MUSEOWEB dell'economia varesina

G. Bianchi

Origins and first developments

At the age of twenty-five, Giuseppe Bianchi, born in Tradate in 1883, had already made some fundamental life decisions: he had married Paola Bernasconi, abandoned his university studies, and worked for a number of companies before finally deciding to start one of his own.
His business was established in 1908, with a decisive capital contribution on behalf of his wife's uncle, a railway engineer in Argentina, who believed in Giuseppe's entrepreneurial capabilities: a small grocery store on Corso Matteotti in Varese, at the time known as Corso Vittorio Emanuele.
It was only subsequently, however, that Giuseppe would gain his true entrepreneurial experience. Together with his wife, and with the support of what was then Credito Varesino, Giuseppe soon flanked his grocery store with a wholesale grocery business which, again in Varese, was established on Via Sempione. His intuition was right and the new business underwent tremendous growth, intercepting the economic changes of the time. These were based on the development of colonial trade and communication routes, requiring more modern commercial structures that were better suited to the concentration and distribution of the merchandise. In 1926, with an increasing need for space, the wholesale business was moved to Gazzada, a small town adjacent to Varese, where the company's premises remain to this day. This location was particularly well chosen, as it was situated between the main road that connected Gallarate to Varese and the state railway line, which ran North to South. Today, it even finds itself in the immediate vicinity of Milan's Malpensa airport. Again with the help of the "friendly bank", Bianchi succeeded in building up a modern shopping complex, which was extremely large for the times and was also one of the first reinforced concrete buildings ever constructed in the province of Varese. In short, it was the right company, in the right place, at the right time.

The great expansion

The Varese grocer's shop was a retail store where families could find and purchase anything they might desire, while enjoying the fragrances of times gone by. Other Bianchi grocer's shops were later established in the municipalities of Tradate, Gallarate, Mortara, Novara and Milan, helping to strengthen the company's image, despite the fact that the businesses eventually closed.
The Gazzada wholesale centre, on the other hand, was at the service of the small retail businesses scattered throughout the area. It had an efficient railway link and large parking areas for delivery trucks, as well as warehouses for storing and preserving the delivered merchandise. Giuseppe Bianchi, the owner of the land upon which the complex stood, established his own real estate company at the end of the 1930's.
The business expanded to the industrial sector, with the direct production of tomato concentrate in the Italian region of Emilia Romagna and the purchase of a tuna fishing and processing installation in Libya. The company Ascal was established in Lissone in 1941, which began producing canned meat preserved in gelatin (the famous Montana meat), which went on to have enormous success.
Even the Gazzada facility began selling a vast assortment of products.
The proliferation and development of a variety of private labels (such as Molino Rosso for example) or factory labels represented a peculiar aspect of the company's business strategy. This approach to doing "everything in-house" was largely abandoned over the years due to an increased focus on distribution activities.
In 1951, the company became a joint stock company under the name of "Commerciale Giuseppe Bianchi spa", with headquarters in Milan and production facilities in Gazzada. At the time, the company had approximately 100 employees, a size that would remain essentially unaltered over time. The company's collaboration with Credito Varesino remained constant, to the point that Giuseppe Bianchi, proprietor of a large share package, later sat on the board of directors. And while Credito Varesino was Giuseppe's bank, he in turn became his customers' bank by allowing them delayed payments. This was a form of generosity that Giuseppe also showed in relation to his employees, above all those who were in need, to whom he bonded in relationships based on friendly and genuine paternalism.
During the late 1960s, the old grocery store expanded its facilities with the total renovation of the building on the corner of Corso Matteotti and Piazza Carducci. Shortly after, the company constructed an impressive building on Via Manzoni, characterized by a series of tunnels connecting with a number of city streets, which hosted various shops and boutiques of a certain level. Despite his age, Giuseppe had once again grasped the signs of the times: the lifestyle evolution and the emergence of more sophisticated consumers who, in Varese, had certainly found an environment which was particularly favourable to their development.

From traditional wholesale to cash & carry

At over 80 years of age, Giuseppe was struggling with the issue of company succession. He had fathered two daughters, who had never become involved in the company's activities, and his grandchildren were still too young to do so. He therefore involved a number of his most trusted employees, including the current managing director Gianpaolo Bianchi, and reserved for them the entire capital increase (from 300 to 450 million lire) which had been deliberated by the special shareholders meeting in October of 1970, with the goal of boosting the company's business and simultaneously incorporating a real estate branch.
The following year – after the adjustment of the Gazzada properties and their organizational rationalization with the establishment three areas (general, sales and purchases) – the cash & carry activity was initiated. Bianchi was one of Italy's first wholesale operators to adopt this modern formula – created in the United States and brought to Europe in the early sixties – which is basically a self-service wholesale activity reserved for traders, and not consumers. This change, which took place without any financial aid, did not require the network of sales agents to be dismantled, and they continued to handle all direct customer relations.
In 1972, Commendatore Giuseppe Bianchi died at nearly ninety years of age, just as the C3 Consortium was being established, a wholesale purchasing group of which Bianchi himself had become a member.
Claudio Bernasconi De Luca, Giuseppe's grandson and the company's current president, joined the business in 1975. Being a law graduate, Claudio was mainly involved in the legal aspects and the various financial issues linked to the company's business activities.
By this time all households had refrigerators, which allowed the company to develop fresh food departments. The number of food items contained within the catalogue multiplied, while even that of the non-food items expanded. This made it necessary to come up with innovative systems for recording and billing transactions: punch cards were used initially and were later followed by bar codes. Sales abroad increased, with the company's trucks (for a total of nearly thirty today) transporting loads of merchandise to Switzerland, Germany and Portugal.
The company's internal logistics were also modernized and the rail link fell into disuse, as it was no longer functional and was too expensive with respect to the new marketing strategy, which was focused on variety and small lots.
A vast demolition and reconstruction program was initiated at the beginning of the 1990s. The "backyard" cash & carry business was no longer enough. This resulted in the construction of the company's huge vaulted warehouse, which is now so well known to old and new customers alike.


The 21st century: new challenges

An extraordinary product catalogue containing over 25 thousand items, which – to provide just one example among many – even includes 242 different types of grappa and other Italian spirits. Italian products, because the catalogue of the Giuseppe Bianchi company is like an enormous map of this country's rich and varied agro-food industry. A commercial complex of 20,000 square meters in area (12,000 covered), which could even have the possibility of expanding with the purchase of additional land near the railway. A supermarket full of special, high-quality products in the Varese town centre. Impressive real estate assets. These are the results of more than 100 years of history, all of which began with a small grocery store set up by a brilliant man like Giuseppe Bianchi.
But the story continues and new challenges must be faced. A cash & carry is, by function and philosophy, a structure which is closely linked to its territory. A structure that keeps track of its customers' preferences and necessities, and works to maintain and consolidate "familiar" relationships with them over time. Today, however, the territory has expanded to include the entire world. It's a territory in which companies are forced to compete with large multinational distributors – none of whom are of Italian origins – and with their enormous market power.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the Bianchi company introduced the use of a computerized B2B (business to business) system, which can be activated through the company's website. This can be a powerful tool for increasing sales on the international market – perhaps combining the Italian-ness of the products with the multitude of enterprising Italians throughout the world – a strategy that the company has long pursued, even by dedicating specific professional resources. And the extensive catalogue is an enormous help.
Today, President Claudio Bernasconi De Luca and managing director Giampaolo Bianchi recognize the need for a new generation to take charge of the company which, as always, must continue to be attended to and built upon. A transformation which must be capable of combining the past and the future, as well as the local and global markets.