Remo Ruffini

MILAN — “Innovation and Speed.” These were the central themes at the heart of the annual Pambianco fashion and luxury summit Thursday in Milan.

Moncler’s successful story under chairman and chief executive officer Remo Ruffini and Gucci’s dramatic turnaround under president and ceo Marco Bizzarri were presented at the city’s Stock Exchange.

“It’s best to focus on a few selected items and to do those well. That was our choice, which proved successful,” Ruffini said. “It’s too easy to simply exploit the brand.” Responding to a question about the Bourse and whether it conditions a company’s strategies, Ruffini admitted it does, because “in some markets, sometimes there is no need to grow but to consolidate.”

He also emphasized how a brand should offer “different experiences in different stores in different cities because there has been an enormous standardization of brands, which should be less stereotyped, and this is the opposite of what investors ask of you.”

In sync with the Italian Camera della Moda and most of the country’s luxury companies, Ruffini said he did not believe in the see-now-buy-now format. “I believe in staying close to the customer, with new projects each month, communicating online, and working on the local consumer, highlighting uniqueness, consistency and quality.”

Former Valentino and Salvatore Ferragamo ceo Michele Norsa, who continues to be a consultant for Ferragamo Finanziaria and is on the board of groups such as Rocco Forte and Davidoff,  joked that after taking Valentino and Ferragamo public, he would not mind a third such endeavor. On the sidelines of the conference, asked to elaborate, Norsa said there was nothing yet to reveal.

On the stage, he said he could see much more attention today to profitability and margins after the exponential growth of the past and that the appeal of Italian brands “has never been as strong because of their values and unity.”

He noted that consumers in Asia have become much more sophisticated and that they are now discovering Italy’s culture, beauty and hospitality. For this reason, a priority is to “continue to sell dreams” and he cautioned against the dilution of brands, otherwise, “it’s difficult to go back to the original positioning.”

David Pambianco, vice president of the family-owned consultancy, underscored the speed of change in the market, and pointed to the relevance of Millennials  and the “flattening of geographic differences, while anagraphic differences increase.”

Multichannel is now a given and no longer simply an opportunity, which leads to changes in the consumer relationship, requiring more comprehensive story-telling, leveraging the brand’s social media tools; personalized products; the see-now-buy-now format, and genderless fashion, as well as more experiential purchases.

“Retail expansion is over in luxury, with mere adjustments of the brick-and-mortar stores,” Pambianco said. “Omnichannel is the challenge.”

The luxury industry is expected to grow 2 to 3 percent on a yearly basis, Pambianco said. Online sales will increase to represent 15 percent of total revenues, or 20 percent for leading companies. “In this fluid, fast and complex scenario, continuous innovation must be the guiding light for companies in all sectors,” the consultant said. “There is no single recipe for all companies as each must find its own.”

Sara Bernabé, country manager of Italia Premier Tax Free, estimated 3.5 percent growth in tourists from outside the European Union to France, Italy, Germany, the U.K. and Spain until 2020. The growth from 2010 to 2015 was 6.2 percent. The forecasts for Italy in 2017 are encouraging, as the Japanese and the Chinese are seen growing 6 percent and 5 percent, respectively. Next year Americans are expected to increase 5.7 percent in Italy compared with 2016. Last year, American shopping represented 10 percent of total tax-free spending, despite a stronger dollar, and in line with that of Russians.

Bernabé pointed to the increasing relevance of the Z Generation, today’s teenagers, used to technology. “They connect to the world through devices and social media. This is a generation that seeks the same innovation and speed it’s used to on the web. The organization of trips is increasingly more direct, faster and technologically advanced, thanks to applications, social media, mobile and online booking sites. Shopping is more and more multi-channel and multi-faceted.”

For this reason, Premier Tax Free, is now collaborating with Chinese operator C-Trip, she added.

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