Robertino Vissani, chief executive of Vissani Casa and Vissani CasaDD Sourcing Partners, knows no other life but the furniture trade. As he recalls it: “I was basically born and grew up in a furniture store as well as in factories. This is what I have always known.”
That was a natural environment for the youngster as Vissani Casa is a second-generation enterprise, established 50 years ago in Italy’s Marche region, renowned for its furniture industry. The company, like its peers, according to Vissani, grew as a response to an economic boom at the time. “Then, there was a big market for consumer goods. In our small town, which had a population of 10,000 people, everyone was dealing in furniture.”
At first, Vissani Casa focused on expanding its retail capabilities in the area, and eventually, throughout Italy. When Vissani joined the company after he finished his education, he says: “That was when we looked abroad for buying opportunities and projects.” The rising executive was sent to attend international furniture fairs and visit production sites, especially in Asia in countries such as China, India, Indonesia and Thailand among others.
Asked to sum up Vissani Casa’s market profile, Vissani says: “Our retail component is concentrated in Italy, while our sourcing and export development activities take place around the world. We are a well-known specialized retailer, and probably one of the oldest in our area. To survive over so many years is not easy, and you need to evolve your retail format day by day, following the changes and challenges in the market.
Who does he attribute the company’s longevity and success to?
“We have a core team of about 10 persons, made up of skilled and expert designers, working on any one project. Depending on the number of projects [we have], we adjust the number of professionals and partners whom we work with.”
Vissani says their designers usually start their career in the company as apprentices before graduating to junior or senior designer levels. Some individuals have even worked with them for over 40 years. “Our competitors always try to hire them away from us,” he beams with pride.
“Our showroom is about 5,000 sq. m., and our headquarters, warehouse, from where we ship hundreds of containers, and other facilities are located within our complex,” he adds.
According to Vissani, their business format revolves around being a one-stop furniture and kitchen store that deals largely in customized projects. “We do our best to meet clients’ needs and requests, offering them great design, quality material and affordable prices. Italian customers are especially quite discriminating [when it comes to such details].” He says they do not see the need to import too many foreign furniture brands as local production is very competitive and priceworthy. “Remember, one of the first suppliers and partners of Ikea was Italy.”
A good number of projects, which Vissani Casa derives good income from, are accomplished overseas and are residential or hospitality based in nature. “Using our production network in Italy and abroad, we try use the best combination to get the best price, service and quality. I cannot give too much information about these projects, except to say they are generally big and delicate affairs, and that we deal with the important players, especially in the Middle East,” Vissani reports.
Asked about his sourcing activities, he says: “After many years in the furniture business, I know all the main players in manufacturing, whom we have been working with for a very long time. I can say our network is the best in Italy.
“It is a very long process, and that is not just to find the right factory [to partner with]. It generally takes some years of work and investment to see some results. We first have to do some difficult tasks. Thirty years ago, I was sourcing from India…27 year ago from China and Singapore…three years ago, I was the only one foreign buyer in Ukraine. Now, I am developing Africa. About 15 years ago, we started to cooperate and develop products and collections with them for some of the biggest retailers in the world. Such is our strong connection with our production partners that we help them access markets in the Middle East, China and Asia and Africa. For example, last year, we supported the successful participation of two Italian factories in Furniture China in Shanghai.
“Nurturing close relationships is something I learned from my family.”
Vissani admits the current health crisis caused by the Covid-19 virus has been challenging for his business, as it has for the entire furniture industry. “In this situation, we do not plan too much anymore. We are forced to navigate in the short term, and flexibility is compulsary. We have to seize opportunities when we spot them. At first, we could not deliver any goods, which meant no revenues. But things are okay now, and we are trying to recover fast what we lost.
“However, a lot of our foreign projects are on standby since many countries continue to be on lockdown. But we are always following up on the progress of the work.”
The current health crisis has also inspired Vissani Casa to fast-track digitalization. And while it may not be easy to purchase a complicated kitchen or furniture set or run a project online, the Vissani Casa team is learning to adapt. This leads their boss to say: “All communication is now online and so are meetings. We try to be constantly in contact with all the players in the furniture world through various [online] platforms.”
Their showroom, he says, has no problem accommodating shoppers, following unprecedented health regulations laid down by the government. “Our store is spacious, and social distancing is not a problem. Generally, the customer has done his research online, and comes prepared with what he wants”.
“It may be too early to tell, but Italians seem to be paying more attention to their home, making it a safe and comfortable place to stay in. This has made the furniture market quite good, and we hope this trend will continue.”
Vissani Casa started out 50 years ago selling “very simple and basic furniture,” according to its top executive. Today, while the showroom carries some prestigious Italian furniture brands, their house brand is still its main highlight. With stiff competition the norm among local furniture dealers, Vissani Casa provides the expected full range of post-sales assistance including helpdesk, interior design, renderings, onsite measurements, project site supervision, delivery, installation, warranty and refund.
Times may be volatile and uncertain, but Vissani Casa has always been in the business for the long haul. The entrepreneurial spirit that inspired its early beginnings is still present, and will no doubt help it meet the challenges of the “new normal.”