Etoilepeople interviews: Laura Bertuccioli
LAURA BERTUCCIOLI, BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT CONSULTANT
For many years, Laura Bertuccioli has been working with Etoile as a Business Development Consultant, taking care of creating opportunities for business expansion abroad, researching market trends and developing partnerships with major international players.
As CEO and Founder of the company OBIETTIVO LLC, she provides professional consultancy for companies wishing to enter the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) market, with a focus on Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and benefit from the opportunities offered by these fast-growing markets.
First of all, can you tell us how your collaboration with Etoile came about and what is your role and task as a development consultant for the company?
As is often the case, word of mouth is one of the most effective marketing tools.
We were introduced to Etoile by one of our long-standing customers, DFN, with whom we had been working for years and had already released several prestigious projects.
Our role was to study the local market, mapping the stakeholders potentially interested in Etoile products.
We then moved on to the introduction phase with in-person meetings, creating the brand awareness we needed to be acknowledged by designers and clients. The consultancy began with a joint review of the communication literature, which was brought in line with the expectations of the local market. It then went on to follow the entire sales process, eventually assisting Etoile in negotiating, finalizing the order, and dealing with logistics, payment and installation issues. Our technical department assisted the Etoile team during the challenging Covid days, when a construction site was underway and travel was problematic.
How would you define the current Contract market in general, and office furniture in particular, in the Gulf Cooperation Council market? What are the main differences with the Italian and European market, also in terms of design trends and organization of work spaces?
The outlook is extremely positive: now that the works for the major FIFA event are over, the big holding companies and financial market stakeholders are moving into the new financial hub of Lusail Boulevard (Qatar), which was built just before the World Cup.
The main challenge now is capturing a share of the market, focusing on the most prestigious areas where a high standard in terms of product quality and workplace performance is currently demanded.
In recent years, the approach to design has quickly evolved from the traditional Arab style with heavy boiserie and Baroque-like furnishings, to cleaner, more contemporary guidelines, prioritizing quality along with stylistic and technical details.
Unlike in European markets, unfortunately low attention is paid to employee’s well-being and this is equally reflected in the quality of furniture and in the arrangement of work spaces.
What are the main challenges Italian companies face when trying to expand in Qatar and the GCC? And what are the peculiar business opportunities and potential growth areas for a company like Etoile?
The cultural gap is certainly the most complex to deal with and it has a crucial influence on business as well, besides affecting the realm of personal relationships.
Staff are very often not suitably trained and there is a strong concentration of decision-making power. This leads to extreme waste of energy and time.
Resilience, flexibility and patience win in these markets.
Etoile has proven to have these qualities and this enabled us to navigate together through the early tough years of positioning, which led us to the current situation where the company is active on many frontlines with ongoing construction sites and negotiations on prestigious projects.
What are Etoile’s most popular products in your sales area? Which ones are not part of its ranges and yet would be decisive in this type of market?
Despite the market is strongly price-driven and contractors constantly look for the least expensive solutions (usually locally or Chinese made), Etoile’s product range attracts the attention of designers and customers who greatly appreciate the products shown in the catalogue. This is even more the case whenever they visit the company showroom and have the chance to see first-hand the high standard of the entire collection.
As a suggestion, I would invite Etoile to expand their offer with lighting technology and to enhance the interior design team in support of architectural bureaus.
What is the importance of understanding local culture and business practices when approaching these particular markets? Is the office business the same everywhere?
As I was saying earlier, the cultural background has a huge impact on the relationship between European and local companies. As Italians, we have the benefit of being perceived as closer, ‘cousins’, as they like to define us.
Time management, for example, is completely different from the West. Here, time is not money. As we know, interest rates are forbidden in Islamic finance, but what is interest if not the cost of time?
Added to this is the tendency to avoid taking any responsibility as much as possible. Most decisions are taken collectively by the stearing committees or the board of directors.
All this creates a ‘perfect storm’ that leads to longer project management times, unimaginable in a Western context.
During the initial tender phase, quotations are required with tight deadlines, only to be met with endless waiting times prior to having the order confirmed, until being put under pressure once again to deliver unmanageably quickly.
Our most challenging job is exactly to moderate the frictions that inevitably arise between customer and supplier.
What has changed since the Covid period?
In Qatar, the entire pre-, during and post-Covid period was overshadowed by the needs related to the arrangement of major infrastructures and hospitality for the 2022 World Cup.
The market turning point came at the conclusion of the games and now the situation is settling down. The focus is on the industrial segment, where a strong expansion is underway to serve neighboring markets such as Saudi Arabia, in order to make the country as free as possible from importations. On the financial side, the ambition is to become an interconnected hub, acting as a bridge between the West and the East.
Lastly, what do you see in the future for Etoile and what are your medium- and long-term goals with reference to the international market?
Having some prestigious projects in the area in its pipeline will be a booster for Etoile’s turnover, facilitated especially by the new orientation of the local market.
This is driven by the rise of start-ups, by the repositioning of the entire banking business from the old ‘Banks Street’ to Lusail, and by the new generations of Qataris who have studied abroad and are bringing Western taste to both their homes and workspaces.
In the medium and long term, the outlook is extremely positive with an estimated growth of 12% in the interior-design and office-space industry by 2028.