Economic fluctuations and political controversy aside, the remaining truth is that Italy offers unbeaten culture. Simon Ball has run an Italian property rental business from London, for over 25 years. He now shares his experiences of business culture in Italy; the challenges, differences and route to success.
The business was born out of a frustrating personal experience when Simon and his family began as homeowners in Tuscany. Keen to rent the property out, they quickly found that disjointed communication between Italian and English agencies meant that there was double commission, making profits on the house much lower than hoped.
Beginning with a handful of houses to market, Simon took business in to his own hands, applying his own experience as a homeowner to a direct rental service for others. Two decades later, Tuscany Now has a team of full-time employees offering an array of 170 homes around Italy to a global customer base.
1. Business relies on trust
“In the UK, business is very much linear and professional. It is impersonal and simply relies on efficiency and agreements. In Italian business culture, a business relationship is an emotional one based on mutual trust. You give your time and input and trust is earned through evidence. Recommendations are important, so I introduce current homeowners to prospective homeowners so that they can get an independent recommendation of me and my business”.
2. You get back what you put in
“What works, is quality not quantity, you cannot compete cheaply. Invest in your staff, in time, effort and knowledge. People want to be sure and they will pay for knowledge. I will help homeowners with everything from legalities to furnishings and have ensured that the number of homes we work with is compatible with our constant attention. Where in the UK your service is only that which you offer, in Italy, you invest all that you can to help each other and to ensure a successful partnership”
3. Communicate by phone or face-to-face
“In the UK, the internet is everything. B2B contact, ecommerce and recommendations all exist online. In Italian business culture, ecommerce remains low and this extends to the use of the internet for communication. Using the phone or physically meeting is the way to do business.
The team is all available to contact on mobile numbers and one of the team will always be on Italian ground at any one time. If a homeowner calls at midnight on a Sunday, we will be available. Equally, we are all Italian-speaking, which is a necessity in practicing business in Italy – some homeowners cannot speak any English. Be prepared to speak the language directly, on a daily basis!”
4. Industry legislation
“In the UK, tax and legislative changes are relatively scheduled, meaning that misunderstanding and surprises are unlikely. Tax laws and legislation in Italy can change throughout the year. You must invest time in understanding how these affect your business.
Tuscany Now has a law office and accountant in Florence, who specialise in local legislation and taxes. We will be informed of anything major, for example the Tourist Tax, which altered the laws on publicly available property. When it comes to charges, taxes can make costs difficult to be sure of, so this is why staying updated is so important.”
5. Understand the market
“Investing in Italy, is investing in its culture. Though tourism as a whole has shrunk, the high-end market is healthy, especially when marketed to the Anglo-Saxon consumer. Our success lies in the UK, US, Canada and even Russia. This customer base is happy to spend for certainty and assurance.
Therefore, what works is quality and knowledge. Tuscany Now’s familiarity with Tuscany specifically is our niche and we can offer expertise and advice. Italy’ss pull has been and will continue to be its rich culture, so finding a niche for a high-end market is where there is room for business investment”.
6. Expect the unexpected
“Whilst in the UK planning can be done with relative accuracy, in Italy, there is much uncertainty. Italy’s economic future is determined by the continuation of the Euro. It is important to understand the risks involved if planning to invest in the country.
Whilst economic changes can’t be predetermined, the one constant is culture. The Italian quality of life will hold its appeal”
This case study displays the real potential of European business. No matter the country a business hopes to expand or invest in, understanding its cultural identity and business climate must come first. Keep informed, involved and open to change.