By  on February 21, 2007

Retailing is a cornerstone of Furla's history and has helped build the brand's exposure and visibility globally.

From its initial store on Bologna's Via Ugo Bassi selling various commodities made scarce by World War II, Furla's retail network has expanded to 255 stores in 73 countries. The Furlanettos grew their family business understanding the merits of innovative merchandise, effective displays, catchy windows and extensive service.

"Our father's precision with his payments, his respect for customers and suppliers alike were also inspirational values for us," said Giovanna Furlanetto, chairman and chief executive and a daughter of founder Aldo Furlanetto.

She credits another member of her family, her brother, Paolo, for the expansion of the brand outside Italy.

"Paolo was a tireless traveler and explorer, had enormous taste and intuition and had a more international, forward-looking vision," said Furlanetto. "Seemingly without effort, Paolo was ready to expand his horizons from the get-go and rose to the challenges of opening up to faraway markets."

Paolo spearheaded the opening of the second Furla boutique, in Rome, and the third, in Paris. Following that, he opened a boutique in New York in 1985. "At the time, the rest of the family didn't even realize what it meant to open a store on Madison Avenue," said Furlanetto. "Today, we are still in the same building, the only ones to remain from back then."

There are currently 28 boutiques in the U.S., 11 of which are directly owned.

Although Paolo died in 1989, his sister said he laid the groundwork for the brand's expansion in Japan, with the opening in 1990 of Furla's first boutique there, in Tokyo. That same year, the company created Furla Japan. "It was Paolo's intuition to approach the Asian market," she said.

Last July, the company opened its biggest store in Ginza, a two-story boutique covering 4,320 square feet. "This was our biggest investment ever," said Furlanetto, underscoring the importance of the "quality of locations."

The executive noted proudly that Furla boutiques sit on some of the most prestigious shopping streets in the world: Two stores are on New York's Madison Avenue; two are on Rome's Via Condotti and Piazza di Spagna, the square overlooking the Spanish steps; five are in Paris between Rue Saint-Honoré and the Champs-Elysées, and one is on London's Bond Street, to name a few."Our stores are our means to communicate and help our visibility around the world," said Furlanetto. This year, the company plans to open five stores in Japan and two in India, in Bombay and Delhi.

Luxury goods consultant Armando Branchini praised Furla's "smart" and "effective" strategies over the years, combining "fashion content with branding."

Furla, said Branchini, employs "high-end marketing models and strategies," and insists on "consistency of store concept, brand and product."

"They've added intangible assets to their products, presenting a medium-high-end product with the same strategies of a high-end brand," said Branchini.

Furla's early stores were done in a sober and functional Biedermeier style, with black and cherrywood furniture. In the Nineties, Furla introduced a new, lighter store concept in a white-and-azure palette, which helped highlight the product. This design was conceived by English architects Hosker Moore & Kent. Variations were later made to this concept with wood treated with a Wengé effect and artistic videos in the windows.

Today, the stores are furnished with an airy, light-filled design and Furla's "Rolling Concept" pieces launched in 2005: mobile Plexiglas furniture and display cases that allow the retailer to quickly change and redesign the interior. Walls are made of Italian marmorino plaster, which conveys a look of soft stone, and covered with printed scrims lit from behind. "Through the years, we've shifted toward a lighter shade of wood, but, in particular, we've added artistic works to complete the stores," said Furlanetto. "With just one element, we create a different atmosphere, such as with Eva Marisaldi's enlarged drawing of a tree."

The executive noted she would rather avoid sameness of stores by changing the pattern of a wallpaper over a weekend, for example, for a different mood. "We can't risk becoming boring," she said. "There must be a continuous evolution, we must communicate with our customers and surprise them, even those that pass in front of the same store each day. I always tell our store managers to break the rules, because there are none that last forever. That's why it also helps to work with artists, who have a more authentic and pure creativity."Furla today is working on the project of a virtual store, furla.com, which will be completed by the end of the year. The site is already functioning in the U.S., but the company plans to extend it globally next year. "It's growing well because it's such a practical way to shop," said Furlanetto.

Technology also allows stores to talk to each other to provide flash items, share new products and streamline communication.

"All our stores are connected, from Baku to Saint Martin to Hanoi," said Furlanetto.

She noted that each store chooses the merchandise in accordance with the country's climate and favored colors, but that 60 percent of the merchandise is the same around the world. "We like a harmonious style across our stores, while allowing a certain amount of discretion in each place," she said. "This is a just-in-time operating model that ensures continual renewal of assortment."

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