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ROME — Sitting under the embellished wooden beams of the 16th-century Roman palazzo Alberini that houses the Gucci headquarters, the brand’s president and chief executive officer Patrizio di Marco is brimming with optimism.
“Gucci’s potential has yet to be realized; there is still a long way to go,” said di Marco.
Four years into the job, after a comprehensive upgrade of the label, refocusing on heritage and artisanal and Italian craftsmanship, di Marco has helped boost Gucci sales to 3.64 billion euros, or $4.66 billion, up 60.6 percent from 2.26 billion euros, or $3.14 billion, in 2009, when he joined the brand. Compared with 2011, revenues last year gained 15.8 percent from 3.14 billion euros, or $4.36 billion.
In 2012, earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization climbed 17.7 percent to 1.26 billion euros, or $1.61 billion, compared with 2011. Recurring operating income rose 18.9 percent to 1.12 billion euros, or $1.43 billion, in 2012, compared with 948 million euros, or $1.32 billion, the previous year and was up 82.2 percent compared with 2009.
Dollar amounts have been converted at average exchange rates for the periods to which they refer.
Looking ahead to the next three years, di Marco said those brands that “know how to talk to their customers will be the winning ones. This is the real challenge.”
As part of the Forever Now project, initiated in 2009, Gucci’s “artisan corners” traveled around the world with company craftsmen showing their production skills. “I’m thinking of regrouping their stories to run on our Web site,” said di Marco, noting the company has held 25 to 30 events a year. The “artisan corners” also helped to deliver a message di Marco considers fundamental: “Customers increasingly ask for personalized products and we will continue to emphasize this. The message is that Gucci is big but it still has artisans that create for you and you alone.”
With global expansion, companies are obliged to meet the needs of a wide range of customers, yet at the same time, local expectations are high. “I don’t really like the word ‘glocal,’ but it is key. We offer a consistent approach and recognizable offer, but it is differentiated depending on the local situation. Individuality now is the variable which we need to tackle,” di Marco underscored.
In 2012, the Asia Pacific region remained the group’s main market, accounting for 37 percent of sales and gaining 5.5 percent. Western Europe represented 27 percent of revenues, climbing 9.2 percent, followed by North America, which accounted for 19 percent of sales and increased 13.4 percent. Di Marco said there are “important market segments in the U.S. — a beautiful market — that have matured,” he said, before adding, “[But] we should emphasize who they are as individuals and not part of a group. This transforms the way to approach them.”
Japan accounted for 11 percent of sales and grew 5.3 percent.
All categories showed growth last year. Leather goods accounted for 59 percent of sales, up 15.4 percent compared with the previous year, remaining the group’s core business. Footwear is the second category, accounting for 13 percent of revenues, up 15.8 percent, followed by ready-to-wear, representing 12 percent, and up 13.6 percent.
Gross capital expenditures were up 83.2 percent to 204 million euros, or $261.1 million. This included investments in the group’s retail network, production, logistics, technology and marketing activities and communication, such as the brand’s Forever Now ads featuring Charlotte Casiraghi introduced at the beginning of March last year. At the end of 2012, Gucci’s long-term support of UNICEF, started in 2005, surpassed the $13 million mark.
As of Dec. 31, Gucci had 429 directly operated stores, which, together with e-commerce, accounted for 75 percent of sales.
The luxury firm is increasingly focused on retail, and is now in talks to shift corners at Holt Renfrew and Neiman Marcus from wholesale to retail, as it has already done with Saks Fifth Avenue. “They continue to be partners, it’s just a logical consequence for us. The strategy is to control the brand directly; this is the absolute value, the start and end of the success of any company,” said di Marco, who has already inked a joint venture in the Middle East for the opening of directly operated stores and is negotiating along the same lines with the company’s Russian partners.
While underscoring that “there is a limit to how many stores you can open,” preferring to consolidate in some areas, di Marco said a men’s boutique will open in Milan’s arty Brera district in June, followed by a men’s store in Paris. The Brera boutique will carry the capsule collection designed by Fiat heir Lapo Elkann. “It’s very beautiful, and it’s an interesting project. He is a friend of the house, a person of great taste, so young but already an icon and he is very intelligent. With [Gucci creative director] Frida [Giannini], they had fun working together, it’s the synthesis of two worlds,” said di Marco.
Elkann worked with Giannini on the Fiat 500 by Gucci in 2011. Asked about the location in Milan, slightly removed from the usual golden shopping triangle off Via Montenapoleone, di Marco conceded Gucci will be sort of “a pioneer in that area. We have faith that it will have good opportunities.”
Speaking a few weeks after the birth of his daughter Greta with Giannini, di Marco was in high spirits and energetic. He took the time to firmly silence rumors that have been circulating over the past few months about his potential move to executive roles within Gucci’s parent company PPR, with current Bottega Veneta ceo Marco Bizzarri rumored to succeed him.
“This speculation creates uneasiness and confusion, and it has no foundation. I’m concerned about the people working with us, who feel uncertainty. If I had any interest in fueling this I would say no comment, but there is nothing to it,” di Marco insisted.
He headed Bottega Veneta for eight years before Gucci.
“I am very happy and very proud,” he added. “All my career I’ve been loyal and committed to the project. Four years at Gucci may seem like many but they are few at the same time. I am motivated and I have a great relationship with and support from François-Henri Pinault [chairman and ceo of PPR]. Of course, it is the shareholder that decides, but ideally I would want to close my career at Gucci. Where do you go after Gucci?”