From furniture to food counters for Umbrian restaurants to technological semi-finished products for the big names of the gastronomic industry: a journey over 40 years – Interview with Federico Malizia, managing director of CIAM.
CIAM was founded in the ‘70s by his father, Joseph.
What are the key stages for extraordinary growth?
“My father started with a small shop in Bastia Umbra (Perugia), providing the counters for local delis and takeaways. The ’80s was our first jump to offering supplies for bars and modular furniture for bakeries, thanks to which we claimed a significant share of the national market. In the ‘90s we went a step further towards the semi-finished product, providing parts to bars and refrigeration displays that consisted of mixed manufactured technologies, an asset that has allowed us to grow to a global scale.”
Could you better explain that step?
“Basically we were able to differentiate production according to market needs, ensuring two things that are often at odds: high standards and customization. This has allowed us to transform our competitors into potential customers. We continued to invest in technology and craftsmanship: in 2010 we opened the 23,000 square metre factory in Petrignano (Perugia), relocated a second time and quadrupled our technical department. We have created a supply chain industry, bringing together the various processing steps in a flexible capacity in this cutting-edge facility.”
How has the market responded?
“Much better. Prior to 2010 international orders made up less than 10% of sales, and now they nearly make up as much as our Italian side. We do trade shows all around the world, we even have a dealer in Australia, and in addition to already known reservoirs such as North America and Northern Europe, we are expanding to Africa and the Middle East.”
How exactly do you make an order?
“To simplify, we can say that there are two types: standard and special. In the first category are the orders from our customers that we know and trust, that select products from our catalogue; the second includes architects or architectural firms who contact us, perhaps for the first time. This is the point at which our expertise comes into play, allowing us to understand their needs and know where we can make changes to meet them.”
And how many in total?
“Between 1100 and 1200, approximately. We have started a process of collaboration with some external partners. This is the case with architect Fabrizio Milesi, who oversaw some of our latest products in coordination with our technical staff.”
An impressive number considering you supply both small businesses and large multinationals, from the Hilton hotel chain to McDonald’s, and Autogrill to Illy…
“The secret is to maintain a consistent methodology, regardless of who is in front of you: quality and reliability are key. Then, add to that a mixture of flexibility and manufacturing technology. We think like a chef standing before the many ingredients on his table. You cannot simply know them well; you must also know how to bring them together. It’s the same thing for us.”
In short, a company able to look ahead and innovate.
“Yes, this is why we launched a start-up last year, Nomastar, which is dedicated to mobile gourmet units. It focuses on innovative products, such as the Bellagio, a refrigerated display case which also performs the function of a decorative lamp. It can be installed in the ceiling or wall, leaning on a table, or on a work floor. And it is designed to maximize the beverages it contains and entice the consumer. It is a product that is aimed at companies in growing sectors such as luxury hotels and resorts, although it is no secret that many individuals are also buying them for their homes.”
Regarding the products: is there one that you are particularly fond of?
“It’s impossible to choose between the more than 12,000 that we make. But if I must, I would say the “Murozero” and the “Move16″, a cabinet and a refrigerated display case, respectively, which we recently launched. Each has unique technical characteristics: they both furnish and are functional. In a word, they enhance both their outer space and their contents. They are products that take a long time to produce, as we must often use patents to protect the systems or the original designs.”
On the other hand companies choose those that have the most…
“Right, that’s how we came into contact with Illy and McDonald’s: both were seeking a showcase able to differentiate themselves. Or, speaking of national excellence, Eataly: our client is the group’s supplier, and we have been chosen to provide the technical parts for their new stores.
You have breathed the company air since the ‘90s, you were president in 2006, and are now CEO. If you look back, would you make the same decisions?
“I originally started in the technical office, personally drawing the products myself, and now I follow the developments to the smallest detail. I am proud of what – together – we have built. We hire young employees with the desire to learn, and invest in their training: we believe in the human resource that is the basis of the work. I have won many bets and I have learned for certain: when it comes to food, we Italians are unbeatable.”
“Despite the bureaucracy and the few work incentives, nobody knows as well as we do how to merge the taste for beauty with the proportions, balance, and functionality of our products. We have been this way since the Renaissance.”
And what about the future?
“I see a strong and solid future. In a labour market that looks like a jungle, we are at the forefront. We are a fort that resists and rises to challenges. I see a healthy company that will become even more international.”
Meanwhile, we are approaching a special day…
“Yeah, next year we will blow out 40 candles! Host in Milan – where other major players in the sector will be present – is the perfect occasion to celebrate in an unforgettable way. We’ll talk soon.”
FIND OUT MORE:
Visit the CIAM website at http://www.ciamweb.it/