Fontanot has contributed to transform the staircase sector into an oasis of design. A family saga that has reached its 70th anniversary, and a story with a woman as one of its protagonists, Laura Fontanot, vice-president, who has applied her passion to achieve excellent results, making the firm an example of Italian know-how and an expert partner for major international projects by outstanding designers.
Design has long been a sector in which few women have managerial roles… is that still the case? To some extent, yes. As a child I infiltrated the woodworking shop where architects, craftsmen and engineers – together with my father – designed and built staircases.
For me, design is something I have inside, so I could not have thought about doing a different job.I was lucky: in 1993 a position opened up in the public relations department, and my father assigned me to that role. But then I had to prove I was worthy of his faith in me.
Unfortunately, even today, women always have to prove something, while men do not. More and more women, as is happening in other sectors, are moving up in the ranks, but it is still too complicated, and I believe that to have success we have to take advantage of our uniqueness, our ability to communicate in a simple way, not imitating men.
What are the characteristics that make the company modern? We are definitely a modern, cutting-edge company from many viewpoints. We know that we have to be a presence in every commercial channel, to take maximum advantage of the available sales opportunities and to increase our brand’s visibility.
We operate in retail, web and contract, with an internal/external organization that uses all the tools available today to stay in contact with clients. The whole world of social networks, “one to one” encounters with architects, press presentations, etc… everything is orchestrated, overseen and monitored by expert staff.
We believe in security and in fact we use complete SAP management systems. We have an advanced managerial structure, collaborating with specialized consultants for strategic projects.
This year your company celebrates its 70th anniversary. How has the market changed across these decades?
With globalization and the economic crisis, what makes a difference is attention to detail and the use of new technologies. While the competition is fierce, at the same time quality and research play an increasingly important role. For every one of our projects we use certified materials to ensure very high standards of safety and security, exploiting every possible channel. Hence the great importance of e-commerce, which rounds out the offering of physical points of sale, and provides us with the possibility of reaching an much larger audience.
Is the kind of Made in Italy you represent still a positive value on an international level? Certainly, in spite of it all, Made in Italy is still an added value and Milan is still its focal point. I like to think that the staircases we produce are the trait d’union of the different spirits of Italian decor. Countries like France or Spain, Germany, England and the United States are bringing major rewards. The internationalization of our offerings becomes a key to nurture the desire for Italian goods on the part of foreign clients. My background in set design has helped me to imagine spaces, and in this work imagination is fundamental.
Fontanot is a family company. Why do the most successful Italian brands still have this characteristic?
I think it’s a very good thing. I have a sort of symbiotic relationship, for example, with my father Enzo: he is my mentor, an example for me and my brothers, Francesco, the president, and Michele, project manager for the R+D division.
Not all family firms are success stories. The secret seems to lie in the genuine passion that goes into the process. Are you proud of this company?
Very much. But not only because it is “in the family”… I also believe we have done great things. We have worked on amazing projects like the Bosco Verticale, or the Unicredit Pavilion, balancing tradition and modernity.
Projects for the future?
We want to continue in the same direction, because 70 years are not enough. Thanks to collaboration with designers and architects from all over the planet, we want to demonstrate that design knows no boundaries, and that Italian excellence still has a lot to say.
The industrial planning for the next three years focuses on three points: development of new markets in the Far East, major investment in the American market where our affiliate has had double-digit growth over the last three years, and reinforcement of the brand in Europe through a multi-channel strategy. We believe these lines of effort will allow us to internationalize, reaching our objective of growing a little more with ever passing year.
Some advice for women entrepreneurs?
Don’t give up! When they tell you it’s a man’s job, that you have to do things in a certain way, don’t be afraid to break the rules. I have always done just that.