“These past 10 years have laid the foundations for an epochal change. The metaphor I usually use, when talking about Sercomated, is that we were like a train powering ahead, and were so focused on what we were doing that when we came up against a wall, instead of slowing down, we slammed straight into it. The truth is we were all resting on our laurels, in a market where everyone had work to do and suppliers didn’t really distinguish between those who were good and those who were not so good.”
These are the opening remarks of Luca Berardo, who represents a third generation of entrepreneurs connected with the construction sector. Berardo, who received an Italian-French education, divides his working week between the group’s different showrooms. As well as being CEO of Casaoikos Spa and director of Casaoikos France, he also holds institutional positions, for example, he is president of Sercomated, and an executive board member of both Fercomated and Assoposa. Most recently, he was co-founder of a new platform called Archiseller.
Casaoikos, who, when, where and how?
When www.diyandgarden.com visited the showroom in None, in the province of Turin, we learned that the story culminating in Casaoikos as we know it today dates back to the post-war period, specifically to 1946, the year in which Natale Berardo opened, in Cuneo, a company producing tiles made from marble chippings and marble dust.
The enterprise went on to evolve through new operations and experiences that enriched the company and profoundly changed its identity. There were various important stages in this process of change, the main one being its gradual switch, from the mid-1980s onwards, from the role of producer to that of distributor.
This was the period in which the Sassuolo ceramics district was going from strength to strength and establishing itself globally. The Berardo family embraced this development, working not only in Italy, but also abroad, particularly in France, Northern Europe and Africa.
“From 1984 through to the early 2000, we worked as a distributor, while nevertheless maintaining a production division linked to cement products” explains Luca Berardo. “We were particularly geared towards private customers, and our main activity was the sale of tiles, sanitary ware, bathroom furnishings and wood, and we complemented this by also offering an installation service.”
At the start of the 2000s, this activity proved to be the basis for a further evolution, aimed particularly at creating a new store format, and which stemmed in part from a meeting with the De Poli family, owners of Oikos Margaria, a long-standing furniture distribution company based in Turin.
Around a decade later, in 2010, the group embarked on a new development project involving the opening of its second and third showrooms, located, respectively, in None and Borgo San Dalmazzo, and also took over Marino Ceramiche, historic tile distributor that, six years later, was included into the Busca showroom.
Then, “2011 brought the incorporation of Sobrino Ceramiche, although this was a short-lived phase, lasting only a year on account of the difficulties encountered in combining the two corporate teams, and the opening of Alessandria showroom. The following year we opened our French subsidiary with its showroom in Nice. That year, 2012, also brought the birth of the Atrium group, which grew successfully over the following years, managing to add a further twelve companies from the home improvement sector to Berardo and Oikos Margaria.
Atrium, the idea of a (specialised) multicentre for the home
Let us talk for a moment about Casaoikos and Atrium, a veritable “multicentre” for the home. What was the idea behind the project?
It stemmed from an idea that took shape between 2005 and 2006. Our intention was to bring together different areas of expertise and different home environments. Therefore, we were not talking about a single player that could deal with everything, but a team of specialists united though their work and a common project.
What is Atrium?
Atrium is the world’s first and largest multisector home store, which has a specialist for each sector, so as to be able to offer an all-round experience linked to the home, interior decoration and renovation world. It is a business network where expenses and budgets, initiatives and communication are all shared by the different companies, albeit on an ad hoc basis according to the sales area each of them occupy and the turnover they generate, and where decisions are taken collegially, on a majority basis.
Physically, the store is divided up in a very specific way…
Our reasoning naturally led to the idea of offering a “container” with specific designated areas. The innovative and imaginative spirit with which Atrium approaches the building and real estate market is shown by the creation, in 2017, of areas devoted to companies, for which we draw up product specifications, that is a selection of products designed for them, that they, in turn can show their own customers. This initiative is certainly an innovative way of interacting with companies.
Is this a recent development?
Yes, in its current form it is as recent as late 2018. We wanted to raise the profile of the solution even more, and also make sure it offered the right level of flexibility, and could adapt to the needs of different customers, so we opted for sales areas ranging from 100 to 150 square metres. It is a convenient solution for companies and represents an opportunity for us, furthermore it formalizes the relationship between us, making it both transparent and stable.
So, what happens when customers enter?
They are greeted by a sort of guide who, formally, can be considered their main point of reference. In practice, though, every area is staffed by specialists from the respective partner companies.
So, we are talking about a centre that not only sells products, but also suggests projects. What kind?
At Atrium we have launched a number of interesting initiatives to make sure our customers have an increasingly rewarding experience. With Cucina 75, for example, we offer culinary courses to customers if they make certain purchases. Not surprisingly, this initiative has proved to have considerable appeal. Of course, as well as pleasing customers and creating a customer flow, it is also a way of spreading information about products, such as home appliances. The second project, a newer idea, is Casa MIA (MIA standing for made in Atrium). We have created a replica of an apartment, on a scale of 1 to 1, where we illustrate all the possibilities offered by home automation today. Now, in these early months of 2019, this project is really getting under way.
People find domotics fascinating, but does home automation sell?
Casa MIA is the first stage in a much broader project that will see the group entering the renovation sector, starting from an approach that is technical as well as aesthetic. We are therefore already looking at a possible evolution of the “Casa MIA” concept, which will necessarily see it moved out of the None showroom.
Customer service and professional training
Let us take a closer look at the question of service and, in particular, a unified service. What is the situation right now?
There has to be coordination, that goes without saying, but each company nevertheless manages its installation services individually. However, as the company matures and enters its second phase I think we will need to get everyone reasoning in the same way, so that the margins are higher. In today’s highly aggressive market, which has to be constantly monitored, coordination is already fundamental. Therefore, I think that if we can manage to unify each phase, from the renovation project through to the furnishing stage, this would be more profitable for us, the suppliers, and at the same time would constitute a guarantee for the customer. In short: this container, which started out as a way of proposing products, has evolved into a brand and a common strategy, becoming a forge of new ideas and initiatives, also aimed at professionals.
Can you tell us about any in particular?
Since we have large spaces at our disposal, we are working with the Turin Board of Architects, organising training courses. Over two years, 2016 and 2017, we trained 1,125 people, providing them, and the 60 partner companies involved, with 120 hours of training. However, in 2018, we modified the courses somewhat, preferring to focus on in-depth study and quality, and thus reducing the number of participants to a maximum of 30/40; considering that our training programme carries a year’s worth of credits, we decided to concentrate on loyalty and the value of dissemination.
Going back to Casaoikos, how are the other outlets organised?
Compared with None, the Italian stores have a more standard format, whereas the Nice one is different. It’s like a smaller version of Atrium, with an area dedicated to furniture, kitchens, tiles, sanitary ware, bathroom furnishings and home textiles.
Where is it located?
In the city centre. It’s an outlet that occupies a surface area of approximately 400 square metres and has five windows. We have every confidence in this format and have worked to make it a meeting place for designers, renovators, retailers, real estate agents, promoters and, in particular, young architects, especially those with a loyalty mentality for whom Casaoikos is a workplace in the true sense.