A ‘marriage’ that works is also based on little things: like the conversation, in perfect harmony, between Roberto Gavazzi, CEO of Boffi, and Luca De Padova, president of De Padova, as they narrate the phases of an alliance between the two brands inked in April. The two protagonists intertwine their thoughts in a natural way, almost like a single mind. This alliance is based on a profound understanding, where Boffi takes over a 100% share of De Padova’s capitalization, making Luca De Padova the president, and Roberto Gavazzi the CEO; in turn, Luca De Padova has acquired 7.5% of Boffi shares, taking on the role of vice-president, again with Gavazzi as CEO.
HOW DID THE IDEA OF THIS ALLIANCE COME ABOUT, AND HOW HAS IT TAKEN CONCRETE FORM?
Luca De Padova: Roberto knew my mother, Maddalena, and the two of us met in 2011: there was an initial idea of collaboration connected with the spaces on Corso Venezia. There was always the awareness that we could do something, though of course there were other suitors…
Roberto Gavazzi: A lovely lady always has many suitors…
L.D.P. Boffi’s project was the most convincing.
R.G. i’ve always had this ‘bent’ for alliances, for widening cooperation to become stronger, more visible, able to interpret design development projects in a more complete way, allowing Boffi to continue with its job, namely the systems of the home – kitchen, bath, wardrobe. I had already talked about the De Padova operation with Maddalena fifteen years ago. What happened recently with Luca is a stroke of good fortune, because De Padova is the perfect partner for Boffi.
WHAT IS THE GOAL OF THIS MERGER?
L.D.P. The objective is to be stronger across the whole range of home furnishings: from the kitchen to the bath, the wardrobe to the living room, the bedroom, systems. In this way we have thought about being truly complete in our offerings and our target – the two companies often have the same customers already. For De Padova it is important to be able to rely on the Boffi sales network.
R.G. There are 55-60 monobrand stores in the world, that manage to sell 70-80% of Boffi’s production. Only 25% is sold in multibrand stores.
WHAT DOES THIS COMPLETENESS OF THE OFFERING BRING YOU?
R.G. Italian furniture companies are all quite small; to be able to develop internationally requires larger size. In recent years distribution opportunities have decreased: at times we all have to stand in line outside the door of the same distributor. Instead, it is very important to have force of the brand, and enough corporate force to open direct stores. Boffi was already moving in this direction on its own: the model of the store on Via Solferino in Milan made it possible to replicate this type of solution. The main problem of Italian furniture companies today is to get access to foreign markets. They all produce very good products, they all have great creativity and a good image. The difference is the force of the brand and the capacity to distribute on foreign markets in a strong way.
BUT IF THINGS ARE THAT SIMPLE, WHY ISN’T EVERYBODY DOING IT?
R.G. Only certain companies do it: the costs are very high if you want to open stores around the world (a minimum of half a million euros for stores in Europe, one or two million for New York or London). It takes time to make them work, to develop an efficient team.
L.D.P. Roberto sees far into the future: the 22 direct monobrand stores were opened gradually; the ability to manage them is fundamental, as well as a good knowledge of the market.
IS THE INTERNATIONALISM OF BOFFI AND DE PADOVA ON THE SAME LEVEL?
L.D.P. De Padova has always been recognized on an international level by a small niche of admirers. The brand has great potential that needs to be developed: since 2007 we have pressed in this direction with our sales staff, but this partnership will give us much greater force on foreign markets.
R.G. Most of our direct stores – at least 15 – will be both Boffi and De Padova, but there is no one dogma; it is a relatively quick way to conquer certain cities. Twelve monobrand franchises will also take on De Padova as another trademark: in the span of one year we will create about 30 Boffi and De Padova stores. But the operation has been such a success that we are receiving other requests: De Padova has lots of room to grow.
WHAT WILL BE THE CRITICAL MASS OF SALES YOU CAN REPORT AT THE END OF THE YEAR?
R.G. In 2015 we should reach 82 million euros: 7 from De Padova, 75 from Boffi.
COULDN’T YOU SALVAGE THE DE PADOVA SPACE ON CORSO VENEZIA?
R.G. No, for various reasons: apart from the economics, there was the need to communicate a radical change of approach. The new De Padova headquarters, which will open in October, will be on Via Santa Cecilia, without shop windows. In our view, furniture stores should not become big showcases, especially in places like Milan where the brand is well known. We are not interested in the desire created by the shop window: Rossana Orlandi’s store creates lots of desire, without windows; the same is true of Corso Como 10. You can’t understand our project from the outside: you only discover it inside. At Via Santa Cecilia you enter a building from the 1950-60s with a modest look, though the interiors are extraordinary: there is a tunnel leading below ground, lit in a theatrical way, reaching a plaza with a garden. There you find an underground store, but it is a luminous place, with lots of displays; you then go back up, in an area that was once a pharmaceutical firm, into a sort of loft with a height of 4.3 meters and big industrial windows. This was also the headquarters of Dolce&Gabbana, which was born and grew here for 30 years: a great success story, a bit like our story at Via Solferino, where there was Romeo Gigli before Boffi arrived.
L.D.P. The showroom has been conceived to propose a new way of selling furnishings: not just furniture, but everything that makes a home a ‘depadova home,’ with items ranging from furnishings to finishes to complements. We will offer our clients a home of taste and style, as my mother did: the sensation of Milanese taste, elegant, chic, with a mixture of classic, modern, iconic or essential objects, like the Shaker furniture.
DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF DESIGNERS?
L.D.P. We have all kinds of projects; we will definitely work with Piero Lissoni, who will make a very important contribution. Lissoni, in particular, can do a very correct reinterpretation of certain De Padova classics, updating them; an operation we care about because some of our pieces are over twenty years old. They are pieces that still sell very well, but could be sold even better, taking the dynamics of new markets into account.
R.G. There will be all the historic names of De Padova, as well as designers who have recently worked with us, like Patricia Urquiola and Patrick Norguet, Philippe Nigro and Nendo.
WHAT IS THE RECIPE FOR THE EVOLUTION OF MADE IN ITALY IN THE DESIGN SECTOR?
L.D.P. Everyone has his own recipe; today there are investment funds that buy important companies, but they don’t necessarily put them together. We operate hand in hand, and this makes the difference.
R.G. Italian companies are small companies, and the wager is how to get bigger without losing creativity and appeal. In our case we want to reach 100 million in sales, because that is a threshold that will allow us to be sufficiently aggressive for international distribution. A transformation is happening in the Italian business world of design furnishings: it is an industrial system sorely tested by five or six years of crisis, where the lack of distribution, the crisis of the business model itself and a difficult generational passage are leading to radical changes. Historic companies are allowing themselves to be approached by investment funds that would not previously have had an opening. We are in a crucial moment for Italian design: the main changes will happen over the next three or four years.
interview by Gilda Bojardi – edited by Antonella Galli