Campagnolo S.R.L.

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 problem.

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.