Last week I was lucky enough to spend some time in Italy.
It’s a country I love to visit, and on this trip, my wife and I stayed in Pisa and Florence.
It was not to attend an exhibition; it was a short break and a colourful change of scenery.
As ever with Italy, I couldn’t but be impressed by many of the things I saw including the medieval Ponte Vecchio bridge shown above. Some other things that got me thinking too.
1. Big Thinking
First, the scale of the architecture of Renaissance
It was on such a grand scale (Tuscany and Florence, in particular, was the home of the Renaissance).
We are talking about a BIG vision by the people who created the designs for what are now world-famous monuments.
Whether you are looking at the Leaning Tower in Pisa, the magnificent Duomo or the Villa Bardini in the glorious Boboli Gardens in Florence, you cannot help but be impressed by the size and beauty of what you see.
Moreover, when you remember that many of these structures built in the 14th and 15th centuries, were constructed without mechanised tools, these buildings are even more impressive.
The combined breakfast cafe/restaurant/florist and home decoration business (La Menagere) in Florence
2. Design ideas abound
Italy is famous for design and rightly so.
Whether it’s buildings, fashion, food or cars, Italian design seems effortlessly chic and together.
What I liked, in particular, is how beautiful old buildings in Florence are often home to businesses offering a very modern twist.
The organic-only restaurant where the chef and cooking team are front and centre of the room.
Diners can watch their skill and dexterity while sitting in a traditionally decorated room, listening to a soundtrack of music from the 1920s. It sounds strange, but it worked beautifully.
The combined breakfast cafe/restaurant/florist and home decoration business (La Menagere). This place oozed design style and radical business thinking.
3. Enthusiasm for what they do
I’m generalising of course, but Italians seem to me to be very animated when it comes to many aspects of their lives.
From fast driving and scary taxi drivers, (sellers of brakes must do well in Italy), to loud and expressive conversations over meals.
Plus, the style that many people, young and old bring to the way they dress (effortless style).
Have you ever tried to buy just one thing in an Italian clothing store?
You go in for a shirt, but suddenly you have been styled with a whole new outfit and “look.”
Although you know you are the object of a sale, you have to quietly admit that, well the whole thing looks really good.
That shirt you went in for is suddenly a whole lot more expensive!
I’ve had the same experience over choosing food and wine.
I’m not talking about being sold as such, more the knowledge and enthusiasm brought to bear to describe and explain the victuals in question.
What has any of this got to do with the mundane business of exhibiting?
Well, as it appears for many Italians, life and exhibiting are not mundane.
By the way, I have met with and talked with many Italian exhibitors at trade shows in the UK, Europe and the US).
Once at a food show in New York, I decided that the people within a very large Italian trade group area were the best dressed and most stylish people I had ever seen.
These guys and ladies were not messing around either. Apart from their style, they were all very businesslike. They have to be.
The majority of Italian businesses are family-owned enterprises, and they have to keep innovating and work extremely hard to compete with the multinational giants who now dominate so many markets.
What can you apply to your business?
The idea of scale for events that are important to your business is something to think on.
If you know that there is one event that attracts significantly more of the people you want to do business; why not be more confident in the approach you take to this show and its audience?
It doesn’t mean you need to take a giant space and stand, but there will be ways that if you think creatively, you could increase your impact and visibility.
Of course, if you get stuck for ideas, my colleagues and I can always help.
Following that theme, how big is your focus and spend on design? How have your design ideas evolved?
Again, I’m not thinking only of your stand and graphics.
What about your exhibit displays, the placement of those exhibits or the creative flair created by using a more extensive range of materials for stand construction.
For your stand team; you want those warm, enthusiastic and knowledgeable people who can create an excellent impression for your business.
People who can lead your visitors to see a more in-depth picture of what you do and the skills they can benefit from if they work with your business.
My personal Italian takeaways
- Design makes a difference. It’s not about the looks but the combination of style and function that’s so powerful.
- Small businesses have to be creative and try harder to compete with the giants, but because of this, they keep creating exciting, new ways of doing things.
- Think big.
- Always work with bright, enthusiastic people.
- Lay off ice cream for a while.
- Book my next visit to Italy.
PS. Also, finish reading “The Prince” by Machiavelli – a very different take on Management. Chapter 17 as an example: “Cruelty and Clemency, and whether it is best for a Prince to be beloved or feared.” Feel free to offer your thoughts but don’t mention any colleagues by name…