MUSEOWEB dell'economia varesina



The rise of Eugenio Brusa, from apprentice to owner

It was September 23rd 1923 when Eugenio Brusa registered a sole proprietorship in his own name for the installation and repair of plumbing equipment and the retail sale of materials for the plumbing industry.

Born in Varese to Antonio and Elizabeth Vedani on December 29th 1890, Eugenio attended elementary school and went on to frequent a school of design. When his father passed away, Eugenio began an apprenticeship with the plumbing company owned by Paolo Castiglioni, which had been operating in the Varese area since the beginning of the century.

The owner was getting on in years, and his children weren't interested in pursuing their father's business. For this reason, Eugenio decided to take over the company, initially renting the workshop and warehouse at no. 4 Via Magatti in Varese, and later going on to purchase the entire three-story facility from Castiglioni's widow. The initial capital for both purchases was provided by a plumbing product representative with whom Eugenio was collaborating. His suppliers were mainly in Milan, a city to which Eugenio made frequent trips in his truck to buy wholesale materials. The company had four employees. Eugenio never forgot the help he'd received and, once the company had been consolidated, he, in turn, helped many plumbers who had chosen to open sole proprietorships throughout the province of Varese. Eugene went on to marry Giuseppina Cappelli, who was originally from Azzate. His wife was a seamstress and worked from home, where the couple often hosted young apprentices. Their first child, Gianluigi, was born in 1925. Their second child, Maria, died prematurely at a young age in 1929. Having completed his elementary studies in Varese, Gianluigi went on to study at the College of the Archdiocese in Desio. He later enrolled at the Polytechnic of Milan, but abandoned his studies following an altercation with one of the teachers. At the same time, he helped his father by maintaining contacts with suppliers in Milan. These were the years of the struggle for the Liberation of Italy. Gianluigi's point of reference was Don Franco Rimoldi, an assistant at the Oratory of San Vittore, who was active in the network that promoted the illegal emigration of Jews, deserters and anti-fascists.

Together with Don Franco Rimoldi, at the age of sixteen, Gianluigi began to perform volunteer work transporting the sick to sanctuaries throughout Italy, as well as to Lourdes: an activity which he continue throughout his adult life. In November of 1943, Gianluigi began handing out illegal pamphlets and posters and hiding guns in his home, working closely with the Catholic Partisan Brigade of "Bruno Passerini", which was operating throughout the municipalities of Varese and Induno Olona. Having been warned by a friend of an impending raid, Gianluigi took refuge with an aunt in the district of Casbeno in September of 1944. He later went into hiding in Gemonio with the aunt of a farmer who cultivated lands on the outskirts of Varese owned by the Brusa family itself, in the village of Bustecche.

Eugenio, who unlike his wife was unaware of his son's activities, was arrested in September of 1944. He found himself imprisoned with a number of the managers of the company Aeronautica Macchi, as well as the future Christian Democratic mayor of Varese, Mario Ossola. He was released a couple of weeks later when the charges against him were proven to be unfounded. Following the war, Gianluigi became a fixed figure at his father's company.


From installations to sales: the rise of Gianluigi

January 1st 1946 marked a significant turning point: the "Eugenio Brusa" company ceased its business of installing and repairing equipment in order to dedicate itself entirely to the sale of plumbing materials. The installations were left to the company "Vedani & C.", which was owned by Gianluigi's cousin, Giuseppe Vedani, together with his partners Egidio Bianchi and Emilio Ambrogini. The decision to specialize in sales was owed to two factors. Firstly, Gianluigi had mainly gained experience in the commercial sector, for which he had shown a certain degree of aptitude. Secondly, the city of Varese still had no wholesaler that was capable of supplying the local installers with all the necessary materials.

In 1951, Gianluigi married Amalia Antonia Cozzi, an elementary school teacher who was born in Nerviano (in the province of Milan) and had moved to Varese along with her family.

From 1951 to 2001, Gianluigi served as president of the Varese-based faction of Unitalsi (the Italian National Union dedicated to transporting the ill to Lourdes and other international sanctuaries).

With his wife's unconditional support, and thanks to the collaboration of two long-time company employees, respectively involved in sales and customer support, Gianluigi was able to dedicate a great deal of his time to volunteer work. Eugenio passed away just a few months following the birth of Gianluigi's first son, Alessandro, in 1952. As his father's sole heir, Gianluigi registered a new company under the name of "Brusa Eugenio di Brusa Gianluigi" on September 13th 1952. The Brusa family continued to grow with the arrival of more children: Eugenia in 1953, Annalisa in 1955, Ariberto in 1956 and Paola in 1961. His wife Amalia continued teaching up until the birth of their second child, and then decided to devote herself to taking care of the family. Although she did not occupy a central role in the organization, she nevertheless continued to help her husband with the company's bookkeeping. Gianluigi further consolidated and expanded the business he had inherited from his father, even exploiting the various opportunities in the construction sector offered by the economic boom. For this reason, he was awarded the title of Grand Officer of the Order of Merit by the Italian Republic in 1999, which was followed by various other titles conferred upon him by religious orders over the years.


The third generation: Ariberto and his siblings

Ariberto graduated from the Varese Technical Institute as an expert mechanic 1975. Although he was intent on studying engineering, he was strongly urged to join the family business due to his father's illness.

When the illness took a turn for the worse in 1987, Gianluigi was forced to take on the bulk of the management responsibilities, a role that he has maintained up until today.

Ariberto also inherited Gianluigi's role on the board of the Varese Merchants Association. Gianluigi held the position from 1986 until he reached retirement age, after which he was succeeded by his son.

Gianluigi's decades-old tradition of volunteering with the sick is continued by Ariberto as a blood donor, as well as by his wife Daniela Colonna Preti, who serves as director for Polha, the Varese multi-purpose sports facility for the disabled.

Upon his joining the company, Ariberto's siblings were pursuing different endeavours. Alessandro earned a degree in political science, but also had other interests.

He only joined the company at a later time. Their sisters, on the other hand, are still pursuing their studies: Eugenia and Annalisa will respectively earn their degrees in classical literature and foreign languages. The youngest, Paola, is currently in her first year of accounting. All three have decided to join the family business after marriage. Eugenia is currently in charge of the bathroom furnishings displays, while the other two are employed in the bookkeeping department.

In addition to the sole proprietorship, Gianluigi also established the company Brusa srl in 1981, headquartered at no. 3 Via Giusti in Varese, with his wife and children as partners. Gianluigi holds the largest share and serves as sole director, while his wife holds a lesser share and his children were all allocated equal shares. The new company's business purpose is stated as "the sale of sanitary and heating products, as well as other related items."

On December 1st 1982, Brusa srl incorporated the bankrupt printing company Industria grafica Valle Olona spa, with registered offices in Milan. The aim was to gain ownership of the abandoned warehouse and to acquire valuable commercial space at No. 3 Via Giusti. The new wholesale and retail store for sanitary and heating items, which overlooks one of the city's main thoroughfares, Viale Borri, opened on March 21st 1983.

Being situated in the centre of Varese, the building on via Magatti could not be expanded and was therefore renovated, in part to be used as a showroom, run by the sole proprietorship company, and in part to become the residence of the Brusa family itself.

During the same period, the company purchased a 700 m2 warehouse at no. 54 Via Guicciardini, which opened on October 1st 1983.

This building complex also became the home of Ariberto's family, which by this time also included his three children: Giovanna (born in 1984), Stefano (born in 1991) and Elena (born in 1996). The building is not far from the Varese Hospital, and the company has been one of its main suppliers since it opened. Considering the inflation rates of the previous decade, in order to further consolidate the company, its share capital was increased from 21 million to 200 million lire in September of 1992. The proportion of shares allocated amongst the shareholders nevertheless remained the same.


The need for additional space and changes in the market

The acquisition of the warehouse on Via Guicciardini did not alleviate the company's need for additional space. This need is was primarily due to the rapid expansion of the company's product range, as Brusa's various suppliers were constantly developing new product lines. The market had become increasingly demanding and was more fragmented than it had been in the past. For these reasons, the company decided to expand its warehouses and retail structures. Renovations on the building on Via Giusti began in 1992 and were completed the following year. The new facility boasts a 1000 m2 covered area, housing a showroom and a consulting office, offering heating/technical advice to customers, as well as the company's own administrative offices. The new spacious meeting room also allows the company to hold meetings for updating vendors and installers alike. These training courses, which were formerly hosted at external facilities, started when the manufacturers began to feel the need to promote their products to a greater extent.

The expansion of the facility on Via Giusti decreased the necessity to maintain the historical showroom on Via Magatti, which was eventually closed along with the sole proprietorship company registered to Gianluigi. In 1999, the company separated its sales activities from its real estate business by establishing the real estate firm Immobiliare Brusa srl, with Brusa srl continuing in its original sector. On December 19th 2002, a third wholesale and retail store was opened on Via Verdi in Gemonio. In 2007, the store was moved to a new location just a few hundred metres away, at 1-5 Via Rosaspina: a nearly 5000 m2 structure boasting a 500 m2 display area, a complete sales counter and an ample warehouse for storing merchandise. The Brusa company currently has 41 employees, who are flanked by various external sales representatives as well as the family members themselves. In addition to Gianluigi's own children, his first grandchild, Marta (Paola's daughter) also works at the company. Ariberto's eldest daughter, Giovanna, studied interior design in order to be useful to the family business, but went to work for her husband's company in Milan after she was married.

The range of products sold by the company has increased with respect to the previous decades. The company sells bathroom products and furnishings, including cabinetry, boilers, sanitary fixtures, taps and accessories. Its main customers include public bodies (various municipalities and the Province of Varese), hospitals, businesses, and an extensive network of installers, for a total of about eight hundred clients. For this reason, Brusa srl does not need to make use of traditional advertising methods, relying mainly upon the recommendations of its installers and the trust that it has gained with the public institutions over the decades. The serious crisis that the building industry has been experiencing in recent years, however, has reduced the company's volume of business. Many unsold apartments are only fitted with sanitary fixtures after the contractor finds a buyer. In this situation, the expense of supplying plumbing installations does not allow for the economies of scale to be taken advantage of. What's more, new shopping centres offering low cost heating and plumbing products have further eroded the market, even though the quality of their products is often substandard. Despite these difficulties, the company has made the "ethical" decision to avoid laying off any employees. This decision is likewise in line with Gianluigi and Ariberto's constant commitment to their volunteer work. In recent years, the money normally used for Christmas bonuses has been donated to support development projects in Africa, as well as the Varese soup kitchen.

Given the cultural and financial diversity of its customers, Brusa srl ??chooses to sell brand names that offer aesthetically-pleasing, long-lasting and highly-functional products with a good price-quality ratio. The company only relies on well-established suppliers that will be capable of supplying replacement parts for extended periods of time. Like in the past, the company's managers regularly attend industry trade fairs in Frankfurt, Milan and Bologna in order to stay up to date on the market's latest products, often even signing profitable trade agreements.