Enthusiasm and expertise. This is the key to Piquadro's success, according to founder and CEO, Marco Palmieri, who, on the wave of the good results of the company in the financial statements for the year 2021-2022 (closed positively in terms of sales and profit), has decided to share them with the company employees who do not benefit from economic performance-related incentives in their contracts. This means that 76 factory workers, warehouse operators and office staff will soon receive an extra month's salary. “If a company is doing particularly well, and we did very well last year,” says Palmieri, “and if there is a full-blown inflation of 8% with perceptions perhaps even higher and salaries remain the same, inevitably we see a problem of sustainability, especially for lower incomes. We are all rightly committed–and we are the first to do so–to creating projects on environmental sustainability, but if you don't think about social sustainability, you won't go far”.
And Palmieri is someone who has come a long way. He transformed a small company in Riola di Vergato (Bologna) that produced on behalf of third parties–it was 1987–into one of the leading businesses in Italian-produced leather goods. Is it going too far to say that sustainability is the foundation of a successful business story? Not for Piquadro, which has made sustainability its trademark, in Italy and abroad.
Marco Palmieri loves his homeland. In 1997, he stopped producing for others and founded Piquadro, an Italian brand of high tech and innovatively designed leather goods well established on the market. “Our company started 25 years ago producing in Asia,” he explains, “then, over time, we have brought all the production back to Italy, in our site in Scandicci.” Today, Piquadro sells its products (bags, suitcases, accessories) in over 50 countries around the world. But the company remains firmly established between Florence and Bologna, where it has its headquarters in Gaggio Montano. Here, in the Bologna Apennines, Palmieri made another move as 'enlightened' entrepreneur. “A year ago, some friends and I decided to take over a ski resort thirty minutes from our headquarters in Bologna because it was going to close,” he says. “This meant that 40 ski instructors had to find work elsewhere and a few dozen other people as well. So, we took over the ski resort and we are trying to ensure continuity and improve it.
The thing that catches the eye,” he says with a well-deserved touch of pride, “is that, in the end, gathering together our entrepreneurial expertise in a facility that had always been very small and not particularly well-organized, immediately created an extraordinary drive and the resort got going again. We brought some healthy entrepreneurial expertise to an outdated facility and broke all revenue records last year. However, it is certainly not something from which we do not want to make money,” he points out, “but by the end of the winter, there were about a hundred people working there and about forty in the summer, and we did it to leave a mark and help our community.”
When the business world devotes itself to the public good, it’s the thought, “it does so with organizational skills that are far superior to those possessed by local small businesses, with immediate and enormous benefits for the entire community.” Piquadro has been involved in many similar initiatives in its 25 years (one good example is the Fondazione Famiglia Palmieri for the disabled). In the COVID period, for example, when all of Italy was stuck at home fiddling with computers (some for work, some for study), Marco Palmieri's company enabled 70 students to follow their lessons via distance learning. “With the help of school principals,” recalls the CEO, “we looked into how many families in our valley were unable to follow lessons via distance learning because they did not have a PC and a connection at home. We found 70 families and so we bought 70 PCs and 70 connectivity keys and distributed them to families who needed them.”
When the business world devotes itself to the public good it does so with organizational skills that are far superior to those possessed by local small businesses, with immediate and enormous benefits for the entire community.”
Florence and Bologna, we said earlier. But Piquadro today is much more; Palmieri picks up where we left off: “In 2016, the company bought The Bridge, which is a historic boutique in Florence that was in trouble that we believed we could get back on its feet, thanks to our industrial and distribution skills. And that’s what happened. At the time of the acquisition, The Bridge had a turnover of around €20 million and losses of nearly €3 million. 24 months after we took over, the business produced revenues of around €27 million. Then, in 2018, we bought the historic Parisian company Lancel from the Richemont group, which owns Cartier and Montblanc. Again, in this case, we restructured and repositioned the business, and now all Lancel production, which was scattered around Europe, is all made in Italy in our factory in Scandicci. And, whereas when we made the acquisition, it was losing a lot of money, today it is making a profit: after 4 years, despite COVID, despite the Yellow Vests and all the problems we encountered, we managed to get it back in balance. Without layoffs and transferring the production to our site in Florence.
But what is Piquadro's secret? “In my opinion, there are two factors that lead companies to success,” Palmieri replies promptly, “enthusiasm and expertise. And this is why we also do things for social welfare, which generate enthusiasm, a spirit of body and belonging. We must be brave enough to say that these things, in addition to being good for the community, also have positive returns for businesses. And this is what entrepreneurs have to understand.” And he explains, “We do these things for two reasons: the first is an inscrutable reason which is called ethics: we all have our own and does what we like; the other, on the other hand, is financial motivation: if I do good for my community, I add value to my brand. This value includes prestige, a sense of belonging and a thousand other things. Therefore, you cannot explain ethics, because we all have our own. However, if the company begins to understand that there is also a financial return, albeit not an immediate monetary return but the construction of economic value, the company's approach to doing good improves in any case.” Therefore, he concludes, “To other business owners, I always go like this: I don't tell them 'use your ethics', because there is no need to say it, but instead I suggest: 'do it for the benefit of your business'.
Today, sustainability goes hand-in-hand with innovation. Palmieri doesn't wait for me to finish the question: “Having a rational and engineering background, we have always placed the emphasis on technology and the functional usefulness of the product, on rationality as well as aesthetics. So, we design and create many user functions: large and small pockets, practicality.”
The latest example? “Now, we are all making collections that have night-time visibility features because, with COVID, urban mobility that does not depend on the subway and public transport has increased a lot,” he says. “People travel much more by scooter and bicycle; so, in our backpacks, we have introduced LEDs, invisible when they are off, which improve visibility at night. In addition, the battery lasts for ages, so you don't have the problem of recharging your backpack every evening.” There’s more: “In this historic moment where time is more fluid and is no longer so rigid for workers, we are producing backpacks that have very separate compartments: one for running shoes, for example, and the other for documents, so that the same backpack can be used to go to work and to the gym. Today, a large part of innovation involves the use and consideration of the ecological process: from recirculation to disposal .... “All the nylons we use are 100 percent recycled,” emphasizes Palmieri. “In many products, we include a percentage recycled index. Everyone says ‘this product is eco-friendly or green’– it's the thought– but how much of this product is made of recycled material? One percent or 100 percent? Because it changes a lot, both in terms of development skills and in terms of costs. So we add a tag that says PQ Recycled Index, the percentage of recycled material that makes up the product. If you have a 64% PQ Index– which we have patented–you know that 64% of that product is made with recycled material. And we are very rigorous and transparent about it.”
Everyone says ‘this product is eco-friendly or green’ but how much of this product is made of recycled material? One percent or 100 percent? Because it changes a lot, both in terms of development skills and in terms of costs.
The latest collection, which will be in stores in September, is even one step further forward: “We calculated how much CO2 it takes to make the product,” says Palmieri, “for example, you buy a backpack and you know that it emits 16.1 kilos of CO2, or rather the production involves that quantity of emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Well, we then suggest how to offset these emissions.”
How? “If we agree that traveling 350 kilometers for an average car means emitting 16 kilos of CO2, you can self-offset for your backpack by simply taking the train for 300 km. This is a fun way to transfer awareness to the end consumer of the size of their carbon footprint and how to offset it, because otherwise everything remains vague,” he says pragmatically. “It’s not an initiative that changes the world,” he admits, “but it helps to transfer perception and awareness. Because the main players in consumption are the end consumers, who mostly have no idea how much CO2 they produce in their everyday lives.”
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