“If Passion becomes a job, then products are born that make you fall in love”: this is the mantra of Andrea Cardone, the genuinely Neapolitan brand of leather bags and accessories created in 2006 by a man, who ever since he was a child, would follow his father and grandfather around the old artisan shops in the centre of Naples, and who today has made craft workmanship and good taste his calling card around the world. The outbreak of the pandemic did nothing to diminish this passion, and in fact the brand, in countertrend to many of its competitors, decided to focus more than in the past on the Italian market by opening new flagship stores in Venice and Naples (for a total of 6 stores in Italy). Of this and other projects, we spoke with Andrea Cardone, the heart and mind behind the brand.
How did the outbreak of the pandemic impact your business and how have you organised yourselves in facing this new reality?
Our business is essentially focused on foreign markets, with around 98% of our revenue coming from countries like Japan, the United States, and Canada. This allowed us to continue to work even during the pandemic, even if it was at a slower rhythm, presenting our collections to customers through digital showrooms and participating, when possible, in physical editions of fairs through our foreign representatives.
Do you believe that the Post-Covid Era has also opened up the way to new business opportunities?
In a certain sense, yes. After the outbreak of Covid and the mandatory lockdowns, the cost of store leases fell significantly throughout the country. This allowed us to open new flagship stores in extremely striking locations that were almost unthinkable up until a short while ago, as in the case of our latest store opened in via Chiaia in Naples, which was the location of an old chocolate shop, where we have maintained unaltered the original wainscoting.
You opened a flagship store in Venice in December, and another one in Naples in April, at a time, when generally speaking, physical retail was in the midst of a crisis.
We are personally taking care of the opening of these new stores, with the aim of reinforcing the presence and image of the Andrea Cardone brand across the Italian territory. At the same time, these new openings are serving as a test in developing some successful formats that might attract the attention of foreign partners and serve as a launching pad for the opening of new flagship franchises abroad, especially in markets like Japan or the USA.
What can customers find in your stores that they cannot purchase online?
Undoubtedly, and primarily, a rapport with our sales personnel. We take painstaking care with the selection of our employees, because we believe it is of fundamental importance for the customer, upon entering the store, to immediately feel at ease with the possibility of finding, at the same time, someone ready to provide them with information and advice. If, for example, a woman is shorter in stature, the sales clerk should direct her towards bags with modest volumes and not just simply offer her anything with the intent of selling. I believe that this ‘genuinely honest’ approach is perceived by clientele and is capable of winning over their loyalty in the long-term. At the same time, I feel the customer must be ‘pampered’. For this reason, all of our stores have a coffee machine inside them: it allows the customer to feel at ease, and enjoy a moment of relaxation and camaraderie, so that more often than not, they make a purchase before leaving our store. I believe that in the near future there will be a return to the neighbourhood store, where anonymity makes way for friendship, trust, and familiarity.
What is your strategy in terms of online sales?
We have an e-commerce site, but sales through this channel are not so important for us. In the past – up until around two years ago – we focused a lot on having a presence on platforms like Zalando, Privalia or Vente Privée, where we generated an important revenue. Once, for example, during a three-day flash sale, we arrived at selling over 3 thousand pieces! The problem is that in the long-term this strategy harms the brand itself and the way it is perceived by customers. In fact, selling at a discounted price, even for brief periods of time, often leads to a devaluation of the product. For us, it is still essential today to sell through our representatives and at fairs.
In your opinion, what should the role of fairs be today?
Events like Expo Riva Schuh – GardaBags and Micam are fundamental. For us, they are an irreplaceable opportunity for meeting new customers coming from around the world, while also reinforcing the rapport with pre-existing ones. Virtual fairs cannot replace a physical presence in any way. Above all for a product like ours, where craft workmanship is an added value, and seeing and touching a bag or accessory with your hands is essential to appreciating its value.
Do you believe that today, in the Post-pandemic era, consumers are in search of different products from those of the past?
The pandemic raised awareness about prices and their relation to quality. Customers today are more demanding and on the lookout for products that are more carefully crafted, higher quality, and destined to last over time. We have always proposed bags and accessories with a basic and linear design, which are perfect for all seasons.
Speaking of fashion, what are the trends that will lead the way in your next summer collection?
The two extremes will be popular, with little or no middle ground: so, extremely large bags or mini-bags perfect for carrying on your wrist, in the wake of the trends launched by influencers.