Federico de Majo on the power of innovation and his ‘brand before product’ approach to business

Glassmaking has been part of founder and CEO Federico de Majo’s family heritage for decades. But when he took over his father’s glass-making factory on the island of Murano, he chose not to build a business by leveraging the ‘made in Murano’ label. Instead, his glassware, homeware and lighting brand Zafferano is defined by his creations and equipped with the ability to evolve and innovate.

The Leaders - Federico de Majo

Growing up in Venice, Federico de Majo discovered early on the beauty of glass production. After his father’s death in 1979, de Majo spent 10 years directing the work that went on in the family glass factory, arriving at 6am every morning to start production using the same methods as were used in the 15th century.

Using this knowledge and experience, in 2001 he set up his own business – Zafferano, a company that now produces wine glasses and colourful tumblers that are frequently used in restaurants. In 2018 he branched out with a revolutionary range of rechargeable, cordless, LED table lamps, which are now the most lucrative part of the business, generating 65-70 per cent of Zafferano’s annual turnover.

Available in different styles and shapes, they are “always characterised by a clean, elegant and discreet design”, says de Majo. Other innovative features include a touch control for switching them on, off and dimming; and different light colour temperatures known as ‘dynamic white’.

Ideas for innovative new products such as these rechargeable lamps came from industry experience; Zafferano has been working with the hospitality sector for two decades, so it has been able to observe its needs and challenges. “We have been listening to restaurateurs and hoteliers, designing objects and tools that facilitate their daily work and make their premises more beautiful,” says de Majo. He says that the Poldina lamp (a bestseller) was born from two things – listening to what caterers want and experience that dates back to the years he spent working in the glass factory.

What challenges did Zafferano face in bringing the lamps to life? De Majo explains that a brand must be able to “interpret correctly the market’s requests”. Time is also of the essence. If you’re too slow to bring your product to market then someone else might get there first, so “execution at speed” is vital. De Majo says: “I try to be up-to-date on trends, colours, shapes and technology. I like to dare to combine materials in an uncommon way.” He adds: “It’s essential to be avant-garde and forward-thinking.”

De Majo says it’s important to focus on the “brand before the product”. He explains: “We have heavily invested in building a brand, touching and shaping every aspect of our company, referring to the visual image and its invisible reputation. More recently we have redesigned our logo and corporate identity to express our core values better – these relate to a sensitivity to the cultural and natural beauty of Italy, a respect for master craftsmen, and curiosity for innovation and new technologies.”

From Apple to Alphabet, one of the most important starting points of any business is choosing a brand name. In this case, de Majo explains that zafferano is the Italian word for saffron, a crimson spice obtained from the stigmas of the crocus flower.

“The strength of the brand is an intangible asset which is increasingly recognised as an important characteristic of the equity of a company – especially in a very competitive arena such as design. Not recognising this means being short-sighted,” says de Majo.

Zafferano has placed a strong focus on building brand awareness among consumers. In the case of the table lamps, de Majo says: “We have invested in advertising with a multichannel digital, print and broadcast campaign to promote Zafferano as the leading brand in the wireless lighting segment. We decided that mass media – including television – would be the most efficient to reach a large audience of potential customers. This has allowed Zafferano and the name of our hero product ‘Poldina’ to be recognised and valued.”  

Now more than 20 years old, last year, the global division of Zafferano turned over €24.5 million, while the North American markets separately turned over US$6.5 million. Later this year, the company will debut a 240 sq m dedicated store in New York’s Lower Manhattan. (He also has a showroom run by his wife in Treviso, where his office is based outside of Venice.)

Innovating collectively as a business is key to Zafferano’s success. De Majo says: “I believe in the contribution of different people to drive innovation in a company. I have built a team that is synchronised and works together to take this company to the next level.”

He concludes: “We know that better communication leads to an enhanced reputation, and that a stronger reputation will drive our value as a business, elevate our growth, attract the best talent and new investors, and mitigate corporate risk.”

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