The entrepreneurial adventure begins
I’m Barbara De Rigo and I’m marketing director and head of corporate communications at “De Rigo Vision” which is the family business. Our adventure, let’s say better, that of my parents and my family, was born in 1978, when my father and his brother decided, somewhat by chance, to enter this sector. A relative who worked in glasses, then a brother actually from my mom side who worked in glasses, asked for support, funding, then financial support to run this company. And so they initially entered as financiers, then later the passion overwhelmed the family’s destiny, so both my father and my mother totally dedicated themselves to the eyewear industry.
This adventure begins and the resources come from another sector, which is precisely that of building and where they had started, always my father and my uncle, from scratch. So, taking advantage of this magical moment of the Cortina Olympics, where there was an explosion, on a building level, and then they started having this business. The company De Rigo precisely, which has become a large company, and which has therefore given way to make further investments.
In the eyewear sector, it started in 1978 and the company was a small company, it was a small company in Cadore, initially it was a small house, where about fifteen people were, including my parents and they started from there working as subcontractors, then for third parties, producing glasses for other companies or even opticians who had a certain structure and who proposed an ad hoc product.
A few years go by and in ’83 what happens to us is a bit of a miracle, in the sense that there is this great intuition, because I believe that the entrepreneur is first of all a person who has intuition, who is also able to see a little further, then this intuition and move from tertiary to creating a proprietary brand. So, in 1983 “Police” was born, which is the first brand of our company, both in terms of, let’s say, birth, but also of worldwide turnover and therefore “Police” is launched on the market, which is first of all a pair of sunglasses. So, taking inspiration from the American police, etc., we start with sunglasses. And this is also a big news on the market, because, let’s say, that the main brands, which were working at that time in the optical market, were mainly eyeglasses, therefore, it’s a bit of a revolution. In the same year, again because the magic was strong, we made a big acquisition, we acquired the brand, which was a bit in the imagination of the young people of the time, it was the brand with a capital b and so we acquired this company, the “Lozza”, the great “Lozza” and that brought us so much experience, so much history and a lot of knowledge. It is also, let us say, both for human resources, which we have taken together with the company. So, the company as a whole with all the productive part, etc., but also to say the archives of the “Lozza”, are always of inspiration still today, but always and very important also for the history, precisely that they tell us. Two years later, while still seeing space in the market, another brand called “Sting” was created from scratch, which stems from my personal passion, which at the time was very young, for the singer and this second brand was born. So, let’s cover all the segments of the market by using these different brands: “Sting” for the much younger band, a “Police” for the intermediate band and a “Lozza” which is a classic for everyone and forever, but a much soberer, much more classic eyewear.
Now we are a big company, we are one of the five main Italian companies based in Italy. In reality Italians, by now we are really few, in the sense that even our great competitors have been acquired or in any case are merged with large foreign groups. We are a company that invoices around 430 million euros and that includes both a part of “whole sale”, then of production and distribution, and a part of “retail”, so we are also an integrated company. A retail that we have not intentionally in the Italian market and we have acquired over the years, first a historic English chain, the historical chain of the English royal house called “Dolan and Hutchinson”, which we later merged with “Boots Opticians”, ” Boots “is the largest English chain in the pharmacy and has a division also linked to the optical product. Then, we subsequently made another very important acquisition in the Iberian Peninsula, so both for Spain than for Portugal. The chain is called “General Optica” in Spain and “Mais Optica” in Portugal. Here, too, with about 250 sales points, and the latest addition is a chain in Turkey, in the Turkish market and called “Opmar” and which is the smallest, the newborn and in a market even a little more particular, more difficult than the markets where perhaps we also have more experience, which are the classic European markets. So, we have about a thousand sales points in Europe too, considering these different areas.
The money to start
The initial funds, which then gave birth to De Rigo Vision come from the building industry, from construction in the sense that my father and uncle, from the late fifties start from scratch, from Cadore, start from Cadore with a great desire to do and no money in their pocket, but with the vision of this opportunity, which is Cortina, which was exploding thanks to the ’56 Olympics, and then they decide slowly with some workers who always come from Comelico, then the area of origin of my father and my uncle and decide to start with a very small construction company, which then grows over the years and consolidates thanks to a lot of will, a lot of passion and a lot of sacrifice on their part.
They work for many years in this enterprise and we certainly talk about the end of the 50s, so about twenty years at full speed, after the construction company continues to move forward, but this passion that is born for the eyewear world is then overwhelming and therefore involves a bit the whole family, including my mother and then after my parents specifically, which dedicate itself heart and soul to this eyewear company.
A negative and a positive event
A negative event that touched our company and that made us make various reflections, also in strategic terms, and therefore also in terms of marketing and communication and which turned the situation a little, was certainly the fact that at a certain point, also considering the success that our company was having in the market with these sunglasses, which had become in all respects an indispensable accessory, much more than in the 70s – 80s, therefore, in the 90s , there is this explosion of sunglasses, that is the advent of all and all the brands, so all the big brands that decide that at that point they want to make glasses too. Therefore, there is a bit of a rush to enter by the various companies, therefore, in large companies, even our competitors, to produce designer glasses. The designer eyewear usually had a rather high price, so it was not at the level of our “housebrands” that were our strength, but the brands what they do, they decide to start often even with a second line, I speak for example I don’t know of Emporio Armani, of Sichel, of these second brands that usually exploit we say the brand, but they are positioned on a much lower range, usually also on the younger consumer segment, which was exactly our positioning. So this strikes us in an important way, in the sense that we begin to lose market share, to see even with a certain awe these brand, because clearly they had a global presence compared to us, that in any case we had only glasses.
So, we make different reflections and we think, how we can react to this situation and we think that to strengthen our brands we also need the “testimonials”, the characters that give us even more value. So, a season begins which is not yet over in some respects, a season in which we decide to combine our brands with very famous and very inspirational characters for our audience. So, we start from the cinema, from sports, those worlds that are very similar to our target and we start to support the brand with these characters.
A very important event for the history of our company is the listing on the New York Stock Exchange, an event that happens in 1995 when the company believes it has the strength and also the need, from a certain point of view, to gather more resources to grow further. Therefore, this important decision to go on the stock exchange and in the stock market in America, with a decision also in this case very strategic, because we need to make ourselves more visible also in the American market. Our company has always been very European and also very strong in the markets, especially Middle Eastern and there was a need to land strongly in the United States. So, in 1995 this big adventure that allows us precisely, gives us a lot of visibility and also allows us to collect a large amount of resources, which will then give the company the opportunity to grow, not only as regards the part of “whole sale”, and therefore to grow and acquire new licenses, but also to become a” retail “company, therefore to make the first acquisition.
Thus, ’95 listed in the United States, ’98 first acquisition in retail. Therefore, also a 360-degree integration strategy, therefore the eyewear from production to distribution and direct sales to the final consumer.
Doing business in Italy
Today it is not very easy to do business in Italy and there are perhaps not optimal conditions. The country does not greatly facilitate what the Italian company is, but we were born here 40 years ago, over 40 years ago and we believe that the main strength of the company is human resources, people and in the territory, in our territory, especially for the work we do, there are people who have an extraordinary ability and competence, as far as our sector is concerned, so much so that the world of medium-high range eyewear, which is very concentrated in the Belluno area, in fact , is in the Belluno area. So, the very large companies are born here, also for the historicity of the place, where people have grown up, they have formed with a certain, they have reached a high professionalism. So clearly this is a very important topic.
Another very important thing for us, entrepreneurs, maybe even if the country here does not help much, but in which we believe, it is certainly the made in Italy, where in some countries like Italy, first of all, there is not all this passion and not perhaps all this value is given to the made in Italy, but instead there are many other markets, which above all on high-end glasses give it as a fundamental requirement.
Therefore, the fact of being made in Italy is a fundamental requirement for having a certain type of positioning and for having recognized a certain level of quality. Living in the company and seeing what happens every day, I realize the ability and craftsmanship behind a pair of glasses and the glasses that are produced here are real sculptures, jewels, I say to wear.
We have, for example, just created the glasses, the “limited edition” that we do every year for Cannes with the “Chopard” brand, which for me is really a jewel, which incorporates the golden palm on the auction, these lenses with gold plating, they are just jewels and you can see the craftsmanship and professionalism behind these products.
The key traits of an entrepreneur
Surely, first of all there is a great passion and also a great vision. In my opinion, being an entrepreneur also means knowing how to seize, intercept opportunities and then know them, be able to carry them out.
So always look a little ahead, but being an entrepreneur is a very difficult job, with many challenges. Maybe, we told of a bad event, but unfortunately there are bad events every day. So also the ability to move forward, to know how to react and to always find new motivation and new ideas to move forward.
It takes, therefore, a lot of courage to be an entrepreneur, a lot of courage and even a bit of ruthlessness at times. However, I believe that it should always be seasoned with a little bit of prudence, because if clearly taken to the extreme, it can also lead to disastrous results, this ruthlessness. So, clearly, it takes courage, because otherwise you never dare, but still always be a little careful. This is perhaps a bit of a characteristic also of us from Veneto, that we are anyway, let’s say, people with their feet on the ground and therefore we think ahead, but we are also careful not to overdo it.
Therefore, I believe that all these characteristics are necessary for an entrepreneur and this also allows to do business, that is not companies that are born and die within five years, but also a company that has a certain solidity and that is able to carry out a project for years, for decades, we hope even more.
The future for the new generations
Never abandon your dreams, so try to follow your dreams, but following a dream means putting so much passion and so much sacrifice and a lot of will.
We, as a Company, believe very much in the new generations and we also look for small businesses, but also to support them, because we believe that it is more difficult now than a few years ago to do, even doing business or work in our country anyway. We did a foundation last year, just to support young people and that is called “Health Education and Art for Youth” then “Health Training and Art for Children” in support of these projects, because we believe that a valid person, therefore a talent, it is good to give the opportunity to a talent to achieve its goals, but at the same time the message we always give, even to the delivery of the scholarship, we make for example the scholarships for the children of the employees more talented, etc.
We are convinced that this must always, always go hand in hand: these dreams must go hand in hand with a great desire to do, not to give up and, when it happens, even to know how to get up again. Because unfortunately it does not always go straight, there are always, in our path that is both professional and personal, difficult moments are there and it takes this ability to know how to get up, to move forward, despite even the difficulties. And this is a bit the message we want to give, that we also try to promote, in order to support good projects and valid people instead, and we believe that in our country there are many, we hope that they stay in our country because this is another big problem. In short, that famous brain drain, etc., which clearly is an impoverishment for our country and our society.