BUSINESS: Suppliers Safilo's Francesco Rinaldi Ceroni: At Work to 'Redefine Partnership' With Accounts Through N.A. By Staff Monday, September 12, 2022 12:30 AM Francesco Rinaldi Ceroni, Safilo's president and chief commercial officer, North America. NEW YORK—With a unique resume and business experience that spans optical, sun and sport performance markets, Francesco Rinaldi Ceroni is applying his knowledge and skills to reinforce Safilo's competitive position in North America. In an exclusive interview with VMAIL marking 90 days since his appointment as president and chief commercial officer of North America, Safilo Group last June, Rinaldi Ceroni shared his perspectives on the work now underway for the company to build on the sales achievements and momentum of Safilo in North America over the past several years, and some of the newer initiatives coming onstream for its independent ECP customers this fall and into 2023. These will be in the areas of sustainable products, an enhanced proprietary brands and eyewear/sun portfolio, an embrace of digital tools and added support to enhance customer service commitment. Rinaldi Ceroni, who took on the commercial N.A. role in addition to maintaining oversight of Safilo Group's thriving Smith Optics outdoors performance eyewear business, as VMAIL reported, said he's used his initial few months on the job as time to refamiliarize himself with the optical side of the business today, getting out to learn both internal team and outside stakeholders' perspectives, expectations and service priorities in a changing business climate. Rinaldi Ceroni's first year as Safilo's leader of North America coincides with Safilo's 60th anniversary in North America—the company has had a commercial presence in the U.S. since 1962. The Safilo S.p.A. history dates back to 1878 with the establishment of the first eyewear manufacturing facility in Italy, thus underscoring over 140 years of manufacturing tradition in the eyewear industry. The North American business is a critical one to the overall Safilo Group (SFLG.MI). Based on the results recorded in the first half of 2022 and the current visibility into the third quarter, Safilo management states it is confident about already reaching in 2022 the economic targets set out in the 2024 business plan, which envisaged net sales at around €1 billion and the adjusted EBITDA margin between 9 percent and 11 percent. The Group now expects full year 2022 net sales to grow mid-single digits at constant exchange rates compared to 2021 and the adjusted EBITDA margin to stand at around 10 percent from 8.4 percent recorded in 2021. The company is just kicking off a new campaign in North America to reinforce its commitments to "People, Product and a renewed commitment to the Planet." Rinaldi Ceroni commented, "Over the last few years, we went through a transformation and we didn't tell our story often enough. We are the largest independent eyewear player in the industry. It is time for Safilo to embrace our capabilities and the value that we bring to the table. We are defining 'partnership' with a fresh approach, reinforcing our focus on embracing modern ideas while showcasing our incredible Safilo team and all that they do—whether it is product development, marketing, sales or supply chain—while redefining our partnership that elevates both our brand and our performance." The new campaign is now on Safilo's B2B site, MySafilo.com. In terms of organizational work, Rinaldi Ceroni noted, "Safilo is made up of a loyal group of people with great talents who’ve been with us for 10, 15, 20 years or more. I was very impressed by this when I joined Safilo and I see their experience as a real asset to the organization. We have unified the independent channel (what was previously run as 3Os, strategic accounts, alliances and buying groups) to streamline these for consistency and efficiency." And, he noted, "We are dedicated to putting more focus on our own house brands such as Carrera, Polaroid, Elasta, Emozioni, and Chesterfield which are strong brands in the U.S." Marking 60 years in North America, Safilo's new messaging highlights its people, partnership and service commitments. Further, Rinaldi Ceroni and his team are assessing and strengthening the N.A. team's marketing and digital capabilities. "We're analyzing new approaches to business development, and seeing what types of tools and commercial programs are being offered to each of our sales accounts, from independent ECPs to strategic accounts to buying groups and alliances. We want to learn how we can be more effective to specifically serve them and help them stand out, whatever they need." One asset that Rinaldi Ceroni sees as a distinct competitive advantage is Safilo's own N.A. infrastructure. These include its customer service call center in Secaucus, N.J. Starting in Q3, Oct. 3rd, Safilo's U.S. customer service representatives will be available from 8:30 a.m. - 8:00 p.m. (ET), providing an additional 1.5 hours of customer support, Monday through Friday. "This is just one of the many ways we are redefining partnership to better service the needs of our customers from coast-to-coast, especially those on the West Coast." Safilo's state-of-the-art N.A. distribution center (which opened June 2019 and replaced a previous Denver distribution facility), which he said is one of the strongest assets of Safilo, is located in Aurora, Colorado, a Denver suburb. "We can do so much with this facility in Aurora," he noted. "All product and POP for the U.S. and Canada is shipped to and from there. We've got some 350 employees (pickers, packers, logistics, shipping, warrantees, returns managed from there.) Some 16 million units are shipped annually from Aurora, orders ship in less than three days, with online orders shipping much faster." Smith Optics, with corporate HQ in Portland, Ore., has manufacturing facilities in Clearfield, Utah. Manufacturing of Smith goggles has taken place there for more than 50 years. An Rx lab, a capability built over the last two years supporting the sport division, as well as Blenders and Privé Rivaux (other businesses that are part of the Safilo Group) are also there. A Miami showroom is primarily used by Safilo's Latin America team. "But," Rinaldi Ceroni pointed out, "we have access to the space and, in fact, will be utilizing it to host buying days for our customers this November." Safilo Canada’s offices, including customer service, are based in Montreal. Other elements in raising its service quotient to customers of all types, Rinaldi Ceroni stated, is training and education. "Today, training is multi-dimensional. Safilo strives to be a better partner by providing great service, products and education. As such, we continue to evolve our program with the changing needs of our customers. Training and education are key to a successful team. Our training and education department supports our customers in person, by webinar and at large events such as Vision Expo East and West. In addition, there is a selection of webinars listed under a Safilo Academy banner that are housed on mySafilo.com. We offer customer trainings from the basics on optical frames to more advanced topics for offices who are focused on frame board management, return rates, selling multiple pairs and increasing their capture rate." Rinaldi Ceroni observed, "Many of our customers are shorthanded right now, so we can and do also provide trainings for new opticians from our sales reps. We have regional sales managers and ABO-certified speakers. We’re quite proud of our train the trainer programs, offering educated trainers throughout the U.S. We also train our sales team on how to have important business conversations about inventory and providing frames that will fill their specific needs. Our sales reps and regional managers are also trained on KPIs that are important to the account like return rate, turn ratio, 3rd party profitability and capture rate. We will use the opportunity of our upcoming sales meeting to reinforce all of these with training clinics that will ultimately be the most beneficial for our customers." At Vision Expo West, Safilo will showcase a new booth and several customer events. Safilo launched www.mysafilo.com, its new U.S. and Canadian B2B website for optical customers back in October 2021. The site has been completely redesigned with an inviting home page filled with brand visuals and videos encompassing the full North American portfolio. The sales platform can be accessed by both U.S. and Canadian customers with the latter having the ability to conduct business in English or French once the country is selected from the home page. Designed as part of an ongoing company-wide customer-centric digital transformation strategy, the modern new design of the website, built with the optical customer in mind, is a one-stop order engine for Safilo’s portfolio of licensed and proprietary brands and sets a new standard for user-friendly navigation, ease-of-ordering, order verification and tracking. In addition, he noted, "a Group communications portal is open to our customers, as well as Safilo employees worldwide, to access our various digital assets offered by brands each season. In line with our digital transformation approach, we are working on a new platform for sharing brand digital contents with our customers and helping them with their business." In the field in N.A. are Safilo brand ambassadors. "Our brand ambassadors help bridge the gap between marketing and sales," Rinaldi Ceroni explained. "They work as specialists in the field for the brand they are ambassadors for, but are also relatable to the sales team since they are also sales reps. They can help speak the language that sales reps need to ensure that the brand has the best representation possible with our accounts. They help arm our reps by sharing success stories, exciting brand news, tips on merchandising and branded presentations which all have a huge effect on the brand’s success with the account." At Vision Expo West later this week, Safilo will inaugurate a brand new booth, showcasing its capabilities, portfolio of collections and service. There will be a Prosecco toast to the company's 60-year presence in North America and an increased visibility for Safilo at other events. Among these are the invitation-only Carrera Dream Racing event, an immersive and unique driving experience at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a BOSS party and more. "There will be much for our current accounts to reaffirm with us and much for prospective Safilo customers to discover," stated Rinaldi Ceroni. Safilo Group’s portfolio encompasses its own core brands: Carrera, Polaroid, Smith, Blenders, Privé Revaux and Seventh Street. Licensed brands include: Banana Republic, BOSS, Carolina Herrera, Chiara Ferragni, Dsquared2, Eyewear by David Beckham, Fossil, havaianas, HUGO, Isabel Marant, Jimmy Choo, Juicy Couture, kate spade new york, Levi’s, Liz Claiborne, Love Moschino, Marc Jacobs, Missoni, M Missoni, Moschino, Pierre Cardin, PORTS, rag&bone, Rebecca Minkoff, Tommy Hilfiger, Tommy Jeans and Under Armour.