Can you give us a brief history of the Charlotte brand?
The company was founded in the 1990s on Lake Garda, I would say almost by chance. Working in the area, I had realised that there was a strong demand for Italian products from tourists, especially Germans and Austrians, who flocked to Riva and the small towns of Rivano. However, only black and brown bags were to be found in the shops, which scarcely represented the creativity and flair of Made in Italy. So I got in touch with a manufacturer and started to propose quality Made in Italy full of creativity. I opened my first shop in Malcesine and it quickly became a reference point in the area: the product I was proposing, made with Italian leather by local artisans and with the vital colours of the lake – lemon yellow, the blue of the sky, the green of the water – made the difference. The first shop was soon followed by others, and at the end of the 1990s the Charlotte brand was born, as a tribute to my wife and also to the many foreign tourists who flocked to the Rivan coast every year and loved to take home a souvenir with the name of their loved ones.
How many shops do you currently count?
Today we have 14 Charlotte shops on Lake Garda, to which we add several shops in South Tyrol that work almost exclusively with us, and a shop in Ortigia, Sicily, but we supply over 500 shops worldwide.
What characterises a Charlotte bag compared to the competition?
Certainly the quality/price ratio, because ours is a very high quality product, all Made in Italy (made between the Marche and Tuscany, while the logistics centre is in Salò), but sold at much lower prices than our competitors. We ourselves also produce for private labels and third parties, and we know that the price at which the same product is proposed to the market is three times higher. With the Charlotte brand, we offer fashionable women’s leather goods, while with our other brand, Marchetti, we offer business and men’s leather goods.
What are your target markets?
We work for about 80 per cent in Italy through our shops, and for the remaining 15 per cent worldwide – from Russia to China, from Europe to South Africa. About 5 per cent is online sales. Our clientele, however, is international, because in our shops we sell a lot to tourists, for whom Charlotte is now a recognised and appreciated brand, a true example of Made in Italy.
What do customers look for today?
Today the orientation is towards a cleaner line than in the past, with small but not too showy accessories, for a passe partout product, whereas until a few years ago a more whimsical and special bag was sought after. In summer, bright and pastel colours are very much in fashion, while in winter, neutrals are in vogue. We mainly offer genuine leather goods.
What is ‘sustainability’ for you?
For us, sustainability means genuine leather products, which ‘close the circle’ of the food chain and which, otherwise, would become waste products to be disposed of, thus a waste, a cost and an element that feeds pollution. Moreover, about 80% of the leathers we use are recycled and vegetable tanned.
Let’s talk about retail strategy: you have recently opened a new shop in Riva del Garda, why this choice?
In March 2023, we opened a new Charlotte shop in Riva del Garda, at Piazza Catena 31, taking over the shop of one of our customers who was retiring, and which we have completely modernised. We bet a lot on our presence in the area, where we are now recognised as a real brand, a guarantee of quality, good taste and good price. In the short term we plan to open more sales outlets in the provincial capitals.
Where are the next openings planned? Why are you focusing on provincial towns as opposed to big cities?
We plan to open three new sales outlets between the end of 2023 and the beginning of 2024: in Padua, Venice and Lucca. We are focusing on provincial towns because here, more than in the big cities, there is still the pleasure of the weekend ‘struscio’, of proximity shopping, and human contact and the relationship with the trusted point of sale still count.
However, you also have an e-commerce site…
It is an aspect of our business that we have developed mainly to respond to specific needs that arose in the relationship with our customers, especially foreign ones, who know and appreciate us and who still want to buy from us, but find it difficult to get to one of our shops. However, I believe that our product, to be best appreciated, must be seen and touched. Only then can one fully perceive its quality and value.
You have been taking part in Expo Riva Schuh & Gardabags for years: what is the role of this event for your business?
We took part in Expo Riva Schuh for two seasons and then we were among the promoters, together with the organisers, of the birth of Gardabags, a fair in which we have participated since the first edition. For us it is the reference appointment for meeting large and important buyers and international chain shops. We also participate in Mipel, where we have contacts mainly with small Italian and foreign boutiques.