Allison can finally see light at the end of the tunnel in terms of profitability, and is bringing in new management. Antonio Bortuzzo, who steered the group through a major reorganization from 2008, is passing the job of chief executive onto a finance specialist, Giorgio Antichi, while he prepares for a new challenge in the world of sporting goods. Antichi was investment director for Paladin Capital Partners, part of the Carisma Group that owns Allison. He'll be seconded by a vice president worldwide sales, Michele Osti, who leaves a top sales position with Safilo to take up the new job.
Lucio Lozza remains in charge of brand management, with the addition of a new brand the group had its sights set on for some time – La Martina, the Argentinean brand that leads the polo market with elegant and technical products for the sport of polo and inspired by it. La Martina has chosen the Pitti show in Florence to announce its arrival on the eyewear market in partnership with Allison.
The partnership is starting with a technical product called Competicion, designed for polo players, which will be on the market from November 2011, in time for the Campeonado Argentino de Polo. The glasses have soft, unbreakable NXT lenses by Intercast, which have to withstand the impact of a ball traveling at 150 km an hour. There will also be some more commercial models later on, to be showcased at Mido 2012 – 18 men's and women's sunglass models with a vintage design in Latin American-inspired colors. Two months after the sunglass launch, the brand will bring out a collection of prescription eyewear with metal and acetate frames.
The La Martina license is serious news considering that for a few years Allison went through a process of getting rid of licenses that were not profitable. This is the first new license the group has taken on, and there are other candidates in line, all of which are new to the eyewear business. They all have to pass a strict test to prove their potential, so as not to repeat past errors with brands that turned out too weak, on contracts including guaranteed minimums that were not backed up by sales.
The first half of this year has been a real signal of change for Allison: After six years with margins below zero, the group has finally returned to an operating profit, without giving a precise figure. The 2008 restructuring operation was part of a three-year plan, which comes to an end this year. As the brand portfolio was reduced from 23 to 13, turnover consequently fell by around a third, from the €90 million mark it had reached in previous years. 2010 closed at €55-60 million, slightly up over 2009. But the first half of this year has seen sales up by 2-3 percent, and the reorganization will have proven itself when this pace of growth is seen to have set in. The group forecasts turnover of around €70 million this year, with slow and steady growth of a few percentage points.
While the reorganization of the license portfolio has been a major factor in the turnaround, a serious reduction in overheads has also contributed to improve the bottom line. After three years of Cassa Integrazione (the Italian system whereby the state finances temporary layoffs), the workforce has been reduced by 15 percent thanks to voluntary and negotiated departures.
Also, the production process has been rationalized. Up to 2009 the group held around €33 million worth of inventories, which have been drastically reduced. A logistic center in Padua now handles all orders, and customer service has also been centralized.
Allison used to have nine foreign sales subsidiaries, but after the imminent closure of the U.S. offices, it will have a total of six subsidiaries, in Greece, Portugal, Spain, the U.K., Germany and France, with distribution agreements on all the other markets.
The “Made in Italy” label is a major factor driving sales for Allison, with all models selling at over €100 a pair produced at the group's Italian plant or manufactured under contract in Italy. The group claims that below this price level Italian production isn't viable, and will continue to produce the more casual brands such as Benetton and Sisley mainly in China.