An interview with Gianalberto Lupi, the new manager of Trigano Italia, who has the task of coordinating the company’s commercial and marketing activities in Europe
Words Renato Antonini
From trucks to campers: after many years spent working in a variety of roles at Iveco, Gianalberto Lupi joined the Trigano group. Since the start of 2020 he has been the commercial and marketing manager of Trigano Italia, the business unit that includes Trigano Spa and SEA, grouping numerous brands that have their own production plants and a developed commercial network at a European level (Mobilvetta, CI, Arca, Roller Team, Elnagh and McLouis). Lupi’s entry into the camper sector was complex and fascinating: the Covid-19 pandemic created many problems, delays in supplies and the closure of factories due to lockdowns, but it also brought new opportunities. The market seems to want to continue a positive growth trend and the campervan segment, where Trigano Italia is very strong, is delivering excellent results and bringing new customers. We spoke to Gianalberto Lupi to try to understand what future lies ahead for Trigano Italia within the lively dynamics of the RV sector in Europe.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Let’s start with an apparently simple question: what are the biggest differences you have found between the large and complex truck sector you come from and the RV sector?
Gianalberto Lupi: The sector I come from is large and well developed, but the Trigano group in which I now work is certainly not an industrial reality of small proportions. They are certainly two different worlds: in Iveco we dealt with a business to business, but here, in some ways, we work from a business to customer perspective. The biggest difference is definitely the speed of product development: it takes 20 years to completely renew a truck, in the RV sector the lifecycle and renewal process is much faster.
Aboutcamp BtoB: And now a more demanding question: between a deep crisis and market euphoria, how did the Covid-19 pandemic affect the work and results of Trigano Italia? What critical issues did you have to face?
Gianalberto Lupi: It was a complex period and certainly strange. A month after I joined the company, the pandemic broke out and for security reasons, we had to close the factories for several days to avoid contamination, which was unfortunate; but the worst thing was the impossibility to make predictions about the future. We had darkness before us and we couldn’t understand what would happen in the following months. We lived in uncertainty which, paradoxically, developed into a substantially positive trend in the sector. The biggest challenge was facing the period following the lockdown: when we realized that the market had restarted, we had to quickly move from the situation of closed factories to that of factories ready to meet large product demands. Furthermore, the pandemic has enhanced the camper, making it clear to the general public that it could be a type of safe holiday, even in times of Covid-19. So a negative dynamic turned into a positive one, which continues today despite the second phase of lockdowns.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Was the decision to be present at the fairs a successful one? What efforts did it involve?
Gianalberto Lupi: The decision to make ourselves available to our customers by participating in international trade fairs was taken immediately, but there was a considerable effort in understanding how to participate. It was difficult to find a common position, bringing together the ideas of companies, trade associations and trade fair organizations, but I must say that the organization of the fairs was excellent and a good compromise was found between compliance with safety regulations and the possibility for customers to visit the vehicles on display. The fairs represented an opportunity for growth, we found a very qualified presence, with interested customers, but also a good presence of new customers, and people who did not yet know the camper and who took advantage of the fairs to get closer to the RV world.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Will the RV sector continue with its previous practices or do you envisage changes in the way of selling and communicating? If so, are these attributable to the Covid-19 pandemic or other factors beyond the current problem?
Gianalberto Lupi: The pandemic has changed a lot how people interact, and not always in a positive way. Sometimes the value of the human relationship has been lost and we have all suffered from the lack of direct contact in professional relationships. We had to create virtual presentations for our sales network, without a physical presence of the product. But there was also a different way of getting to know the product by the end customer, by using the web channel. In fact, this was already an ongoing trend, so I really believe that even after the pandemic it will be used increasingly. We will have to be competitive in this area. The method of communicating information prior to purchase has changed, but the method of selling campers has not. Virtual sales are a minimal percentage because most customers arrive directly in the dealer showrooms. The customer still wants to touch the product and have a direct relationship with the seller.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Is it possible to make a forecast for 2021 and 2022?
Gianalberto Lupi: I can’t give precise numbers, but I can say that for 2021 we have an excellent level or orders, so I foresee 2021 being better than 2020. And, for 2022, we have positive feedback from our sales network. While it is difficult to understand exactly what will happen in this second phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, I believe the market will still be growing. For Italy, it is difficult to make forecasts as we have had a high level of infection and there is a phase of political transition underway, while for some foreign markets there are undoubtedly positive forecasts. Basically, the positive trend went through the difficult Covid phase without losing its growth momentum.
Aboutcamp BtoB: How does Trigano Italia fit into the great universe of the Trigano group? What are the synergies with the other companies in the Trigano group?
Gianalberto Lupi: One of the reasons I accepted this position was the opportunity to work in a company that, in my opinion, has an excellent balance between the autonomy of the individual business units and the guidelines coming from the group’s top management. I really appreciated the structure of the Trigano Group as it delegates to our business unit, Trigano Italia, the responsibility for the marketing of the various brands and product development, as well as the decisions regarding the production plants. Basically, everything related to adaptating to the local market is delegated to the business unit. Obviously, synergies are maintained at group level, such as purchases from large suppliers, in addition, of course, to the strategic lines dictated by the owners and top management. I believe an excellent balance has been found: we accept the strategic lines that come from above, but at the same time we have that autonomy that translates into speed of reaction to market conditions.
Aboutcamp BtoB: The twin model ranges, not limited to a common platform, may be a double-edged sword: if well managed they bring good results, otherwise they risk making the various brands lose their identity. What do you think about this? Which Trigano Italia brands offer similar products, and how is the differentiation implemented?
Gianalberto Lupi: I don’t see a real loss of identity. The end customer is looking for a functional, comfortable camper in which they can live with pleasure, and a camper that has good quality and lasts over time: these are all characteristics that require common development and production platforms. If we did not operate in this way, trying instead to differentiate each model from the other, we would find ourselves having an infinite offer without satisfactory quality. I believe that a good compromise has been found in our business unit: we do not have the same plans (layouts) on all products and the furnishing elements are interpreted differently in the various ranges. I don’t deny that there is some standardization, but this is not a bad thing for me. Of course, there may be a situation when two brands with similar products can create some problems if they get too close at a territory level, but we try to avoid this proximity in the sales network. However, for me, the priority is the product. In my opinion the primary objective must be to give each customer the right product.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Is it correct to say that Trigano Italia’s primary mission is to dominate the broader, mid-range of the market, roughly from 50,000 to 70,000 euro?
Gianalberto Lupi: There is no doubt that this is the range where we are strongest, but we are also strongly present in other price ranges. We distinguish the value brands (CI, Roller Team, McLouis and Elnagh) and the premium brands (Mobilvetta and Arca). The mid-range, with the volumes it can reach, can have competitive ranges at that price level: it has that critical mass that allows us to work efficiently on an industrial level. I believe we are aware of this and it is the basis of our success. This does not mean that we are not aiming at the expansion of the premium brands, Mobilvetta and Arca, because some of the technological solutions introduced in the premium models are then carried over to the value brands. Our main ambition, right now, is to develop our premium brands. We have grown a lot in Germany, which is no small thing. Now we are focusing on Arca, a brand that has had difficulties due to a transfer of production, with the aim of bringing it to high-level factories. We now want to renew and stabilize the Arca range in Italy and then take it to the rest of Europe.
Aboutcamp BtoB: The campervan market has grown: is this a positive thing, or does it risk creating imbalances in the market? Is the growth of the campervan segment set to continue?
Gianalberto Lupi: In my opinion, it is an absolutely positive phenomenon which is doubling the numbers in the sector. And it’s growth hasn’t cannibalized the traditional camper market. We have a factory in central Italy, in Paglieta, for vans, which has been doubled in record time to meet demand. We were among the first to produce vans on an industrial scale. For us, it is an opportunity, so I see this growth positively. It is not just an entry segment, because there are also returning users, groups of customers who appreciate the ease of maneuvering and parking this type of vehicle offers. There is certainly a good chunk of new users coming to the vans who will later be able to upgrade to larger vehicles. I believe that the campervan can go from 20-25 percent to 40 percent of the market without penalizing the market in general.
Aboutcamp BtoB: So you see only advantages for Trigano Italia with its campervan product? Do you think it can take more and more sales away from traditional campers, with negative results?
Gianalberto Lupi: At the moment, I don’t see this danger. There may be transfers between segments and customer movement dynamics, but I do not think they are penalizing for the company. The campervan can be an entry segment, such as a used campervan, which takes customers towards a more professional segment and introduces them to a sector where they will then remain forever.
Aboutcamp BtoB: For the 2021 season, you have responded decisively to the demand for campervans with a strong expansion of your offer to the market: is this investment delivering good results?
Gianalberto Lupi: In this period, we have had a strong increase in campervan orders. This is also because our offer has been a success with many new models and versions. In my opinion, we took the correct path: first, we stabilized production and then expanded the range of models. In recent years, the company has worked hard to stabilize the production of materials and components, to look for a product that could be of high quality and last over time. After reaching this goal, we expanded the range with the introduction of pop-up roofs and other solutions, such as the rear drop-down bed. Our expansion phase has started and will not stop.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Recently, we have been witnessing a development of the compact campervan segment in the European market, for example, the Citroen Spacetourer and Mercedes Vito. Will you also enter this sector of the market?
Gianalberto Lupi: In reality, we are already there with Font Vendome, which is a brand from the Trigano group that our business unit markets on the Italian market. However, it is one of the market segments that we are analyzing, to understand what growth potential it may have.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What is the company’s commitment to the various markets? How important is the internal market in relation to exports?
Gianalberto Lupi: We always think from a European perspective. The Italian market is fundamental, but it represents about 20 percent of our business, because 80 percent comes from exports. We are growing in Germany and we have been stable in France for a long time where the McLouis brand is very well positioned. In the UK we have a good presence with the Roller Team brand.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What are your thoughts on the markets that, for the RV sector, can still be defined as emerging, for instance, all of Eastern Europe, but also of certain non-European markets?
Gianalberto Lupi: Eastern Europe is growing, it is not yet a mature market but it is growing a lot. There are no appreciable statistics, but we understand that Poland and the Czech Republic are growing significantly in volume and there are dealers that have been established for some time. In Poland, we have the possibility to offer Ford-based vehicles, which have big tax advantages, so sales are growing. Basically, we will be present in all European markets that will develop positively. We also have business contacts outside Europe: we are present in Japan, we are developing projects with Korea and we are growing, particularly, in New Zealand. We therefore also have ambitions at an international development level and will try to be present on the global scene through importers and dealers.
Aboutcamp BtoB: You came from the world of commercial and industrial vehicles: how do you see the relationship between Trigano Italia and the chassis suppliers? What are the positives, and where can we try to improve, both in terms of the product and supply?
Gianalberto Lupi: In my previous experience, I had contacts with various RV manufacturers, especially in the years in which I was responsible for Iveco for the German market: I have never seen an opposition between chassis suppliers and RV manufacturers, so I have only seen positive reports. Of course, there have been problems during this period, but they are the same for everyone. The pandemic is creating difficulties for all companies. Like all manufacturers, we also have problems with supplies, not just chassis. Chassis suppliers also suffer from the same problems as other subcontractors. We can rely on Fiat, Ford and Citroen. We try to optimize supplies in the best possible way so as not to create interruptions on our production lines, but we have also alerted our sales network about possible delays. However, the effort of the chassis suppliers is considerable: it is a team game, everyone is trying to do their best to face the pandemic.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Diesel or electric? Could there be any developments in this area?
Gianalberto Lupi: I come from having years of discussions on this subject. It was already being talked about a few years ago regarding commercial vehicles. Does it make sense that transport vans and motorhomes reduce their range to make way for power batteries? Right now, I don’t see a transition to electric being imminent. If the transition happens, we will be among the first to offer electric motorhomes.