Forward – always – but with care. Starting with a vision that makes no concessions to the present situation of the ceramics industry, the CEO of Marazzi, Mauro Vandini, with careful wisdom, imagines the lines of growth of the leading Italian ceramics group
Interview by Gilda Bojardi – Edited by Antonella Galli
The company continues to invest in new facilities, technology and acquisitions (the latest, in 2017, is the Emilceramica group). In an exclusive interview, Vandini illustrates the key points of this new model for Interni, starting with a lucid analysis of the industry.
As a market leader, can you tell us about your view of the present situation in the ceramics industry?
Until now Italian industry has based its growth on a business model that is essentially linked to product innovation. If we look at how ceramic tile is evolving in the world, we can see that if the Italian system remains the same, its production will be increasingly for a market niche, with three big question marks: first, the quality of the entire worldwide industry is rising, so competition will be increasingly fierce; second, there will be great pressure on margins, due to excess production capacity in Europe, which will be a constant; third, the logistical models of distribution are rapidly changing.
For Italian industry it is no longer sufficient to base growth models only on product, which remains fundamental but cannot be the only factor. The competition at the level of distribution of ceramics is undergoing strong pressure from online sales, which until a few years ago we did not expect to happen. There are already French and German sites, and there is no reason for them not to arrive in Italy as well. These evolutions will put the Italian industry into a different, more complex position in the years to come.
Starting with this analysis, how should the district system try to cope? What are the resources that should be involved?
The present situation implies changes in the industrial-productive model, towards an organizational structure more oriented towards process control. Much less time is devoted to control functions, because they are done by the process itself, and much more time is devoted to thought, on all levels, from the factory to marketing, from sales to logistics. This is a positive development: i.e., we can take advantage of it, boosting capacities and knowledge in the company, triggering very rapid evolution on a professional level. But it is also one of the hardest things to achieve. We should not be Italians who export to Europe, but Europeans that export to the world, and have ceramics that are even more beautiful than they are today.
How can this be done?
With research, with capable people, getting back to a certain humility that has been lost, at least in part. What once brought about the success of Italian companies now becomes a limit that prevents them from seeing the future. In Italy we are seeing a drop in prices per square meter and in sales, while Spain is having growth, and other European countries are starting to produce things very well. In terms of technology, there are products like the laminates that are quickly evolving and are beginning to present themselves as alternatives.
But ceramic tiles are more beautiful. This becomes a growth possibility. Marazzi wants to move in this direction: our companies, being able to produce in different European countries, have the capacity to exploit this layout, to be more and more local in Europe. Today Marazzi produces in Italy, Spain, Poland, Bulgaria. It is not a question of producing where it costs less, but of raising the overall level.
Marazzi has invested in innovation and technology, leading to new products: what is the level of investment in innovation? And how has all this changed the corporate system?
Innovation, or also changes in general, absorb from 5 to 9% of sales in the area. And in these years the entire sector, not just Marazzi, has continued to invest heavily. There are two kinds of investment: to make processes more efficient, and to improve products. Both of them call for investment in human resources, lots of training, but also lots of willingness on the part of people. We have to find alternative factory models, super-specialized and super-flexible. Great flexibility, great efficiency. Marazzi as a whole always manages to stick to its objective: it can generate 20% of sales with new products. Today you cannot be good at one thing only: you have to have a very wide range of products and technologies. The chain between retail (points of sale) and commercial (contract, traditional dealers, architects) has to change, taking into account the fact that the do-it-yourself channel, which is altering its models of display and sales, and the online channel will become increasingly important.
Regarding products, we are working at 360° on all the technologies and all the expressions, and I am satisfied with the results achieved with the large slabs: they are perfectly planar, with an excellent system of polishing and clear reflection, and they are free of inner tensions thanks to machines that control the internal micro-structure. So they can be cut and shaped very easily, which is necessary, for example, in the segment of countertops, which we are approaching today.
What role is played by design in this strategy?
I believe it is necessary, and that technology has to help in this regard. I intend to create resources inside the company that work from a technological viewpoint so that the production plants and research can permit designers to have even greater expressive freedom. Within this discourse, flexibility is equally important. Flexibility and technology make it possible to respond in an optimal way to the creative needs of architects.