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Betta Gobbi, queen of the mountain
Rome - (Ign) - "Of course I'm in favour of Italian products. Everything I've done with the company has been with Italy in mind, although it hasn't always been easy. In our company, Grivel of Courmayeur, at the foot of Mont Blanc, we are working in such a small market niche that without globalisation we would never have survived". Betta Gobbi is the owner of Grivel, the most prestigious and exclusive Italian company working in the sector of climbing accessories, above all ice-axes and crampons (invented by Grivel, the founder), not to mention rucksacks, shoes, pitons and protective helmets. We asked her how globalisation, so feared by many, became a source of fortune for her small but famous company.
"Climbing is an extremely small market, so we produce equipment for a sport that has relatively few followers. We don't make tennis rackets or football boots; we make ice-axes and crampons - hopefully the best in the world, as I believe. And, even if we have 200 years of history behind us, in order to survive in a market with so few outlets we need to sell our products all over the world. This is the only way to ensure the scale economies which allow us to provide top quality at a reasonable price".
Signora Gobbi, after 200 years Grivel is still the top of its field. How has this position of leadership been maintained?
"There have also been less glorious times. Of course, Grivel was established in 1818 by an ironsmith who first had the idea of changing farm tools to make them useful in the mountains. Then, in the early 20th century, Laurent Grivel invented the modern crampons, those which made it possible to climb ice faces all over the world. In the 1950s we saw the apotheosis, when all the peaks over 8000 m were conquered, also thanks to equipment Grivel. But from then on the face of the company had to be changed, moving from traditional craftsmanship to an industrial approach. My family is from Courmayeur, and so passion for the mountains and the great Mont Blanc is in our blood. We decided to buy out the small company and start anew".
With what strategies and results?
"Investments, innovation and technology. We thought that the only way to remain the leaders was to improve the products and promote them on all the world's markets as the best. This approach was behind the process of transformation from craft workshop to industry. We researched new materials, and produced new steel alloys, such as those based on nickel-chrome-molybdenum, whose characteristics remain intact even at temperatures below -20 °C. We continue to work on the usability of our accessories, socks, and rucksacks. Basically, we started out with an advantage - the great history of Grivel - and then built an industrial project around it ".
And on the commercial level, how did you manage to launch your products on international markets?
"Today we can count on an extremely efficient system of distribution, with importers and a number of foreign associates, in the United States and France in particular. But it is a system built entirely on product quality and reliability. The result is that today, for us, the Italian market is only in fifth place, after the US, the United Kingdom, France and Japan".
And what does the future hold for Grivel?
"The challenge is to continue improving, through technological research on materials and equipment ergonomics. And then to continue to produce in Italy at Chinese prices. Of course, some production processes have already been outsourced, such as that of nylon rucksacks, but all the metallurgy is still, and will remain, in Italy".
11013 Courmayeur Mont Blanc