Why independents are Elica’s greatest asset
Francesco Casoli, chairman of Italian appliance brand Elica, reveals how its commitment to design, innovation and its close relationship with its retail partners is driving its developments
It’s not unusual for a business to be passed down through generations of the same family but what makes the Elica story quite unique is that Francesco Casoli was just 16 when he took over the brand following the passing of his father [Elica founder Ermanno Casoli] in 1978.
“My father founded the business in 1970 and he was just 49 when he died in 1978,” Francesco Casoli explains. “When he died, I was only 16, so at that point, running a cooker hood brand was not something I had in mind. I wanted to study and take my own career path. However, as a family-oriented business obviously that all changed when my father passed away and I jumped straight into the business taking on the role and responsibilities alongside my mother, Gianna Pieralsi.”
Casoli built on his father’s legacy and vision and turned Elica into a brand that is synonymous with style, innovation and design in the cooker hood sector.
Seven years ago, it expanded into the cooking category with the launch of its first hobs. Now, with the launch of its latest innovation – LHOV – Casoli explains how Elica is looking to educate the market on why it’s more than an extractor hood specialist.
Q: The Elica brand of today is very different from the Elica that you inherited in 1978. Can you explain the strategy you implemented to get the business to where it is now?
A: The scale of the business is vastly different from how it looked in 1978 when I took the business over. By then, it was eight-years old, and we employed 100 people and, aside from a small number of products sold in Europe, we essentially only operated in Italy.
Today, we employ around 3,000 people and operate from seven factories in Italy, Poland, Mexico and China and we have a strong export business.
My father founded the business, so his legacy was very important, but what we have created over and above that is also very important. Those achievements don’t happen by standing still – we push a lot to maintain the legacy and to create a constantly evolving picture.
Q: Can you put those achievements into context with an overview of how the business is currently faring?
A: Five years ago, our annual turnover figure was €300 million. Last year, we made €550 million. We are obviously very proud of this global growth.
Q: Are there any specific factors you put that success down to?
A: Luck! By that, I mean I have been extremely lucky with the people I’ve had around me. I was 16 when I inherited the business and so I owe a lot of Elica’s success to the people that helped guide me and shape it into the business it is today. I would even go as far as saying that I did a great job finding
people who are better than me.
Every year, we aim to give the market something more exciting and more attractive than before. Through innovation, we’ve been able to extend the portfolio, bringing retailers and consumers new ideas, options, and choices. We see it as our responsibility to continue to change, so that we can appeal to a wide audience – this is not only good for the consumer, but the retailers too.
We are still a family-owned business and, even though we aren’t a small operation, by comparison with other brands we are, and that not only gives us real flexibility to adapt, but it also means that we understand what retailers need.
Q: What’s the story for the brand in the UK?
A: We have a long history in the UK – we have been in the market for 44 years. The UK is at the centre of design, retail and specification markets, and that is why the UK is and always will be an important market for Elica. We operate in the UK through our distribution partner DR Cooker Hoods.
We have worked with them since we launched into the UK market in 1979. It also highlights our approach – we like to foster long-term relationships.
Q: Running Elica may not have been in your life plan at 16, but you inherited the business and turned it into a huge success. Where would you say your ongoing passion for developing cooking appliances come from?
A: I’ve been in the industry for more than 40 years now and it may not be the most glamorous to work in, but it does inspire a lot of passion. When you understand how and why we develop the products, you can’t help but be inspired.
What drives me are people and the changing needs of the consumer. We make products that help people to stay well, to enjoy food and lifestyles in their home. It’s all of these things that makes me passionate about domestic appliances and, specifically, what we do at Elica.
Innovation is a key pillar of our strategy and innovation is a product of listening – to consumers and retailers. You can only innovate if you listen to what people need. So, we try to understand what is driving consumers in all of the markets we operate in globally so that we can ensure we create products that meet those needs. But to do that we have to listen to those closest to the consumer – our retailers. For us, our retail partners are our drivers. Retailers are the closest link to the consumer, and they listen to consumers on our behalf.
Q: How would you describe your approach to management?
A: When I joined the business at 16, I knew it was impossible for me to drive the business alone. It’s an extremely difficult task to be a leader of such a business at such a young age.
So, I’d say my management style or approach is to understand the importance of delegation and that it takes more than one person to lead a brand successfully. Understanding the importance of the people you have around you and the qualities each one brings to the organisation is key.
I always try to communicate clearly to the business where I see Elica in the next five or 10 years etc. Sharing the direction of the business is essential. That way, managers at each level understand what it is that they need to do to help us achieve those goals as a brand.
Q: Elica is very well-known for extraction – and I think few would argue with the fact that you played a significant role in creating the ‘designer hood’ category. How do you convince the market that you’re a cooking brand now?
A: My father, Ermanno, was a visionary and developed the cooker hood market. We have continued with the same innovative spirit since his death 45 years ago.
We launched into the aspirational hob segment in 2016, so we’re not new to the cooking category. We’re gaining recognition not only as an inspirational design and innovation brand, but as a cooking specialist.
And now, with our latest launch – LHOV – we have hoods, hobs and ovens. This is such a great addition to our story as a brand because it means that consumers and retailer designers can get that continuity of design across the kitchen. Another plus point for retailers is that being able to order from one brand simplifies their processes.
We have to continue to educate the market so that they know who we are, how the brand has evolved over the past 50 years and where we are going now. We are very much an innovation- and product-driven brand and that is often how we best communicate – through new product development.
Q: As a brand, what would you say you offer retailers that other brands don’t? Why do they choose to work with Elica?
A: It’s a never-ending story – we can always do better, and we are continually evolving to give retailers a new story to tell or to appeal to a new audience. So, we have to give retailers something that will help them attract different types of consumers. We have to give them something that is easy to sell, something that maintains the Elica promise in terms of delivering products that are technology, innovation and service-led.
We also try to do everything we can to remove any friction between the retailer and the end consumer to help retailers have an easy life. We work together and if they have a problem, we also see it as our problem.
Q: Considering the global uncertainty, what’s the best bit of advice you could give to retailers at the moment?
A: The message from us is simple – don’t panic. Don’t make rash decisions. We are here and we will continue to support them as we have done for over 50 years. I think the next six months will be very interesting.
For those who have been in the industry for a long time, like me, this won’t be the first time they’ve faced a challenging market. When the market isn’t performing well, there is always a period of reset/refresh and that is now. My view is that in six months’ time we will start to see consumers coming back to buy in a strong way. It feels almost like a natural comedown after the peak during Covid.
Q: What are your aims and objectives for the brand now and in the future?
A: The market is changing. Whirlpool and Arçelik have come together to create a new European brand and there are rumours about other brands coming together – so the appliance market is moving at a very fast pace. That makes it very difficult to predict where Elica could be in the next five years.
That said, I strongly believe there is a place in the market for an aspirational, true European brand like Elica – one that is constantly pushing the boundaries of innovation and design.
We’re not a new brand – we are over 50 years old and have been in the UK for 42 years – but we want to grow with our brand. This is our chance and our task. It’s time to let the market know that we are here, we want to stay, and we want to grow. We want to grow by understanding the market better so that there is genuinely something different out there for consumers and retailers.
Our LHOV oven [see box below] is the next stage of our constant innovation in Elica and in the cooking category, which will become more and more important for us as a brand. We want to grow by understanding the market better so that there is genuinely something different out there for consumers and retailers. Innovation, efficiency, sustainability and a clear strategic view are the drivers of future growth.
What’s LHOV got to do with it?
Elica’s latest innovation brings together the hob, hood and oven in one single appliance. A three-in-one solution, designed by Fabrizio Crisa, Elica chief design officer, which the company describes as “a true revolution making the most of space in the home, and a product that will reshape the cooking experience”.
Wider than standard models, the oven offers a larger cooking area on one level – eliminating the need to divide the main course and sides across different shelves or racks. It has a hidden extraction system that automatically removes vapours and odours from the hob area and also from the oven during cooking and when the door is opened. Lastly, LHOV incorporates an extraction hob with five cooking zones.
From a design perspective, because LHOV is a single, space-saving unit, Elica says that it will help designers maintain and enhance the linear look of modern kitchen designs.