We met Guido Lombardi of the historic Lombardi shop in Viareggio. Here is what he told us about the ability to find one's way, in an industry that - at times - makes one lose the certainties on which the business was built
Viareggio's historic Lombardi shop is now in its fourth generation.
It was founded in 1900 as a small housewares shop. Back then, the founder would cycle from Viareggio to Pisa to get Ginori plates to showcase. Today, his great-grandchildren go out in person to find customers, touring cities in Italy and abroad, to offer them all the services they want. We are talking about special customers: wealthy and with yachts, and the story is the one we are about to tell you.
“We had a small family factory outside the city, owned by my great-grandfather, which made terracotta pots,” Guido Lombardi, son of the current owner, tells us. “From there, the idea of opening the shop in the city centre was born. It was tiny. More or less 40 square metres. My great-grandfather used to cycle from Viareggio to Pisa to buy Ginori plates to display in the shop window.”
Then WWII came.
“The population of Viareggio was completely displaced by the fighting. People took shelter in the hills and the shop was closed. After the war, the shop no longer existed; those who fought, on both sides, had stolen everything.
When my father reopened the shop, all he found was a broken porcelain bird on the floor, what remained of a small piece of a vase that had also disappeared. My father then took this little bird and walled it up on one side of our workshop. Even today, for us, this little bird is a symbol of rebirth.”
After the war came the golden years. “People bought a lot, wedding lists came into vogue and this success lasted for at least 30 years. Slowly my father built what is the shop today.
We went from a small shop of 40 sqm to having a whole building and 600 sqm of exhibition space.
My father then had the good fortune to get to know some people in the nautical field and in the 1980s we started working in the naval supplies business.
Until 2006, we always worked very well; then the crisis started for all shops in the sector and, little by little, even the historical ones started to close.”
Turning a crisis into an opportunity
"To survive this difficult time, my brother and I made a clear choice at one point. We decided to focus on the luxury sector, with the development of yacht supply, also thanks to the collaboration with the main shipyards in Viareggio and the network of international knowledge gained over the years. We have gradually built up a network of important and wealthy customers both in Italy and abroad, to whom we offer a personalised and comprehensive service. From storage to polishing silverware, from grinding crystal to assisting designers with projects as diverse as luxury residences, yachts and private planes.
We also buy products directly from companies, have them customised and branded, and every year we offer new items, because we like to change all the time.” Both Lombardi and third-party brand products. “The most interesting ones are also distributed through the new online shop, which complements the traditional sale in the historical premises in Viareggio.”
"We put a lot of emphasis on personalised service, which includes all stages of the relationship with our customers: the assistance, the welcome, the advice, the luxury of the shop, the attention to detail in the packaging, the products themselves, plates, cutlery, glasses, which we personalise and brand with our name.
Our shop is not a supermarket, where the customer enters, takes the product, goes to the till and pays for it. Our work is more like that of an interior designer. We give advice and our advice is included in the price of the product our customers buy.”
"We personally select each object, because we have experience and innate sensitivity to understand how to instinctively meet the tastes of our customers. We don't follow the collections that the brands offer very often, but we buy according to what the customers ask for.”
The future of retail: a new relationship between suppliers and shops is needed
"Unfortunately, nowadays a lot of shops like ours, which used to survive mainly thanks to wedding lists, have disappeared, so those who have not found viable alternatives have closed down.
In addition, e-commerce has boomed and consumers on the Internet find prices that are inevitably lower than in shops.
Suppliers are also to blame for many of the closures, because they used us as shop windows for their products, charging a list price to the public and used us as a shop window to sell their products directly on their online site. We are left with two alternatives: either succumb or rebuild a new relationship between supplier and retailer.”
Would you advise a young person to open a shop?
Margins today are really low, so you have to have resourcefulness and ideas, come up with original formats and objects. I say this clearly. Either you make things yourself, seeking out new suppliers and launching original products, or you break away from the big brands that impose sales at list prices, without focusing on an effective partnership that mutually enhances sales and customers. With the margins that old-fashioned selling gives today, it is impossible to survive.
In my opinion, to help us, big companies should make special lines exclusively for retail, and thus allow shops to sell different things than what customers commonly see online.”