MUSEOWEB dell'economia varesina


A small artisan and commercial company (1930-1949)

In 1930, at 44 years of age, Emma Gottardi began a sole proprietorship company and opened a shop at no. 11 Via Donizetti (now no. 6 Via Mazzini) in Varese for the production and sale of shopping bags.
Emma was born in Algeria in 1886 to Italian immigrant parents.
After having moved to Varese, she married Enrico Ambrosetti (a resident of Biumo Superiore) in 1910 and later gave birth to a son, Giancarlo, in 1913.
By the time her son was seventeen years old, Emma was able to devote herself entirely to the production of handmade bags, an activity which was likely closely linked to Enrico’s business, which relatives recall had to do with saddlery.
By machine sewing pieces of scrap leather in the back of the store, Emma was able to create robust triangular bags, which she sold to customers along with umbrellas and other leather goods.
The rented premises were small and only had two windows, but were situated in the centre of a commercially viable area with tram access, which was highly frequented due to the cattle fair held every Monday in the square (today known as piazza Repubblica) as well as the presence of major shoe companies, whose workers crowded the shop at noon to make purchases during their lunch break.
The work was very demanding: Emma also handled the business’s administration and spent the entire day in the shop, with her family bringing her food to heat up at lunchtime. In the evenings she would walk back to via Monterosa in Casbeno, where the family had been residing since 1935. In 1942, during the Second World War, Giancarlo married Ines Marinelli and went to live next to his parents on Via Monterosa. His son Lorenzo was born in 1944. Following the war, Giancarlo indulged his passion for football by playing for the Varese football club for a number of years. In 1946, however, his father’s death, combined with the needs of his family, led him to devote himself entirely to the family business.

Commercial development (1950-1966)

In 1950, Giancarlo opened a fabric suitcase factory out of his home on Via Monterosa. These were basic products that were in high demand in a Town that had been undergoing significant episodes of migration.
Even the retail business, which had been entrusted to the female branch of the family, underwent a significant increase in quality: with the help of her daughter-in-law, Ines, who also lent a hand in administrative matters, Emma stopped producing handmade shopping bags and began focusing exclusively on retail trade in handbags and other fashion items.
In 1956, the business was enriched by an important element: under the form of sole proprietorship, Ines opened a shop at no. 9 Via Solferino in Milan and took on a shop assistant. Thus, every morning she would help her mother-in-law at the shop in Varese, and in the afternoon would travel by train to Milan. In the early 1960s, the sales at the Varese store had increased to the point that Emma and Ines were forced to take on an employee.
The presence of these family figures often led young Lorenzo to frequent the shop: he was attending school in the centre of Varese and would often go to the store after class, where he would have something to eat with his mother and grandmother in the back and would then spend the afternoon doing his homework. In the entrepreneur’s memory, this season would end up being inextricably linked to the aroma of the soup that he could smell when coming through the door, and the possibility of having a fleeting encounter with his mother as she left for Milan.
His father, Giancarlo, on the other hand, was always busy at his workshop on Via Monterosa, which had reached a considerable size and employed as many as twenty workers.
After having received his diploma in accounting in 1964, Lorenzo immediately went to work for the family businesses: both the workshop as well as the store. After work, he would often go to pick up his mother in Milan or at the Varese train station in order to save her the effort of making the trip all the way home.

The second generation (1967-1991)

The two years of 1967 and 1968 represent a turning point in the history of the family, as well as the business.
The business that had been started up by Giancarlo was at a crossroads: it was necessary to decide whether to expand the business by investing new energy and resources in the technologies that had been introduced to the sector by the arrival of new brands (including Samsonite and Roncato), or whether to abandon it. Lorenzo was mainly interested in the store and, since the human resources upon which the small Ambrosetti family could count were already stretched thin, Giancarlo, who as also in poor health, decided to close the workshop in 1967. Ines also closed her store in Milan for the same reasons.
At the same time, the family was presented with the opportunity to purchase the shop itself and, seized the occasion to have some initial renovation work carried out.
That same year, Lorenzo married Maria Iori, who at the time was employed by a professional payroll firm.
Again that same year, Lorenzo became an official partner in the family business, thus transforming the sole proprietorship into a de facto company under the name of “Ditta Ambrosetti di Emma e Renzo Ambrosetti”.
Within the scope of this highly volatile situation, Maria began playing an important role within her new family and brought about an important contribution. Thanks to her professional expertise, she was able to take charge of the administrative management of the store – which at the time employed two shop hands – and began helping Emma with the business’s tax returns at the Tax Office.
While Maria was unable to guarantee her presence at the store because she had to look after her children (Marco, born in 1970, Paolo, born in 1972, and Giancarlo, born in 1977), she nevertheless played an important supporting role from home by preparing lunch for the others.
She also accompanied her husband and father-in-law to the hotels in Turin that organized the leather goods exhibitions (the Milan and Mipel Trade Fairs were still far off), and began following the path that, in the 1970s, would bring important brand names to the family store, such as Coccinelle, Samsonite and Gherardini.
When Emma died in 1972, Giancarlo succeeded her in the de facto company: the company name was changed to “Ditta Ambrosetti di Giancarlo e Renzo Ambrosetti”.
That same year, the company purchased an apartment above the store in view of the possibility of a future expansion.
The shop underwent intense development from 1970 to 1985:  the retail business was handled by Lorenzo, along with his mother Ines, his wife Maria and two shop assistants who, in later years, would become six.
1986 was a year of profound change. The two neighbouring shops were acquired and the store doubled in size, resulting in the need for substantial renovations.
Ines also passed away that year, thus requiring Maria Iori to take on a more direct role in the family enterprise: Lorenzo’s wife became a new partner in the de facto company and, since her children were older and no longer required her complete attention, she was able to dedicate herself to the store on a permanent basis.

The third generation (1992-2011)

Of their three children, only Paolo took an interest in retail trade. After having earned his diploma as a building surveyor and having carried out a brief apprenticeship, in 1992 Paolo opened an Invicta franchise store on Via Ugo Foscolo near his parents' shop. He did, however, maintain a strong bond with the store and when the company was transformed into a limited partnership in 1997 he went to work with his grandfather and mother as a limited partner. It was on that occasion that the company’s business purpose placed its commercial activities ahead of its industrial ones for the first time. In 2007, as a natural conclusion to this process, Paolo’s parents confronted him with the issue of succession, and he opted to remain with the family’s store.
Today the shop is the hub of the family business. Following two attempts at expanding the business’s retail outlets – with the opening of another unit on Via Ugo Foscolo (1995-2001) and, above all, another at the Le Corti di piazza Repubblica shopping centre project (1997-2009) – the family now focuses its energies on the original store.
In 2008 the display areas were radically restructured and reorganized in order to provide customers with a better view of the items on sale.
The store now deals in top quality brands of leather goods and travel accessories, offering a direct contact between the customer and the producer in order to contrast the expansion of the product lines offered by the larger shopping centres, such as La Rinascente or Coin.
At this point, the company’s strong relationships with prestigious brands has become a vital factor, and it even means taking into account the operational styles that they want to offer their customers.
Product repairs, for example, were once a cornerstone of the services that retailers offered to their customers. Today the situation has been reversed: maintenance services are now reserved for the manufacturers’ service centres and the retailer’s role has been reduced to one of facilitating the transaction.
Furthermore, the strong organizational structure of the major brands has now resolved the issues associated with inventory management thanks to the timely monitoring of the requests that have been registered upon the network (amongst shops, single brand stores and outlets).
Unsold products can be recalled and sent to where they are in demand. Over time, the store has established itself as one of the most important business in Varese in terms of continuity and experience in the industry, and has even received recognition on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce and the industry’s various trade associations. The company currently employs seven individuals, four of whom are members of the family. These family members include Michela, who married Paolo in 2001 and works for the company part-time, while primarily devoting herself to their two young children. And finally, Paolo has become the Ambrosetti family’s first generation to realize the dream of living in a studio apartment above the store itself.