Folli Follie's FR store in Bologna, Italy.

MILAN “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” states Isaac Newton’s third law of motion.

That same dynamic approach is essential in the fashion business as well, to trigger and engage new customers, according to Francesco Galli, chief executive officer of the Italian family-run luxury retailer Folli Follie.

Founded in the Seventies in Mantua, Italy, by Lucia Schiavi and Giuseppe Galli, Folli Follie operates eight multi-brand stores in Italy – in Mantua, Bologna, Verona, Brescia and Riccione — selling labels as Balenciaga, Calvin Klein, Dior, Gucci, Jacquemus, Loewe, Off-White, Prada, Saint Laurent and Valentino, among others.

This year the company underwent a significant renovation of its stores and overall digital efforts, including the launch of an e-commerce site called The Double F.

“It all started with a self-critical study of who we were, three years ago,” said Galli, adding that he thought the company’s format needed to be renovated, both from an aesthetic point of view and services. “We [retailers] need to regenerate interest, as we’ve become a little bit boring and got used to the standard we offer.”

In doing so, renovations were implemented in the stores, according to the nature of each city. First up, the flagship in Mantua was updated with a modern design, featuring granite, black lacquered wood, brass elements and green crystal cases. Conceived by the architectural firm Baciocchi Associati, the 8,611-square-foot unit was then divided in dedicated areas for women’s wear and men’s wear — connected but with two separate entrances from the main street — footwear and a corner dedicated to fragrances.

Folli Follie store in Mantua, Italy.

Folli Follie store in Mantua, Italy.  Courtesy Photo

For the unit in Bologna, which launched in 1998, the company continued the partnership with the same design studio, but opted for an innovative strategy. Folli Follie didn’t restyle its store, but joined forces with a prime competitor in the city, the historic Italian retailer Ratti. The duo formed a new company and launched the first FR store in the former Ratti units, located in central Bologna.

As part of the agreement, Ratti’s buyers are in charge of selecting the women’s wear brands, while Folli Follie’s buyers are focused on the men’s wear pieces.

“To merge also means to grow,” Galli said, adding that the partnership with Ratti enabled the company to double the number of its brands and “concretely, to eliminate a competitor,” he noted with a laugh. The executive underscored that the operation was possible because of the shared values and business goals, hinting that such a strategy could soon be replicated with another partner in a different city. He declined to provide details.

FR store in Bologna, Italy.

FR store in Bologna, Italy.  Courtesy Photo

A disruptive approach will be adopted for the unit in Brescia, dating back to 1976. The store’s format, which will be revealed in September 2018, will see the collaboration of two design firms, conceiving a different interior concept every six months for three years.

According to the ceo, the city, which is “fashion-eager and attentive to trends,” will represent an experiment for the company, a ground to test strategies and brand selections.

Folli Follie has nine buyers, aged 26 to 42 years, and 150 employees. A group of young workers has been hired recently to provide a fresher vision and different approach in engaging new customers.

“There are behaviors that only young people can really understand, as they have different mental schemes,” said Galli, stressing also the importance of channeling the existing employees correctly.

The executive noted that younger clients are much more aware of what they like and don’t want to be led in their purchases. Therefore, a different kind of hospitality is needed, leaning toward less formality, more confidentiality and no pressure from sales assistants. Appearance needs to be adjusted accordingly, as the young clientele prefers to find their peers in the store, dressed less formally.

“We need to tiptoe in this transition, as we don’t want to lose our longtime clients, who are a real asset for us,” said Galli, adding that such consideration was an additional reason to expand the stores and offer different areas, with customized services.

To further attract new customers, this spring the retailer launched its online store. Partnering with three agencies and enlisting an internal team of 16 employees, the e-commerce is “performing better than we thought, but 40 percent of the sales are due to our stores’ usual clients and the credibility of our brick-and-mortar format,” said Galli.

Providing worldwide shipping, The Double F site performs best in the U.K., France, Asia and the U.S., which accounts for 36 percent of online sales.

The Double F represents 5 percent of the company’s total sales, which were 140 million euros in 2016. Galli, who expects revenues to be up 30 percent to 180 million euros in 2017, aims to increase the online business in the next three years to account for 30 percent of the total.

To reach such a goal, the company will boost the digital shopping experience with dedicated services.

The Double F home page.

The Double F home page.

Along with the Chat & Buy service, which provides 24/7 assistance during purchases, the web site will launch a program offering total-look packages. Conceived by the company’s stylists, the outfits will be divided into categories, spanning from daytime to business meetings, from cocktails to soirees.

“We have amazing clients, who are busy, working women. If we help them not to waste their time, we win,” Galli said, highlighting the practicality of the service.

Also launching next year, a financing service will allow credit card payments through installments of three, six or 12 months. “As it happens in the automotive or tech industries, we want to legitimize financing [support] in the luxury world,” said Galli. According to the ceo, this will help approach young customers and appeal to hesitant clients.

In fueling the market with new activities, spanning from visual concepts, cultural contents and digitization, Galli clings to a single, key element. “The point of view is everything,” he said, underscoring the importance of unifying every single store and service through the filter of the family’s business values. “This is the only thing which makes you stand out from the drabness,” he said, concluding that in the future he would like to export the company’s vision, opening stores in Europe under the moniker The Double F.

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