A success story dating back more than one hundred years, the result of an inspired idea. This is the story of Fratelli Carli, a Liguria-based company among the most important and well known on the olive oil market, with an unmistakable trademark and a distribution model that passes exclusively through direct sales - a model that ensures close and trusted relationships with customers.
The Company was founded in 1911 in Oneglia, in the current province of Imperia, from a printing press. Carlo Carli owned a large printing house that employed all members of the family: “Then, as now” recalls Gian Franco Carli, current CEO of the company, “the main priority was to find a job for your children. That’s why it was decided to start a business that could secure a future for all males of the family”. The printing press, however, was not the only activity of the Carli family, which also owned many hectares of land cultivated with olive trees.
1911 was indeed the year that marked the turning point. From an abundant harvest of olives, twenty year-old Giovanni – one of the six sons of the printer Carlo – came up with the idea that would change the lives of the entire family: to sell the oil produced by the Carli olive groves not to local retailers, but directly to families in southern Piedmont. On his Bianchi bicycle, Giovanni went to find his first customers, who immediately learned to appreciate the quality of the olive oil. Just one year later, the still active printing press prepared the first catalogue. The new product was immediately sent to the families who accepted the challenge the year before. Thus, the old print printing press provided excellent support for the marketing and advertising of the new brand. The merger of the two businesses, printing and food, resulted in Fratelli Carli, which became a papal supplier in 1927 and, exactly ten years later, counted the Royal House of Savoy among its customers.
Today the company is one of the most renowned and prestigious names on the olive oil market. And its million regular customers, almost a third of which abroad, are all direct. Just like a century ago, in fact, the typical Carli vans deliver the company’s products door to door in Germany, France, Switzerland and Austria. And steady growth in the number of customers is expected, so much so that SACE had guaranteed a loan of 6 million euros intended to support the investment plans and international growth of Fratelli Carli. “Our foreign customers” says Gian Franco Carli “show us that they appreciate the special relationship, constant and without intermediates, they can develop with our company in addition to the very high quality of products offered. These customers are born and raised in the countries we operate in and we are sure they will give us great satisfaction.”
A striking aspect of this wonderful business story is the farsightedness and cutting edge of the choices made over the years. The first cookbook dates back to 1936, intended to thank customers with a prestigious gift, strengthening the unique relationship that nothing has ever been able to undermine. For this reason, Carli went all out, commissioning the same to the head chef of the Royal Family, Sir Amedeo Pettini. The cookbook was enhanced with drawings by illustrator and cartoonist Giuseppe Cappadonia, who would later became famous with the comic “Intrepido”. Simple tricks that have proven to be great marketing strategies, coming ahead of their time and setting an example.
“If, on the one hand, ours has been a winning choice,” explains Gian Franco Carli, “on the other hand, I won’t hide that it is hard to stay on the market without following the rules of large retail. Our business is complicated, with very slow growth. Winning over a new customer is difficult and expensive. But if done properly, our activity makes it possible to put quality first” continues the CEO.
Even today, ours is one of the nine Italian companies classified as a Benefit Corporation, i.e. a company that, in addition to pursuing profit, also aims to respect environmental sustainability and create a new enterprise culture that supports an economic model which takes the social dimension into account as well.
The knowledge of having guessed the formula for reaching customers’ hearts has not stopped the company from exploring new avenues, always with respect for the winning tradition. Thus, the retail idea was born, namely the creation of stores where you can buy or simply taste all Carli products: “With this initiative”, Gian Franco Carli goes on, “we wanted to reach out to all the people who know and appreciate us but don’t want to be served at home”. Another step towards new customers while still maintaining the direct relationship.