RESCALDINA, Italy — Joel Benillouche is injecting a dose of new energy into the Vincenzo Zucchi group.
“We expect to recreate a relationship with the customer, reorganizing and redefining the brands, leveraging a new digital platform, and we are reactivating our textile supply chain,” said Benillouche, chairman and shareholder of the publicly listed group, during an interview at the Rescaldina headquarters, a 30-minute drive from Milan. Zucchi has been controlled since 2016 by investment fund Astrance Capital SA, which was founded by Benillouche.
Astrance also controls the Paris-based Descamps and Jalla, sharing synergies and several platforms with Zucchi.
The group offers bed and bath linens; baby collections; living, kitchen and home wares, and home decorations from the brands Jardin Secret, Zucchi and Zucchi Block, Granfoulard, Bassetti, and Santens, as well as the Tommy Hilfiger license for home textiles exclusively for the Europe, Middle East and Africa region.
The young entrepreneur has succeeded in turning around Zucchi, which before his arrival was on the brink of bankruptcy after a period of changes in management and shareholders. He wiped out its debt of 80 million euros and the company is now profitable, reporting sales of 100 million euros and expectations of growth of around 30 percent this year.
“Zucchi needed an industrial investor,” said Benillouche, who was previously an investment banker at Lazard and Morgan Stanley, among others.
With Astrance, he has been fine-tuning the brands and investing in new machinery.
Case in point: Shifting from a product-driven brand to a new lifestyle and customer-centric strategy is now key for Benillouche. He has launched Bassetti Home Innovation, which offers renovation services and interior design consultancy. A team of architects and interior designers selected by Bassetti Home Innovation propose solutions reflecting the wishes and needs of the clients, offering an onsite supervision and consultancy.
Benillouche has opened more than 30 dedicated Bassetti Home Innovation stores in main cities or in malls in Italy, which will be followed by units in France later in the year and in 2023, and then in Germany and Switzerland next year and in 2024. The group has acquired a chain of childrenswear stores and has been converting them with the goal to reach 40 units in 2022.
Benillouche highlighted the need to expand into new product categories and under the Bassetti Home Innovation umbrella, the company has set up partnerships to offer Chaarme beds by Pentaform; tables with Kronos; armchairs and chairs by Busetto, and plates by Bitossi Home. “We want to provide a full environment,” he said.
The group, which counts 900 employees, including its direct retail network and the branches in Germany, Switzerland and Spain, as well as its directional offices, has direct control of all the creative processes from design to production, of which 50 percent is made in Italy. The production center in Cuggiono is specialized in prints and padded linens such as Bassetti’s signature Piumone. Prints are not made digitally, but still employing an artisanal, technical process with engraved steel cylinders.
Zucchi has 219 units between direct stores, shops-in-shop and factory outlets, and 350 corners in department stores, as well as wholesale distribution globally with 3,000 points of sale. “We are not afraid to cut our distribution and redefine our partnerships with an upgraded quality,” said Benillouche. “Through an in-depth brand analysis, we have redefined our brands, our customers, targets and values.”
Zucchi Bassetti stands for Italian style, Descamps and Jalla for French flavor and the Tommy Hilfiger license for the American way of life, he said.
The group relies on a history that spans 220 years, underscored Benillouche, as Descamps was founded in 1802, Bassetti in 1830, Jalla in 1881 and Zucchi in 1920.
In 1987, Bassetti launched the multiuse Granfoulard, which he claimed “sold the most in the history of European textiles.”
In 1997, Zucchi won the Guggenheim Business and Culture award with its museum of antique handblocks, the biggest existing collection with 56,000 pieces from 1785 to 1935. The blocks are in wood and metal, from English, French and Austrian artisans ranging from Art Nouveau to Art Deco, with patterns from the geometric to floral, batik and ornamental.
“We’ve had more time to rediscover our homes and there is a need to feel more comfortable and in a more creative environment,” said Benillouche.