Finding information on Campagnolo isn't easy and it surely doesn't
rank up there in size with the companies normally visited so
why am I bothering with this company? Well, two reasons: One,
I was already coming to Vicenza (located 30 miles west of Venice
with a population 110,000) to visit Beltrame, a producer of steel,
and figured I might as well find other companies in the area
to see. Two, Campagnolo is a well known manufacturer of high-end
bicycle components and in case you've forgotten-a bicycle has
been my mode of transportation during the past 20 years as I've
visited close to 4,000 companies around the world.
Seatposts, front & rear derailleurs, headsets and cranksets
are just some of the bicycle products manufactured by Campagnolo.
I've been a longtime avid cyclist and my many bikes over the
years have never had a single Campagnolo component. Why is that?
It might be because one pays a premium price for the company's
products. Here's how I look at it: You go out to a bar with friends
and order a vodka and orange juice. You ask the bartender the
name of the vodka being used and even though it's a well regarded
brand--you ask for a premium brand to be substituted instead.
Now, you can't taste the difference in the drink but you somehow
feel that due to the fact it costs more means it must be better.
Founded in 1933 by Tullio Campagnolo, the latest figures I could
find on this family-owned business show revenues of 88 million
euros in 2003-2004. A month before my arrival at a company I
mail a letter of introduction along with some news clippings
to the company's chief executive officer (CEO). Campagnolo's
website fails miserably in providing certain information that
should be standard in any company's website: the name of the
top person and a mailing address for the head office. If a customer
has a complaint or compliment then there should be a way of mailing
a letter to the top person in the company-and I don't mean sending
an e-mail. When a company fails to provide a mailing address
or the name of its top official then alarm bells go off in my
head and makes me wonder if they're hiding something.
Anyway, I ended up
having to call Italy to find out the name of Campagnolo's CEO.
A woman answered the phone and didn't speak English but eventually
found someone who did. After getting the information I hung up
the phone and wondered why Campagnolo, an international company,
didn't have someone answering the phone who spoke English, the
international language of business. Jeez, I wonder if I show
up at Campagnolo's headquarters and nobody in management speaks
English. So, I called up Kevin Millard, a good friend of mine
and owner of California Bicycle
in San Diego, California. Why? I knew the North American offices
of Campagnolo were located in nearby Carlsbad and that Kevin's
bicycle store carried Campagnolo parts. I asked Kevin if he could
call his Campagnolo sales rep and give the guy a" heads
up" as to what I did and the dates of my planned visit to
the head office in Vicenza, Italy. Kevin said it would be no
Its 12:30 PM when I show up at the small two-story headquarters
of Campagnolo. Located in a bustling industrial park on the outskirts
of Vicenza, the building looks to have been built in the 1970's.
To the rear there's a very large factory with a large Campagnolo
sign atop one side of the structure. I note the two flagpoles
out front with no flags flying and a half-dozen car parking spaces
for visitors. However, there's nary a bike rack, parking spot
or bike enclosure for visitors who arrive via bicycle.
Checking in with the receptionist doesn't goes smoothly as the
woman doesn't speak a word of English. She makes a call and another
woman steps into the lobby. I explain what I do and my sending
a letter of introduction along with several news clippings five
weeks ago to CEO Valentino Campagnolo. I ask if she could check
with his secretary to find out with who or where the letter ended
up. While she's on the phone I look around the reception area.
It's a poorly-lit and blah-looking place with visitors sitting
on ugly brown leather chairs probably unchanged since the building
was built. I count 18 bicycle magazines on a coffee table and
a one foot tall statue of Jesus on a cross hanging on a wall.
There's a glass display filled with Campagnolo components.
This English-speaking woman, who identifies herself as working
in "customer service", says no one knows anything about
my letter and furthermore, no one has time for me. She then says
I have to move my bike out front as they close the gate for lunch
from 1PM to 2PM. I tell this woman that I came all the way from
California and don't like being dismissed so out-of-hand. I ask,
"Did you speak to Mr. Campagnolo's secretary?" The
woman says nobody in the office knows anything about it. I explain
being from San Diego and even having a friend call up the company's
North American offices in nearby Carlsbad to have someone give
the head office the "heads up" to my pending visit---something
the almost 4,000 companies I've visited over the years never
received. Why? Because I'd hate to have to write a negative story
on a bicycle-related company. This woman gets on the phone again
and several minutes later says everyone in the marketing department
is "extremely busy" putting together the 2007 product
catalog. What a joke. She makes it sound like everyone in the
marketing department is feverishly racing around non-stop--when
the reality is they're more than likely on the computer planning
their summer vacation or discussing where to go for lunch. Then,
she says something that sets me off, "do you have any idea
how much mail Mr. Campagnolo receives?" I say, "What
does that have to do with anything? How come I can visit global
companies like Nestle and British Petroleum, with billions and
billions in revenues and hundreds of thousands of employees and
yet show up at their headquarters and be greeted by name by security
personnel and receptionists when I walk in the door? Don't you
think they get a bit more mail than your boss? Normally I don't
visit companies as small as yours but added you on my list because
I thought it would be fun". Her reply. "Well, you can
try coming back tomorrow and see if someone in marketing has
a few minutes for you". With that she again repeats that
I have to remove my bike from the parking lot because the gate
will be closed for lunch. Wow, who would have thought I'd get
a crummy reception from a bicycle-related company.
Later in the week I called Kevin (my friend who owns the bike
store in San Diego) and told him about the dismal reception.
I ask if he had followed through and talked to someone at the
Campagnolo's Carlsbad office about the visit in Italy. It turns
out Kevin had not only followed through but talked to the company's
top executive in North America about my upcoming Italy visit.
Hmm, that's interesting. Well, if I was deliberately given the
brush-off then I can at least count on two things: One; that
the business graveyard is littered with companies like Campagnolo---ones
who had or thought they had superior products and arrogantly
or dismissively treated their customers and the public. And two;
Shimano, the much bigger rival of Campagnolo, will continue (as
it has over the years) to be my choice for bicycle components.