As the first of a series of interviews dedicated to “Family Businesses in Times of Crisis”, we are happy to share our recent conversation with Alessandro Colombo, General Manager and second-generation family owner of Chateu d’Ax, a family-run business located in Lentate sul Seveso – Milan (Italy). Founded in 1948, Chateau d’Ax is one of the world leaders in the furniture industry and a well-known brand for high-quality, handcrafted Italian products.

The COVID19 emergency has changed our lives. How has the life of Chateau d’Ax as a company and Colombo as a family changed?
As for many other companies, the situation of Chateau d’Ax has radically changed in the last months, with enormous limits regarding the production unit that is still closed today.
In the last few days we have planned the sanitization of all departments, the back office, the logistic and the production, with the hope of being able to re-open as soon as possible.
As far as the commercial part is concerned, all our shops are closed until further notice. As far as the organization, all the strategic meetings are conducted virtually. Perhaps the only positive aspect of this dramatic moment is the fact that we have managed to speed up the development of distance working. Considering that, probably more than other cultures, we give physical interaction for granted when we hold a meeting, I believe that this specific development is a relevant step forward for us.

View the current situation, have you had the opportunity to plan any long-term changes?
On a production level we are not planning radical changes. On the other side, we are now working on digital rather than offline communication. Moreover, the development of our e-commerce platform is speeding up. Even if I truly believe that the furniture industry will never be able to rely only on the online sales, I think that we still need to increase our brand presence online.

One of your core values is represented by the high-quality standard of your products, which you work to maintain throughout the entire production chain. How do you think this pandemic emergency will affect your partners in the supply chain?
The quality standards of the supply chain are certified as before, but we need to constantly follow the new anti-virus regulations. As we are aware that all materials can be vehicles of contagion, we need to make sure that our suppliers organize themselves in the same way we do to maintain safety standards. As a result, our quality managers are now also responsible for monitoring security standards.

You have just emphasized the safety aspect, but I guess you are also making some economic evaluations. Are you worried that some of your partners will suffer this economic break? Have you planned any initiatives to support them?
As soon as the production will restart, we know that we will face many challenges. From our side, we are trying to work on grouping or anticipating orders to our partners, so to reach the minimum order quantities and to help them with standardized productions.

You are among the so-called “Made in Italy” companies with a strong international orientation. Do you think there will be specific repercussions on the “Made in Italy” district?
I want to think positive and I believe that manufacturing a “Made in Italy” product today can be considered a precious asset valid both for national and international markets. Additionally, I think that this emergency has forced us to unconsciously promote our territory, also as a way to exorcise such a moment. Indeed, re-evaluating Italian artistic or culinary beauties among the others could be a way to re-evaluate the “Made in Italy” as a brand both in Italy and abroad.

Keeping this positive attitude, my last question summarizes the meaning of this series of interviews. The quarantine indeed has given us the unique opportunity to stop our daily routine and reflect. Among these reflections, did you have the chance of thinking about potential improvements for your business?
As I mentioned before, studying alternative solutions such as smart working, the e-commerce, and the improvement of the production, distribution and communication chains are the main projects we are working on. In more abstract terms, I perceived a general reassessment of human values, and in particular of freedom. Today, through isolation, everyone realizes how much the small gestures we used to take for granted are worth.