INTERVIEW: VIPA on its 360 degree service, its new warehouse and the Italian fastener market

Since it was established nearly 50 years ago, Vipa has become a globally recognised fastener distributor. Torque quizzes the General Director Paolo Poppi, son of the founder, on how the firm has developed to offer enhanced logistic services to its customers, how it aims to provide a 360° service to customers along with its recent expansion at the Rolo, Italy, headquarters...

How’s business? Have you had a good start to 2019 compared to 2018?
The business comparison between 2018 and 2019 is now becoming significant. The market has seen pricing fluctations and rises but these have stabilised for some products, and in some cases have even dropped. Luckily demand has remained fairly high and this is likely to eventually cause a boomerang effect on the market.

Since the beginning of the year, the company has been going through various modernisations with new technologies, from which we will see the benefits in the long run. All of this happened very
recently and is still in the testing and initial functioning stages as well as procedures. It will be refined with some state-of-the-art manoeuvres to get the best out of all these new investments we
have made.

Can you tell us more about the new warehouse you’ve been constructing?
The physical building has been completed along with all the machinery installations inside, in addition to the existing facilities. The new automatic stock is fully automatic and faster than the older semi-automatic, which obviously needs more manual operation. It has been operational since the beginning of March and its size is similar and combined to the existing structure. We have begun loading the material to fill its potential 30,000 pallet space capacity; once finished we will be capable of an even higher level of performance.

What will the new warehouse mean for your customers?
The new warehouse has been researched and designed to speed the sale cycle process, from the acquisition of the order to its physical shipment. Once the stock is completely filled with the available material, having these five extra aisles able to work 24 hours around the clock will mean an incredible increase of power and efficiency in getting the material ready for shipment.

How much of your business is exports in percentage terms?
The percentage of export at the moment is around 30%. Even though there is a lot of room for expansion, the export market is tougher than the national, due to many factors such as competition in a territory out of the mother town. There are disadvantages over the lead time over the delivery services and its commercial conditions. Last but not least, we have to compete with companies that can survive with less profit, sometimes sourcing products from the same origin.

What kind of business sectors do you supply to?
The business sectors covered are more or less all the ones involved in the fastening business. We are able to supply all parts which are involved with fasteners; the sectors in which we majorly work and operate serving companies in the distribution or use of the material are marine, engineering, mechanical, furniture, automotive, food, construction, installations and services.

What’s your view on the fastener market in Italy right now? Buoyant? Challenging? What impact are raw material prices having at the moment?
The market appears to have reached a very interesting level. The fact that we are able to grow over 2018 volumes signifies that market share will increase and for us, it's a good sign of hope that the market trend will continue also for 2019. Even if the signs are positive, we cannot ignore and deny the fact that we are going through a stage where materials are starting to run out. This factor may cause, and probably will result, in a new rise in sales prices.

VIPA is approaching a big anniversary – how has the business changed since 1970?
Since 1970, the company has changed exponentially in all its activities with the goal to improve quality, service, knowledge and sale prospectives. The buildings before the headquarters in Rolo have changed in several locations. We also didn’t have any branch offices back then, compared to our current situation. We now benefit from having five worldwide subsidiaries.

The staff member numbers have also grown to include many more individuals. We have created a team of competent personnel in all fields of operation, to raise the level and reputation of the
company to the highest standards in the European Community, which also back then didn’t even exist. Vipa has also incorporated other companies in the Italian market, such as Fervit S.p.A., which is part of Vipa Group and historically involved in the fasteners business.

Is it fair to say you have a large depth of range of product? If so, are you aiming for VIPA to be a ‘one stop shop’ for your customers?
It has been and still is Vipa’s goal to be able to serve customers at 360°, so that for customers all items needed can be purchased from one single supplier – Vipa! But this is a very difficult thing to achieve. Technologies are constantly improving and products vary accordingly; variety and specialised needs are also constantly expanding along with quality requirements and the company is constantly developing to keep up with all this.

How big is the custom/special fastener part of the business?
The special fasteners apparatus of the company isn’t very large, but extremely specialised personnel are involved in it. Vipa needs to evaluate properly each demand and give the right solution to every case.

Regarding the Kanban business – is this a growing area for VIPA?
The Kanban service is growing, for the same reasons we’ve mentioned before. The world is changing and becoming more sophisticated, so that many companies are changing their internal organisation to optimise their capabilities.

The KANBAN service does this for companies. In the modern business, the need for more efficient production and not having to worry about parts running out is a very important advantage. Vipa
has developed an efficient Kanban service that is reliable and more companies are willing to transfer their responsibilities to third parties like it.

Looking ahead, what are VIPA’s ambitions for the rest of 2019?
The year 2019 began in a good way, but not as well as it could have been if all the investment forecasts had been completed as planned and established. The expectations and ambitions until the end of the year are to reach a fully state-of-the-art functionality, of all implanted structures and software, to maximise our service and give all customers an immediate response. We expect to see growth, but let's be reserved and cautious and not too excessive about our predictions!