?
MUSEOWEB dell'economia varesina

Colombo frigoriferi

 

The entrepreneurial training and the establishment of the business


After having attended the arts and trades school in Milan, Umberto Colombo, born in Gallarate in 1908, went to work for a number of local companies. His most important work experience was acquired at the company Zanchi Angeloni in Milan, where he learned how to install refrigeration systems and was sent to work mainly in southern Italy.
Having gained a good reputation, Umberto also began performing some repair work on his own in the Gallarate area. In 1950, given the lack of refrigeration technicians in the area, he decided to establish his own refrigerator installation and repair business. Three years later, with the help of his wife, Francesca Besana, who always took care of the administrative part of the business, he also began selling refrigerators and later expanded the business, in 1958, to include the sale of household appliances and electrical equipment as well.
Given the economic boom that Italy was experiencing during these years, this decision proved to be an extremely intelligent and profitable one. During the same year, the company headquarters moved from no.1 via Orti to via Sciesa, on the corner of Strada della Bozza.
With their home and workshop both in the same tenement building, the work never stopped and soon developed into a frenetic business that occupied both husband and wife throughout most of each day.
Umberto also began working as a consultant for a number of major industries and, although their clientele was mainly confined to the Gallarate area, the company ended up with more than 1,300 customers.

 

The business from the 1960s to the 1970s


The business dealt mainly with grocery stores. On the side however, the Colombo company also received a number major orders from industries involved in various sectors, as the refrigeration sector itself was quite widespread. Refrigeration techniques evolved significantly over the years with the use of different refrigerant gases: from sulphur dioxide, which is quite dangerous in the event of damage and/or leakage, to Freon, which has been replaced today by gases which are less likely to have a negative effect on the ozone layer.
In order to satisfy its customers' demands and thwart competition, Colombo even decided to furnish his customers' shops with cabinet refrigerators, built by a carpenter from Samarate, and subsequently, during the mid-sixties, refrigerated display counters, reselling those manufactured by a specifically contacted company in Mantua. Umberto considered the home furnishings sector to be an excellent possibility for expansion, and eventually took on the services of his wife's brother, a carpenter by profession. This collaboration, however, did not lead to the desired results, due to a workplace accident suffered by his brother-in-law. Nevertheless, the company's first furnishing elements were still manufactured and supplied to the area's leading gastronomists. At the same time, the company abandoned the sale of household appliances due to the widespread establishment of specialized shops.
In 1969, Umberto Colombo transformed the business into a de facto company, involving his sons Giancarlo and Elio: the three partners were each given possession of one third of the company. The company name became "Colombo Umberto & Figli".
Like his father, Giancarlo became involved in the company's technical aspects, while Elio, who had studied book keeping and was currently enrolled in the faculty of economics and business, took charge of the administrative management aspects. Elio also frequented marketing and communications courses and was later also able to advise his own customers on how to best display their merchandise within the refrigerated display cases.
The company's founder retired at the end of 1972, leaving the business to his children.

 

From the 1980s to the present


The company's activities have seen no downturns throughout the decades of its history, also thanks to the diversification of the work, which has been achieved by getting involved in the furniture and air-conditioning sectors. The company can also count on a loyal clientele, which has been faithful for several generations. Workshop repairs have become quite rare and, with the new types of installations, 99% of repair work is now carried out on site.
The food sector remains the company's target market and its main customers are those of small to medium sized shops, where skilled technical assistance is often required. Mass distribution chains are intentionally not taken into account due to the high work volumes required with relatively low margins: in fact, supermarkets often require immediate interventions at pre-established prices, and normally contact their equipment's manufacturers directly. Following in the footsteps of his parents, Elio often involves his wife, Elisabetta Tosi, in the company's administrative management.
The company assumed its current name in 1997; at the same time, Giancarlo Colombo retired and left his position to his son Michele (born in 1966). Elio's son, Marco Colombo (class of 1977), also joined the company at the end of the year 2000. Giancarlo died in 2005, and his vast experience will be sorely missed by his brother and son.
Since 1998, the business has further evolved to include household air conditioning systems, as well as the manufacture of kitchens and large food service systems.