In this article, I will describe to you the history of a special businessman: a trader in Japanese denim sold to the best Italian fashion houses.
Walter Manfroi, the owner of Blue Men Distribution, is focused on ensuring high product quality and maximizing customer satisfaction.
He has a great insight into foreign cultures, without any preconceptions, and has a great willingness to invest a lot of time and energy in his business. A lot of Italian businessmen should learn and profit from his wisdom, in their own businesses…
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What have you learned from working in foreign countries?
I started working abroad when I was young, I travelled for eleven years and I worked in England, Germany, USA, Mexico, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Korea and Japan.
I immersed myself in the real life of these countries and this experience has expanded my horizons greatly, compared with when I began studying.
When I was a young boy I studied for a career in the hospitality industry. I also studied several foreign languages and customer care: I have realised that there is nothing like working “in the field”!
I have learned from Asian people to find value in all sorts of ordinary tasks, and that there are a lot of different lifestyles which are as efficient as the Italian one. All these ideas have helped me to understand that not only my own country, but the whole world has become my home. With this mentality, you can work and live anywhere.
What is the value of customer satisfaction?
The customer who believes in us is still working with us. We have good loyalty from our customers: we give them a good service and they believe in us. For each request, we are their first contact: customer satisfaction is essential in our work!
We try to “love” our customers every day; we analyze their culture to empathize with them, and to understand their needs. For example, although Japanese customers don’t show their emotions, we still empathize with them.
The entrepreneur has to be a refiner, a psychologist, mediating between different partners: the producer, the management, and the customer. He or she has to have great people skills and leave every partner with a smile.
It is essential to know a foreign language. It’s the most important skill in our work, in fact, in every work: if you know the language of your partner, you start working to mutual benefit. It’s important to speak to your customer in their own language to make them feel welcome.
For instance, I have learned not just English, but also Japanese, Korean, and Indonesian languages too, while working in the field.
In my opinion, our working methods have helped us to create our own “brand”, so that we can can differentiate ourselves from our competitors, find and cover hidden niches and make our clothing cool and popular: in this way, we have become a leader in a specialist market segment.
We manage our time in a very efficient way, and so have become more productive and cost-effective.
We try to keep our work varied and interesting, for example, by comparing ourselves with other cultures we come across in our work.
Last but not least, we work in a fun way so as to deal with the times of greater stress e.g. every day we have to deal with more than 300 emails!.
How can foreign working methods be implemented in Italy?
This is a difficult point: usually we spend 1/4 of our time dealing with inefficient and useless bureaucratic procedures. Unless we remove a large amount of bureaucracy, it will be impossible to introduce efficient working ways to this country!
With the exception of accountants, which are necessary in almost every country, in Italy if you don’t have a payroll consultant, a tax consultant, a health and safety consultant, and a legal consultant, it’s almost impossible to work. In no other country where I have worked have I found similar bureaucracy.
Public authorities in Italy don’t help businesses to grow, but this should in fact be their main target, and in their interest, because businesses contribute to economic growth.
There are a lot of obstacles and too many rules which new businesses and even specialist consultants such as accountants cannot possibly know!
What could be done to improve business in Italy?
Certainly, removing most bureaucracy, simplifying working processes, reducing taxes, and increasing the minimum amount of cash business deals, e.g. to 5.000 or 6,000 euros would be a good start. Only in this way will it be possible to revive our economy at least a little and produce an increase in sales.
How can businessmen enter foreign markets to find new customers?
There are two ways:
- pack your bags and go and find new customers
- attend international exhibitions where new customers can find you
How is it possible to check the quality of your traded goods?
In the fashion industry, this is a very significant issue. It’s always important to have a trusted partner in the production area, in order to avoid selling goods which do not match the description or are not of satisfactory quality.
We have to ensure the quality of our products in every single detail, e.g. we have deeply analyzed denim texture. This is a very flexible product which in the past was used for firemen’s overalls, blankets, carpets, today the very beautiful “kimono”, as well as caps and bags – not only blue jeans.
What is your typical working day like?
There is a time difference with our partners; so, in the morning, we work mainly with Asian customers, then with European customers in the afternoon. There are very heavy periods during trading sessions, and other periods of quiet work.
In this way, I am always available to work at any time of the day or night to satisfy my partners’ needs.
How much can you delegate to your employees?
It’s very important to have employees who can work in an efficient way; when you trust them, it’s better to delegate as much as you can, while obviously checking the quality of their work.
Furthermore, we have modern technologies and we are always in touch remotely, with employees even using their home PCs when necessary.
Where do you find the greatest satisfaction in your work?
I am satisfied when I see that the fashion items which we have introduced to the market are appreciated by the final customer; when we find our products in shop windows, in advertisements and newspapers. This makes it all worthwhile.