Colombini Group: Giovanni Battista Vacchi, I like challenges

We met Giovanni Battista Vacchi, CEO of the Colombini Group, an Italian family-run business incorporating four brands: Colombini Casa, Febal Casa, Rossana and Bontempi

by Claudia Giulia Ferrauto

Giovanni Battista Vacchi took on the role of CEO of the Colombini Group three years ago, just before the pandemic struck, following a glittering career including time as CEO at internationally renowned brands like Ferretti USA and Bertram Yachts, Citylife, Zucchi-Bassetti and Grandi Navi Veloci, as well as significant experience in private equity and multinationals.

The family-owned Colombini Group comprises Bontempi Casa, Colombini Casa, Febal Casa, Rossana and the Colombini Contract division. Four brands that represent the height of Italian craftsmanship paired with the most innovative technology.

 «BONTEMPI CASA SPECIALISES IN EVERYTHING FOR THE ‘CENTRE ROOM’ – TABLES, CHAIRS, SOFAS, POUFFES AND CUPBOARDS. ITS PRODUCT FEATURES AND PREMIUM NATURE MAKE IT THE BRAND
THAT IS CLOSEST TO THE BOATING WORLD AND MOST SUITABLE
FOR USE ON LUXURY YACHTS».
GIOVANNI BATTISTA VACCHI

How did you deal professionally with entering the business at a particularly challenging moment in time? I was supported by four main pillars, the most important of which was undoubtedly my experience, albeit in the world of design, not furniture. From boating at Ferretti USA and Bertram to real estate with Citylife and home decor and textiles with the restructuring of the Zucchi Bassetti Group, or during my time at the helm of EY in the luxury goods sector, I have always worked in sectors where design plays a major role. Secondly,  I had joined an extremely strong and reactive business that placed a great deal of importance on family values, and this ensured we did not deviate from our course even when faced with a moment like the beginning of the pandemic when it was very unclear what the future would hold. The third was my highly pragmatic and managerial approach, based on long-term planning, which I have always had and which happily the shareholders have also embraced. As soon as I joined the business, we developed a five-year plan for 2020-2025, which allowed us to continue to invest in people, markets and products, keep the factories open and acquire market share, even when the future was unclear. Having visibility, statistics, direction, tactics and ambition has undoubtedly helped us in the medium-to-long term, enabling us to take short-term decisions that did not stray from our vision. The fourth was our ability to react. The fact we stayed open when our competitors decided to close and invested when others were hesitant strengthened our market position and allowed us to remain close to our dealers and distributors, both industrially and with investments in production and communication, while everyone else was slowing down. You can see from our results that this paid off: in 2020 we maintained our revenue despite a roughly 10% drop in the market. Then in 2021, we delivered over 30% growth, excluding acquisitions, which gave us a total growth of 60%, compared to 20% growth in the market as a whole.

Febal Casa has developed a total-look concept for the home, where great efforts have been made to create uniform finishes everywhere from the kitchen and living room to the bedrooms. Febal Casa has its creative management team, with Paolo and Carlo Colombo’s A + + studio, which recently released a capsule collection, unveiled at the latest Salone del Mobile furniture fair, designed by star architect Daniel Libeskind.

The Colombini Group contains various homeware brands, and acquiring 60% of the Bontempi Casa Group has made your position even stronger. What are each brand’s distinctive strengths, which make each range unique and recognisable? Let’s go back to our origins, to the product that gave the group its name: Colombini Casa. It combines value for money with excellent quality, offering entry-level furniture that includes everything from kitchens and wardrobes to bedrooms and finally nurseries, for which we are the leading company in Italy. Our product is aimed at all families and is sold in around 4,000 different outlets. Then we have our flagship retail brand, Febal Casa, a historic kitchen brand that has developed a total-look concept for the home, making great efforts to create uniform finishes in all rooms, starting from the kitchen. We believe this strategy has been extremely successful. We are the only premium company in the Italian kitchen and furniture-making market, outside the luxury arena, to have its creative management team and partnerships with major designers. At the last Salone del Mobile furniture fair in Milan, we launched a capsule collection by star architect Daniel Libeskind, designed exclusively for Febal Casa. Next, we have Rossana, our high-end kitchen brand, the perfect choice for those wanting a kitchen made of the highest-quality materials. Then there is Bontempi Casa, along with its secondary brand, Ingenia. We acquired a majority shareholding in the firm in 2021: it has a premium/luxury positioning and specialises in everything for the ‘centre room’ – tables, chairs, sofas, pouffes and cupboards. Its product features probably make it the brand closest to the boating world, with a level of quality that makes it suitable for use on luxury yachts. And finally, there is the Colombini Division, which is the name of a wide-ranging division that covers all our contract and residential operations, as well as hospitality and hotels for all the group’s brands.

The group has a strong position in Italy, but what is the situation abroad? The foreign market represents a great opportunity for us, and we are implementing a series of activities to foster growth outside Italy. We believe wholeheartedly in the American market, where we opened our Colombini Group of Americas branch in 2021 and our first single brand office in the United States in Miami, featuring the brands Febal Casa and Bontempi Casa, the latter of which is currently the group’s best-performing brand overseas. We are also doing very well across the Middle-Eastern market, both in retail and in the contract and residential sectors.

«ROSSANA IS THE COLOMBINI GROUP’S HIGH-END KITCHENS BRAND. A HISTORIC BRAND THAT REPRESENTS THE PERFECT EXPERIENCE FOR THOSE WANTING A KITCHEN MADE FROM THE FINEST MATERIALS». GIOVANNI BATTISTA VACCHI

Continuing with this broad outlook, technology is being introduced into all sectors nowadays. How is Colombini using technology in its manufacturing processes and integrating it into living spaces? When it comes to technology, we are undoubtedly very advanced both from an industrial perspective – in all our manufacturing processes and facilities – and our adoption of innovative approaches. We were one of the first groups to use artificial intelligence and applied mathematics to optimise our manufacturing. We made these decisions in 2021 both to improve our manufacturing processes and to increase our sustainability, as it allows us to minimise waste and so boost our ESG credentials significantly. When it comes to home automation, we are certainly very receptive to the idea. We do not produce the technology ourselves, but we are studying it and analysing it: home automation is increasingly becoming a part of life, so we try to study the products and incorporate them more and more into our living rooms and kitchens, to make them increasingly attractive for consumers. But our main identity remains a business that produces beautiful things for the home.

«I still have a great deal of affection for the yachting sector, after my eight wonderful years in the Ferretti Group, plus I am still on the board of Cantiere del Pardo and Quick Spa. I hope to see increasing numbers of Colombini Group products on yachts not only on the Mediterranean but across the world». Giovanni Battista Vacchi

Talking about sustainability, how is this aspect managed within the Colombini Group? We have a professional R&D department that works endlessly to find innovative, high-tech solutions for the materials we use, considering both how attractive they are but also their lightness, which means we use fewer raw materials and produce less waste.  This also applies to other aspects, such as using paints with a low environmental impact and reducing waste in our processes. We continue to invest in these areas and try to use products and components with the lowest possible environmental impact.

COLOMBINI DIVISION IS A WIDE-RANGING BRAND THAT COVERS ALL CONTRACT AND RESIDENTIAL OPERATIONS, AS WELL AS HOSPITALITY AND HOTELS FOR ALL THE COLOMBINI GROUP’S BRANDS.

After such a wide-ranging discussion, I’d like to return to an interview you gave some time ago when you explained that having analysed your targets and revenue, you expected the Colombini Group to achieve a turnover of €250 million by 2025. Thanks in part to our acquisition of Bontempi, we achieved this result in 2021. We did well: all my colleagues and the management team were brilliant, and the shareholders were great, and brave too. I am certainly very happy: after all, we achieved the targets we had set for 2025 in 2021! Now we face a new challenge, and so we are working on a new strategic plan for the next five years, based on the results achieved in 2021 and 2022. Our plan is ambitious but entirely achievable. Because a plan that cannot be turned into reality is nothing but theory. Meanwhile, an achievable yet ambitious plan gets the business moving, driving it on and allowing it to work as a compact unit.

(Colombini Group: Giovanni Battista Vacchi, I like challenges – Barchemagazine.com – February 2023)