Large groups: how much and why does being ‘big’ help in the world of furniture? The CEOs of Italian Design Brands, Flos (Design Holding) e Mezzalira Investment Group explain

Synergy between brands and management supported by digital, in processes and communication, and a strong international presence. These are, in summary, the strengths that have guaranteed the stability of large groups during the Covid era according to Roberta Silva, Chief Executive Officer Flos (Gruppo Design Holding), Gianmaria Mezzalira, Chairman and CEO of Mezzalira Investment Group e Andrea Sasso, Chaiman and CEO of the Gruppo IDB. Waiting for a return to a shopping experience that – everyone agrees – customers miss a lot, but to which they will return soon, albeit in different ways.

Brand independence and digital push

“We have not changed the model in the last year but have continued to strengthen the synergies between our brands and the structure that supports them,”, says Andrea Sasso, Chaiman and CEO of the IDB Group. Under his wing coexist Gervasoni, Meridiani, Cenacchi International, Davide Groppi, Saba Italia Modar and Flexalighting.

What model is Sasso talking about? “We guarantee the independence of entrepreneurs supported by the corporate structure that acts as the glue and drive for development projects. The pandemic has accelerated the synergies between the business areas: furniture, lighting and high-end contract. Being present on international markets was also helpful. In 2020 we opened a group branch in China and we will open one in London in the coming weeks. We are also looking at North America with great interest”.

The contract sector in recovery

The growing contract sector in pre-Covid is also in difficulty as a result of the crisis in high-end brands and therefore the slowdown in the opening of new stores. Crisis that is leading to profound changes in spatial concepts. The hotel sectors and the world of offices are more interesting. “In this sector”, confirms Andrea Sasso, “we are experiencing a recovery. Investments in luxury have been postponed but not canceled. For the contract market, we have a central structure dedicated and transversal to all brands with people in Milan, London and Suzhou who are involved in supporting the acquisition of orders”.

Product launches: now it's all online

The digital push has been very strong”, says the CEO of IDB, “We had to strengthen our digital communication department. Last year there was no Salone del Mobile and this year too there is great uncertainty. We then rescheduled the product launches: online with the production of videos, social and content marketing campaigns. We have activated the commercial functions with new methods of distance selling. We contacted some overseas customers who in presence we had difficulty reaching through our new platforms and received a very positive response”.

Dilute presentations over time

In recent months the companies of the Group have presented many new products; sofa designed by Cristina Celestino for Saba Italia and the Anima lamp designed by Davide Groppi and Giorgio Rava for Davide Groppi. And with the latter, a new presentation method was tested. "We produced a pre-series that we offered to customers without showing it, verifying high brand loyalty: the lamps were all purchased”, concludes Andrea Sasso, “it was a surprising experience. We are also comforted by the market data; from May 2020 to date, a recovery has been confirmed for us, leading to unimportant decreases in turnover compared to 2019”.

During this long period of distancing companies have realized that presentations can be diluted without concentrating them all in one period of the year, a strategy that does not always pay off. That it is therefore possible to have a ‘editorial’ approach, planning proposals for different times of the year and different audiences; what fashion started doing years ago.

Transversality and common projects

Roberta Silva, Chief Executive Officer of Flos, a company of the Design Holding Group, controlled by the investment companies Investindustrial and The Carlyle Group, which brings together the brands Flos, Louis Poulsen, B&B Italia, Maxalto, Azucena and Arclinea, confirms that the last year's holding is it also depended on transversal work and common projects between the brands.

“We started ecommerce in America many years ago and now we are working on a platform that crosses the holding”, says. “Even with regard to digital marketing years ago Piero Gandini had already understood that this was the direction to take and had hired Barbara Corti, Head of International Marketing and CDO of our company, who has a great deal of experience in the sector”.

Adressing different generations

For Flos it is increasingly important to activate communication methods that reach very different targets and generations. “Last year”, confirms Roberta Silva, “we made the portable Bellhop lamp with Supreme, a fashion brand: it went like hot cakes. A digital operation that has reached many types of buyers, not just a very young audience. In recent years we have moved from a product centric vision to a customer centric vision; we have made substantial changes in the way we interpret the needs of our customers”.

Before the pandemic, the company already had an agile organization with many of the people able to be flexible and work remotely. With the health emergency, communication has also changed: “We started talking about the lives of our users and the relationship with light in their homes”, says Silva. “A story of the intimacy of our customers that brought us very close, we shared universal aspirations and values​​”.

Dialogue with clients in intimacy

The catalogs have been transformed into stories – published in a biannual magazine, Flos Stories – tells the story of the individual products. It can be found in stores or digitally: the aim is to create a lot of customer loyalty.

During the lockdown, the presence mechanism in the showrooms was speeded up and transformed into Local Connections: multimedia stages through which all the new products of the decorative, architectural and outdoor collections were exhibited and launched.

“The world of decorative lighting is responding very well to the recovery in all parts of the world, especially in Scandinavia and Germany, while the contract and showroom network is recovering more slowly”.

Digital saturation

Among the various initiatives, the result of this epochal transition, also also the activation of the Flos Lighting Academy, aimed at the sales force but also at retailers and designers, and also organized through a digital platform.

“There is a lot of talk about digital saturation”, Roberta Silva concludes with an ironic accent, “now we can do nothing but stay at a distance but the shopping experience will once again be predominant, albeit in completely new ways. In this direction we are opening the first group D Studio in Copenhagen, where we will present products and provide services in synergy for all brands. A format that we will replicate in many other countries in the world, a real revolution”.

Towards phygital

“Our agents have not been able to move and therefore we have defined a system that works through social media and meetings on video calling platforms, but we have never abandoned the idea of ​​creating places for the brand. It was during the pandemic that we inaugurated the new showroom in via della Spiga in Milan and China”, says Gianmaria Mezzalira, president and CEO of Mezzalira Investment Group, a company that brings together many furniture and lighting brands  Jesse, Rotaliana, Sinetica, Sitland and two mechanical and component companies (Mwm, Sacemi Gamar. Among the latest acquisitions Mascagni Ufficio and Rexite, two historical office brands. 

“We are planning to create an e-commerce portal common to the brands, where all the collections will be found even if some types of furnishings are difficult to sell online. But the complements, accessories and lamps can find attention among the final customers. We got new opportunities thanks to SIMEST (a company of the Cassa Depositi e Prestiti Group) which is supporting companies by giving us tools that help us to be stronger on international markets” continues Mezzalira.

The home sector is recovering

Of all the sectors, the home sector is the one that is confirming a recovery most rapidly; not only Jesse but also Rotaliana. The office, on the other hand, is supported by the large projects that the Group follows abroad; the traditional sales channels are still in difficulty.

“Despite having brands in the supply chain, we are very diversified”, continues Mezzalira, “and we sell through different channels. For this reason, the Group as a whole is responding well to the crisis. The first three months of the year did not get off to a bad start, although in March there was a new slowdown due to the closures”.

“We have to be close to customers and therefore digital tools are increasingly strategic. But we feel the need for a great sociability and therefore I expect a rebound and the desire to renew our living spaces”, concludes Gianmaria Mezzalira. “The particular moment has prompted us to also activate new services: for some private housing projects we have organized ourselves to send samples of finishes to customers; to reconfirm that the experience and tactility of our products are not replaceable”.


Cover photo, Win seating collection, design Paola Navone for Gervasoni.