Whoever takes up the reins of the family business must then put something of his own into it. This has always been and will always be the rule in one of the oldest Italian industrial dynasties, the Beretta company of Gardone Val Trompia (Brescia): The first contract signed by the founder,
From its headquarters in a magnificent 19th century palazzo in Gardone, he launches the «store challenge» «There is only one way for us to go in the next 10 years: we have to invest heavily in developing our distribution channel. This will be my contribution to the company: to bring the brand closer to the end-consumer». There are three fundamental steps to this strategy: the first is to launch a mail order catalogue, exclusively devoted to apparel, accessories and spare parts, essential for the U.S. market. The second step is to develop marketing in the gun shops, where Beretta is represented in 97 shop-in-shops and about 900 specialized stores; the third is to open two more Beretta galleries in the States and the same number in Russia, in addition to the six that already exist: four managed directly (New York, Dallas, Paris and Milan) and two (London and Buenos Aires) in partnership.
It is an ambitious plan for the parent company Beretta Holding (with a turnover of about 450 million euro and 2,600 employees), a group that includes other Italian brands of sports firearms (Benelli) and optical instruments, sales and distribution companies in Italy and abroad, managed by his brother Pietro who, like Franco, holds the office of vice chairman; their father, Ugo Gussalli Beretta is the current company chairman.
Now a multinational company, Fabbrica d'Armi Pietro Beretta is firmly anchored to its plant in Val Trompia, with 873 employees that the Berettas insist on referring to with the old-fashioned term of «Maestranze» (skilled workers), written with a capital letter in all the company communications. From the 10,000 square meters of the early 20th century, when the company produced a few tens of thousands of firearms, it has grown to over 108,000 square meters with a daily production of about 1,500 firearms and a turnover in 2009 of 144 million. All this growth has not distracted the Berettas from the family traditions, that have always gone hand in hand with business. Both are taken very seriously. Technological development and quality control are also taken very seriously these days.
Today Beretta is not only a famous brand of sports firearms (90% of its turnover, 75% of its exports), but also a brand for lovers of the outdoor life: apparel and accessories for shooting, hunting and leisure time, that have added business for 25 million. «My father Ugo had the idea: 15 years ago he realized that it was necessary to take a new leap, not only as a producer of rifles but as a brand for complete service to the hunter and shooter» explains Franco Beretta.
And to think it all began more than 500 years ago with barrels for blunderbusses. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Berettas were humble craftsmen who made a single part for the Doge's arsenal. The production of complete weapons came only in the 19th century with Pietro Beretta (1791-1853), the first to turn this name into a dynasty, the man who founded the historical brand. The rise of this family to world leadership in the sector goes back a long way indeed. Two men, in particular, revolutionized the enterprise: Giuseppe Antonio (his brother, Antonio, was one of Garibaldi's famous 1000 Redshirts), who in the mid-19th century undertook production on the industrial scale, going from 200 guns to 8,000 in 1873, and another Pietro who, in 1915, won a contract for 15,300 semiautomatic pistols for the royal Italian army, at the price of 65 lire each. The latest decisive passage was that of Ugo, who convinced uncles Carlo and Pier Giuseppe at the end of the Seventies to close the Brazilian plant and open one in the U.S., the world's most important market. It was an astute move: in 1985 Beretta won the tender to supply pistols to all the armed forces in the U.S., thereby aligning the company with the major players at the global level.
It was not easy. «In practice, we do not have any main competitors, but many, scattered in different sectors. And there is an huge gap between pistols, that have to go on the markets at 400-500 dollars apiece, and rifles that can cost over 100,000 euro and that the collectors want customized. Yet we produce both in the same plant» admits Beretta, who can count on a team of 15 master engravers capable of doing painstaking work on the metal action of a rifle for 550 days.
But mastery and history are not enough to ensure success. «To keep pace with the times these days you also need marketing» concludes Beretta. And who knows - maybe he'll be able to ensure himself a special place in the history of the dynasty.