The Santini MD on the pressures of keeping production in Europe and putting family at the heart of the brand's 50th anniversary celebrations

Monica Santini: ‘The UK has a new love for bicycles’

Pinarello’s Regent Street showcase The Bike Rooms hosted the launch of the Giro d’Italia’s Classico Chianti 2016 stage last month.

Attracting a good number of the nation’s cycle journalists, Fausto Pinarello, Giro director Mauro Vegni and – unless we’re very much mistaken – Countdown’s (and Breeze ambassador) Rachel Riley with Strictly Come Dancing’s Pasha Kovalev, it was something of a star-studded affair, despite the presence of your intrepid BikeBiz reporter.

Given Santini’s long-running association with the Giro d’Italia it was no surprise that the apparel firm’s managing director Monica Santini there too, so BikeBiz took the opportunity to interview the Santini chief and UK distributor Fisher’s Santini brand manager Jonathan Sangan, away from the glitz of the launch…

How’s business been?
Monica Santini: For us it has been a very big year, probably bigger than the last in the UK.

Jonathan Sangan: Santini is up 40 per cent on last year in the UK.

Monica Santini: It’s absolutely the fastest growing market, together with some countries in Asia. In Europe it is the fastest grower.

Has that been the case for a while now or just the last year?
MS: It’s been like that for five or six years now. The UK has a new love for bicycles.

JS: It really ties in with the growth we’ve seen in the market.

And what about worldwide?
MS: Last year we had a very nice year and we are up six per cent so far. Of course we have some countries that are struggling more than others. In central and southern Europe mainly, while others are going very well. It reflects the economic situation mostly. You are lucky, you don’t have the euro.

It seems to have paid off for us. It’s a big year for you this year with the 50th anniversary. Have all the celebrations finished now?
MS: We had a big party in June with our biggest customers, suppliers and workers. We had this very moving ceremony with a video that we made for my Dad. We centred the meaning of the anniversary on him – he is and always has been the soul of the company. When we were thinking what we could do for the anniversary my sister [Paola Santini, marketing director] and I decided to film secret interviews with people who used to work with us and people in the business who are friends with my Dad and some of the things they said were surprising and moving. They had a lot of respect for my Dad. He has not always wanted to be in the media because it is not in his character. We wanted to change that: We told him ‘people love you!’

JS: When you go to the factory the fact it is a family business comes through very strongly.

MS: My Dad always says “that’s my name on it”. For him it was never possible for us to make something ugly or low quality. That was never part of our DNA. It’s true for me. It is my name on it and I want to be proud of it when I see it.

Were you always going to go into the business? Was it the plan?
MS: When you are in a family where there is a business there is never anything directly said but there is an expectation. But my Dad never forced any of us to be in the business. He always said do what you want, the important thing is you do your best.

Me and my sister both decided to work in other companies in other countries because it was important to see what was different so we could bring back other ways of doing things. I didn’t plan the way it worked out, but it worked out for the best. My Dad gave us the opportunity to change things and the organisation of the company.

Santini famously manufactures in Italy. Is it a challenge to keep production there?
MS: It is a challenge and cost is not the only reason. It is difficult to find people with the right skills. Italy is not exactly a welcoming place to come to work with lots of rules, but it has always been important to us and to my Dad. I remember growing up and my Dad being very proud of the fact that the parking lot was full of cars and over the years the cars were renewed. That idea that to just up and change where we work…we think of what the people working for us have done for the company. Our success is also thanks to them. We will try everything possible to stay in Italy.

Is the UK more conservative in styling and colours?
MS: It is true not only for the UK but also for northern Europe. Probably southern France is a bit more colourful. The styles we sell are more colourful in the south and in the north they are a bit more…black! With grey and maybe a touch of yellow…

JS: We still like all the traditional and stage jerseys. This year we had red and black jerseys and the prosecco kit always goes down well. They’ve been extremely successful. You’ve got to say the heritage jerseys have done well too. In the UK as you learn more about cycling the more appetite there is for it and the history.

MS: I think so. We produce designs that have lots of meanings, like with the the stage jerseys. When we design those we put so many different specific features into the designs, it’s not just a question of colours. There are details related to the stage and people really appreciate that. They’re never trivial designs, they have a deeper meaning – the colour doesn’t really matter.

Obviously the Giro relationship is important for Santini…?
MS: We’ve been with Giro d’Italia for 20 years and I would like to think we grew with the race. It has grown in lots of ways, it helps us be seen in many different counties and in the same way we have created a style with it. We thought we could do something more with Giro so we introduced the stage jerseys and these are more and more successful. They’re very collectible.

The stages are in such iconic places. For us, being Italian, we get to promote the country, the race and of course our brand too.

What about trends in the market? And what’s next for Santini?
MS: This year we’ve started working with l’Eroica. In our 50th anniversary year it was a great opportunity for us to show we can create something as we used to do 50 years ago – and to promote the brand in a segment that is growing.

JS: In terms of trends, aero is huge. We talk a lot about Santini’s heritage but they are ahead of the game with lines like Photon, for instance. It’s very high tech and aero – there is a huge appetite for it. It brings all kinds of people to cycling. Now clothing is an essential part of the bike fit package.

The women’s market has grown massively. Women want the best technology and Santini produces apparel that is feminine without being girly. Then there’s multi-weather products. We’ve worked closely with Gore to solve the problem that in Northern Europe especially, you never know what the weather is going to throw at you. Now we’ve got very lightweight full weather protection with Gore.

MS: Santini is ahead with every innovation but we’re also one of the few that can still make apparel as in the old days. With the factory in Italy we are able to do that.

JS: The custom market is growing at an exponential rate. It’s a no brainer for shops, it comes from the same production line and it helps with building your brand.

MS: One of the things is that you can set the price point.
As a company we are seeing incredible growth in a number of products from those we produced for l’Eroica to the high tech, the replicas and the stage jerseys. We multi-task – we are not defined by one thing as a company.

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