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Romei, Zippo: “‘Glasses? An ‘opportunity for the physical store”

Giuseppe Romei, amministratore unico Zippo
Giuseppe Romei, amministratore unico Zippo

This page is also available in: Italiano

The “Zippo Eyewear” lines of reading glasses and sunglasses positively continue their path of steady growth and spread, thanks to a branched distribution that performs well in terms of service, quality and convenience.

These are the characteristics that explain its success and that are also registering excellent growth results in this 2023: “We continue the positive trend that had characterized last year and we continue to grow in double digits – comments Giuseppe Romei, sole director of Zippo Italia. – In June, the growth stood at 18 percent. A truly gratifying result, given by the strengthening of turnovers from the “historical” customers acquired over the years, to which new ones have been added.”

Already in the previous interview, conducted with Administrator Giuseppe Romei and Sales Director Giordano Manetta, we had framed its offerings and the construction of a diffusion network that transversally passes through the many distribution channels, including hardware stores and GDS Brico.

Two years later, how is your development plan progressing in the hardware and GDS referral channels?
The positive trend of our range is reflected in all distribution channels where we are present, rather homogeneously, and so also in hardware stores where, again, we are far more present than in the GDS channel. Our wide range of nearly 700 product codes, absolutely advantageous cost, and sales strategy focused on a display composition that emphasizes a variety of patterns and colors are the right “ingredients” for continued market share gains.

A commitment that is proving to be rewarding…
Yes, we are really very proud and pleased with the steady growth we have been experiencing for the past 10 years. It means that the customer has understood and likes our proposal. That is why our volumes are growing; it is the product that is winning. Our big challenge is one: to position ourselves in stores that do not yet handle our lines.

In the previous meeting you had recounted your strategy to spread the brand, iconic for the lighter product, but to be emphasized in the eyewear segment. Where do you stand today?
Certainly the historicity of the brand-born in 1932-is helping as well as its credibility and quality, which are taken for granted. Certainly this was a favorable starting point for the eyeglass line as well. An element that adds to the production choices that opted for a lively, aggressive, colorful proposal and maniacal care in making the frames and the quality of the lenses.

In 2021 you were declaring a market share of 15 to 20 percent, and in 2023?
There are no definite sales figures in the hardware and brico channels, however, it is realistic to say that our growth is mainly due to gaining market share over other competitors.

Glasses and web

In the recent period, eCommerce has accelerated somewhat in all commodity sectors. In the eyeglass?
Web sales are never too consonant with the eyewear product, in the broadest sense of the word. It is not because it prevents the moment of testing, especially in solar that has a problem with fitting, fit, style and aesthetics. The consumer wants to “feel it on them.” After that it is such a big industry that yes, eyewear is also sold online. In contrast, with regard to reading glasses, which are typically a low-priced product, the incidence of shipping and packaging costs are impactful and make this business problematic and unprofitable. Besides, reading glasses are an impulse purchase and we find them almost everywhere.

And, in fact, online reading glasses are often seen for sale in packs of 3-4-5 pieces, evidently in a number that can justify the cost. I’ve seen a lot of them, though. It would be interesting to understand the volumes.
Yes, there is no doubt that the product is increasingly mainstream, and it is no wonder that there are many sellers, perhaps marketplace-based, online as well. In that case the sales numbers are interesting but weigh, as a percentage, insignificantly on the total number of reading glasses that are sold in Italy each year. Given the steady growth of eCommerce in general, it is likely that the share of eyewear will also be expected to grow in terms of market share. What I think is impossible is for the online price to be lower than the offline price, which is totally unusual for e-commerce. This is very important to us because it reinforces sales in physical stores and because reading glasses, as mentioned earlier, are an impulse purchase: users have several pairs and buy the model they like best. I would say that eyewear has advantages in being able to be a product that, even in the balance between online and offline, has its own logic that helps not to disrupt each other.

Speaking of colors, what were the 2023 fashion colors?
In sunglasses, black always commands and will always command in all its declinations, albeit decorated or with inserts that enrich it. It must be said that in fashion this has been the year of green, and this is also reflected in eyewear, not only in sunshine but also in reading.

The 2024 catalog and 2025 prototypes.

Zippo plans for the coming months?
We are working at full speed on the launch of the 2024 catalog because the timing is always far in advance of the introduction of a new product to the market. We have already started procurement and implementation of our logistics so that we will be ready immediately at the beginning of the new year, and we are already working on the 2025 prototypes. This is a business that needs a great deal of upstream organization and must take into account, well in advance, all subsequent stages from design to production. Translating ideas into product takes time, just think of all the monitoring, testing and fulfillment that regulations require.

What are your impressions of the economic environment in the coming months?
It is difficult to answer this question, because whatever feelings one may have toward the positive or negative evolution of a market, much comes from the gut, whereas one should move on hard data, real numbers that none of us have, except at the macro-economic level. We know there is inflation, eroding purchasing power, but at the same time, we are seeing positive signs in the market, especially in the recovery of independent and proximity stores. Competition with respect to large-scale specialty retailers has pushed them to further characterize and qualify on certain product categories, and some have managed to find a new positive dimension.

And what is the most difficult aspect to govern?
With an unstable scenario, investment and planning must still go forward, but we often find that our clients are more reluctant to embrace medium- to long-term projects than in the past. From Covid we learned that tomorrow can be very different from today. We have all realized this, and we see it from the purchases of our wholesale customers who are much more often buying smaller quantities and the retailers who are coming in asking for monthly supplies or after only 3 weeks. Thanks to the implementation of our in-house and proprietary logistics, we are now able to cope with more than 15,000 shipments per year by meeting the demands of all customers, with order fulfillment times averaging four working days. The economy will grow in the medium term, but before the insecurity and fear of tomorrow can be overcome, it will take time.

Don’t you think these ways of purchasing can become structural?
Yes, absolutely. The service that proximity stores are offering has changed a lot, just think of delivery, primarily on food, which has now expanded beyond large cities. It was activated because of Covid but then stayed. Certain activities have evolved and maintained those habits because they are rewarding. Business is definitely evolving, and flexibility and speed in reshaping strategies is the key to success.

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