KERAMA MARAZZI – Right on the Tiles

KERAMA MARAZZI is the leading ceramic brand in Russia, with a unique business model built over 30 years of history and exciting growth plans for the future. We learn how a Russian company is finding success in selling Italian quality ceramics.

We’re a company with a strong heritage. We’ve been in the market since the early 90s and just celebrated 30 years in business,” says Marco Santandrea, President of Kerama Marazzi. “We’re the leading brand in Russia with a unique way of working and a strong team of dedicated employees.”

It all started thanks to the intuition of an Italian entrepreneur, Corrado Cicorella. He set-up a production company in post-Soviet Russia when import was the traditional business model in the country. This intuition was nurtured by the founders, Marco Santandrea himself, an Italian manager, and a Russian manager, Larissa Novikova, who are still leading the business today.  From one small product line and a vision to create a unique company, Kerama Marazzi has grown to become the biggest player in Russia, with a strongly differentiated business model compared to most European players and part of the largest flooring company in the world.

“Now we have 20 ceramic lines in two state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities with a production capacity of 40 million square metres a year,” Santandrea points out. “Our product is at the centre of what we do, with the widest range in the market and a focus on quality from day one.”

Kerama Marazzi has achieved this thanks to its team of Italian and Russian specialists working together to create products that can compete with the best Italy has to offer, leveraging on strong economies of scale and in-house philosophy.

“We manage our own quarry, produce our own glazing and insource many operations that most would typically outsource. This approach makes it possible to provide great quality at an affordable price,” Santandrea says. “If we look more widely, vertical integration played an important role, investing from early on in local distribution companies in Russia and abroad and developing a capillary mono-brand retail network”.

Proudly Russian

While their designs and products draw on Italian influences, Kerama Marazzi is a proudly Russian company, and that forms an important part of the business’s identity, particularly their ability to adapt to challenges. It’s a quality reflected in Kerama Marazzi’s staff.

“In Russia, the fall of the Soviet Union had an impact for many years. We also experienced several rouble devaluations. More recently, there were imported crises that significantly affected the economy.  Still, as a company, we’ve always been able to adapt, exiting crises in stronger shape than before,” Santandrea says. “For instance, the ‘08-09 crisis saw Kerama Marazzi emerging as a strong player also in the high-end price segment. And our people, of course, play a key role in the company’s resilience, as it is not just about identifying the right response in a crisis, but in implementing it at all levels of the business and fast.”

To illustrate the Russian spirit, he goes on to quote Marinetti, an Italian poet and founder of the Futurist movement, who described Russia in WWI with the words power, solidity, impregnability and quantity.

“We are lucky to have highly-skilled, experienced people devoted to the company and its values,” Santandrea says.

Indeed, Santandrea views Kerama Marazzi’s people as its most important resource, and one the company invests heavily in.

“We are a company that nurtures talent and promotes from within. Several senior members of our organisation started from the bottom and a significant number of employees across the business have been with us for more than 15 years,” Santandrea says. “Setting ourselves motivating goals, ambitious growth targets every year and constantly exploring new opportunities enabled our people to become more and more agile and sophisticated in their way of working.”

Santandrea marks out Kerama Marazzi’s culture as a key part of their success, telling us, “we believe in empowering people, encouraging entrepreneurial spirit and personal initiative. Each of us is responsible for placing our trust and passion in the company. It’s a key value in the relationships of people within the company and this is always necessary for a more dynamic company.”

As well as its staff, Kerama Marazzi values the strong client relationships the business has built over the last 30 years.

“Many of our clients are mono-brand clients, who have been part of our journey since very early on. We have partners in Kazakhstan who began working with us 20 years ago, starting from nothing, and now have developed an important business with Kerama Marazzi,” Santandrea says. “There are clients who have been working with us for many years and we are proud to see that the second generation is now picking up the baton in several of our partners’ businesses.”

Never Standing Still

That Russian resilience was put to the test recently as, like all businesses, Kerama Marazzi had to deal with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Of course COVID-19 has had an impact on our business, but our country has managed this situation before,” Santandrea says philosophically. “We’ve taken measures to protect our people and minimise risk. Our diversified sales strategy, with distribution, retail, projects, export and efficient organization allowed us to manage the emergency well. We’ve never stopped production in the past and we made the most of the downtime by anticipating new projects.”

Indeed, Santandrea marks Russia’s reaction as a key advantage for Kerama Marazzi in responding to the crisis.

“You know Russia reacted to COVID-19 quite fast. The quantity of tests is enormous,” Santandrea tells us. “At the start of March, we were taking the temperature of people entering in the production centres or the offices, we rearranged our canteens, employee logistics, modified our communication and work inside the offices and the plants. We also started testing employees on a regular basis. We’re doing everything we can to reduce risk.”

Having worked hard to weather the COVID crisis, Santandrea is already looking to the future of the company, particularly to make the business more environmentally friendly.

“Of course the future of the company is a commitment to become greener. This is something we’ve been working on more and more every year, with certifications, significant investments in the plants and much more.” Santandrea says. “We will continue to diversify our product range: this year we opened a sanitary ware manufacturing facility and developed strong collaborations with furniture producers to offer a more complete bathroom solution. We will of course further strengthen our export position and continue to open new stunning stores every year. We have all it takes: a beautiful product, strong manufacturing power behind it and a team of professionals.”

One thing remains certain, Kerama Marazzi will always be a company that is working to grow and change.

“We are a company that does not stand still. We constantly invest in innovation, new technologies and thinking outside the market. Today, for instance, we not only represent one of the most significant ceramic realities in Europe, but we are also the largest industrialised producers of decorative elements and special pieces. What we are doing has become something of a lost art in Italy, and we continue to work with dedication on this direction, creating very beautiful products recognised by the end consumer,” Santandrea says smiling. “We could go on with the list.”

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