerings for the bedroom zone, from beds to furnishing complements. “Our styling division is able to design innovative pieces and to respond to the widest range of aesthetic requirements, but in the future I would like to get back to the collaborations with big names in design, as in the case of the Orbital table by Pininfarina: it is not a priority, but for 2020 we will also be exploring this situation.”

In the meantime, in terms of more strategic corporate management, the marketing and sales divisions have been separated. New energies have also been put into the ‘contract’ divisions involved in major non-residential projects, especially in the HoReCa sector (hotels, restaurants and cafes).

“The world of contract has its own rules,” Uliana explains, “and the creation of demand has to proceed with architecture firms, while the products have to guarantee levels of durability and ease of cleaning that are different from those of the residential sector, considering the intensive use to which they are subjected.

We are undoubtedly interested in adding these areas of expertise to the group, perhaps through an acquisition in this area. With the Alpha fund, we share in the project of grouping other companies, preferably Italian, which together with Calligaris can constitute a group capable of offering a wide range of furnishing products and expertise, to compete in the residential and contract channels all over the world.”

For the year 2017, Gruppo Calligaris reported sales of over 140 million euros, an increase of 7% over the previous year. The catalogue now contains over 800 products, available in 100 countries. There are two flagship stores, and Uliana does not rule out a larger number in the future, always in the most prestigious locations.

“The company already functions very well thanks to what was done by Eng. Calligaris during all the years of his management,” Uliana concludes. “Now we will try to evolve even further, to bring out all of its potential.”