stevemedcroft.com
1Jan/190

Why Made In Italy matters

Or, Does Made in Italy matter?

I am a partner in a small business with an Italian cycling clothing manufacturer called Santini. My company acts as the U.S distributor, meaning I import product from the factory in Bergamo, Italy and sell and ship it to consumers and wholesale accounts in the United States.

Santini is a proud and successful family business. Started in 1967 and well established globally as a leader in clothing for cyclists, Santini is run today by the founder's daughters. Santini makes almost everything bearing its label in its own factory and has about 120 employees, many who have been with the business for years, even decades. Santini has built long-term partnerships with the world's top professional teams, several of the world's most prominent cycling events, and the Olympic organizing body for the sport of cycling. They are masters at what they do and every year put out world-class iterations of padded shorts, tight-fitting and colorful jerseys, and all the other specialty clothes people who ride and race bicycles wear.

Americans seem to love all things Italian. Italian brands carry a certain cache. They are respected and sought after, even if they are Italian in name and not necessarily origin (an Italian company who makes product somewhere else to save cost). Italian products have such a good desirability factor that even completely non-Italian companies operating out of cheap-to-produce regions like China and South America adopt Italian-sounding names. But why? Why is Italian cycling clothing held in so much regard? Is it actually better? Is there something to the idea that it is somehow better than clothing made in other places?

I've been working with Santini for seven years now. Early in our partnership, at a U.S. trade show, Monica Santini asked me if Made in Italy truly matters to the U.S. customer. There were a lot of Italian brands at the show and the audience seemed to really like and admire the products. What was the audience reacting to? The fact that these products were authentically made in Italy? Or something else about them that could come from anywhere?

Ask anyone if Made in America matters and the answers come freely; to support your own country because we have labor laws so you know the people were treated fairly, to keep your hard-earned dollars in the U.S., because you believe Americans are industrious and smart and skilled so therefore their products will be superior. But Made in Italy?
My friends and acquaintances admit a certain lust for Italian products, but most are not able to articulate a real, tangible reason why it matters if it was actually Made In Italy. Because it's cool or because it's beautiful are the top answers.

I appreciate, and benefit from, the lust for all things Italian. But it's not enough for someone to want our products just because they're cool (or because some magazine or piece of marketing tells you they're cool). I would rather people made a more conscious decision. You have options. If you're going to choose Italian-made, know why. Make a conscious choice.

A formula for excellence

In my opinion, there are five main reasons why Italian products are special. I know some of the insights below are generalizations (they don't apply to every Italian company and could easily apply to products from other places). But for this exercise, these are my observations of what makes Made in Itlay mean something from time spent with Italian companies.

History: Even though many first-world nations have moved on from a manufacturing economy, Italy is still very much a country that makes things. Maybe because Italy is also a family-driven culture, meaning there are a lot of businesses in operation that makes things and are the legacies that previous generations are handing down to their offspring. This is true for Santini. They are a prime example of an Italian multi-generation family manufacturing business. For fifty-one consecutive years, a Santini family member has led the business. They have guided the development and design of the products, established the partnerships, managed the global distribution, and overseen and improved the manufacturing process. The standards that were set by the founder, that allowed his products to stand out in the early market for cycling-specific clothing, have been baked into the business. It is this fifty-one-year history that sets the framework for the everyday operation that leads to the quality standard the products enjoy. There are thousands of similar family manufacturing businesses in Italy, which creates a product culture tied closely to family pride and obligation.

Experience: Italian labor law favors long-term and stable employment. When you hire into an Italian business, you are making a long-term decision, and the company is making a semi-permanent commitment to you. Employees become like family and rarely leave. The experience they bring and the experience they gain while employed stays within the company. Santini is being run by the adult daughter of the founder. She grew up, literally, in the factory (the family had an apartment on the factory grounds when she was in her early teens). The business benefits from everything she's ever learned. There are seamstresses working on the factory floor who've been with Santini for over thirty years. In fact, across the business, there are hundreds and hundreds of accumulated years of experience at work making the products the company sells. That collective, institutional experience leads to better and more innovative products.

Passion for the product: If you ask an American company how their business is going, chances are you'll hear about their financial results. They'll tell you if they grew, if they hit their goals, how much profit did they make. It is normal for us in the U.S. to define ourselves financially because our culture tells us that the sole purpose and motivation for any business endeavor is profit. In Italy, if you ask an owner how their business is doing, they are much more likely to show you the products they are making and ask what you think of them. Could you see the detail that went into making it? Could you see the technological innovations that make it superior? This has happened to me repeatedly in Italy. I know that most people who make things have pride in it, but the way Italians put pride of product above all other measures of success is unique, and I think leads to better products.

A beauty culture: Some of the most stunning luxury products come from Italy. In automobiles (Lamborghini, Ferrari, Maserati), Fashion (Prada, Gucci) and in pretty much every other product category there is, the most aspirational brands are Italian. Italians (again, I'm generalizing, but this is an observation) take national pride in the global status of their iconic brands and the sense of flair and style they represent. This pride in Italian style and status impacts Italy at every level. It is as if you are representing Italy when you sell your products outside the country, and that you have a responsibility to all Italians to hold yourself to the bar set by brands like those above. There is pride in product in other places in the world as well, but only in Italy do I see that pride of product expressed as the responsibility of Italian companies to put out products that fit the Italian sense of place in the world as leader of style and fashion.

Technological mastery: Because there are so many companies still actually making things in Italy, and many of them are proud, family (or closely held private) companies, the Italian home market is extremely competitive. Small footprint manufacturers like Santini are always looking to innovate as a way to stay ahead. Santini has invested in high-end machinery in the factory to make their processes fast and repeatable and they work with like-minded suppliers to source raw materials that put their products on the cutting edge. In a world that says you should make things as cheaply as possible to maximize profit, Santini, like many Italian companies, focuses on investments that raise the level of their products and ensure what they make is the pinnacle of what can be done in their space.

So there you have it. The real reasons Made in Italy matters. It matters because not many non-Italian cycling clothing companies have over fifty years of history and experience perfecting clothing for cycling enthusiasts and racers. Not many outside companies have direct access to the technical innovation available in the Italian textiles market. Not many non-Italian clothing manufacturers invest in the equipment, processes, and people it takes to create durable, highly-technical clothing in a dependable, repeatable way. And it matters because Italian national pride is tied very closely to their position as the maker of the world's most coveted and beautiful things.

What do you think?

7Nov/180

We Need You! (to become a cycling official)

The number of active cycling officials is dwindling. If it drops any further, the race calendar will have to shrink. Some races will cease to exist altogether. Are you willing to be part of the solution?

Could you, should you, take the USAC Officials exam?

There is an ecosystem to local cycling. Promoters (and their organizing collectives), God-bless them, work long, long hours, take incredible risks in securing permits, to give racers a safe, clearly-defined battlefield to compete on. They do this for little (sometimes even no) financial reward.

Timing companies, registrations services, and sponsors provide valuable services and support. Volunteers give their time and energy to help promoters make races possible. And the racers themselves! Oh, how we would all not exist without the racers.

Officials are just one part of the ecosystem, but vital. We are the mandatory, on-the-ground resource for the sanctioning body. That sanction ensures liability insurance is available to protect promoters and racers. It gives competitors rules under which the races happen and a path to greater and greater personal achievement.

We need new officials in Arizona (and, as I’m hearing from my colleagues, in many other active cycling communities across the country). Despite there being a good core of experienced, talented officials in my home region, there are only a couple of us who are active (take the regular, every-other-weekend local race assignments during crit and ‘cross seasons).

Local races need two officials, yet for two of the last three races, I have been the only person available. Working a race alone is not only the opposite of fun, it is unsustainable. We need backup to get the results right (as close to right as possible on the first posting), to keep the event on schedule, to be available to help riders with challenges, to manage accidents and incidents. And, maybe I speak only for myself here, we would also like the time and freedom to encourage and coach and promote the sport within the rider community we serve.

The rewards that come with sometimes long, stressful assignments

What can I say to you so you’d step up, take the exam, and become an official? Should I paint a dark picture of what happens if the sport has no officials (promoters would have to hire from out-of-state which would add travel and time costs that would simply bury smaller events)? Or should I spin officiating as some kind of pious and smugly rewarding pursuit?

Neither of those arguments do the role justice. The truth is that although the days can be long and tense, the work sometimes tedious and monotonous, officiating bike races...

  • Is a way to give back to the sport, to be of service to the racers, the promoters, the sponsors, and everyone else involved in the sport. Cycling has been an important part of my adult life. It has given me a healthy and fit lifestyle. It has challenged me to compete. It has given me work and income. It brings me mental wellbeing. Cycling gives a lot. I officiate as a way to give back.
  • Is a way to be part of the scene if racing is not your thing. I crashed badly in a crit in 2010 and did some physical and mental damage that means I don’t want to race crits anymore. But I wanted to be around racing. Officiating is a great way to be at every race, to see the action from the best position, and to immerse yourself in the race itself, all without the risks of actually racing.
  • Allows me to act as a guardian of a sport we all love. Cycling works as a sport because there are rules; a structure and format to the competition. Being an official allows you to support racers by acting as the independent voice at events for the rules.
  • Enables me to make a difference in the future of cycling. One of the best parts of officiating is helping junior riders live out their cycling goals. Without the local crit, ‘cross and MTB racing scenes, these kids would not really have cycling on their radars. Knowing what the sport does for me personally, I would not be able to live with myself if I let the door to cycling close on junior riders by not helping to to make opportunities for them to race and develop.
  • Let’s me support local shops and clubs that hold events that would not exist without us. Cycling thrives when all of its constituents thrive. Racing is one of the ways cycling brings new people to the sport, and one of the ways the business community of cycling can interact with riders. Officiating allows me to play a part in enabling riders and the business of cycling to come together in the real world.

Take the USAC Official Exam

It’s not hard to become an official. There is an online course that gives you the basics. USAC also offers occasional classroom sessions. The cost is minimal (and under some circumstances free for first-time officials). I and many of my colleagues are ready to mentor you into your first season; to teach you what the course material touches on, but does not adequately cover. And there is a technical team at USA Cycling ready to give you opportunities to grow and develop (to ultimately work at national-level events, to gain additional certifications that add variety to the kinds of races you can work, and to offer you courses and seminars so you can elevate up the officiating ranks).

You’ll begin as a C-level official. For your first few races, you’ll be paired with someone with more experience until you’re ready to take a leadership role. You are paid (nominally, but enough to legitimize your presence as a professional) to work races. And you get to say no to any race assignment offered to you.

So here is my plea. Everything is in place and ready for you to get started as an official. The sport needs you. My colleagues and I are ready to help you through the process. Contact me if you have questions. All we need is for you to raise your hand.

What do you say?

- Steve Medcroft

3Nov/180

A Love Affair with the White Tanks Library

Going analog for my next read, I re-discovered what has to be one of the best public buildings in the state of Arizona; the White Tanks Library.

I recently finished a book on my Kindle. Sensitive to my near-constant cycle of reading/buying/reading/buying, and maybe just looking for a different experience for a minute, I went to the library for my next read instead. It is a good library. Because of the layout, I was able to choose quickly. I always seem to choose quickly.

When you first enter the  White Tanks Library, there are a couple of display shelves featuring new editions. I always start here. I want to see what’s new, the latest best-selling fiction, new ideas in the non-fiction space. Within a minute, I had selected two books and checked out. Not in a hurry to head hone, I took a few minutes to ponder the building I was in and was amazed at how much of a gift this place is to those of us lucky enough to enjoy it.

Sitting on an isolated lot at the very edge of a county park, the White Tanks Library is a marvelous building to look at. Interestingly shaped, modern, clad in a slightly green pebbled treatment, with winding entry walks and a shaded courtyard just before the main doors, it is a compliment to desert that surrounds it.

The broad, pressed-earth and gravel walkways, the pebble-embedded concrete walls, the colored cladding and awnings, all reflect the natural surroundings. The parking spaces and walkways intertwine with protected patches of unchanged desert. As a visitor, you feel like you are walking into something that grew up out of the landscape, not something that was built on top of it. Outside the building, you'll find a Desert Tortoise enclosure as well as an outdoor amphitheater, and a trail entrance into the county-maintained park itself.

Inside, the building is shaped like a Japanese folding fan, with a broad curved rear wall that faces the White Tanks Park and a narrow entryway at the front. To protect the line of that back wall, all the busy space of the building is at front; meeting rooms, the bookstore, bathrooms, activity rooms, staff offices, as well as an amazing nature center with displays of reptiles and snakes found in the park. Even the sorting center is tucked into the front of the building.

Extending out from the library's infrastructure are working spaces; librarian’s desks, the children’s apparatus, the private workrooms for patrons, computer desks, etc.

The next concentric ring to this highly-functional building are the stacks. Fanned across the heart of main library chamber, and organized in bookstore categorization (which is hard to get used to for a Dewey-trained library nerd like me), shelving and display units filled with books, periodicals, and digital media follow the curve of the room.

The real treat to the White Tanks Library though is the back wall. A brilliant decision that honors the park adjacent to the library. The back wall is one, long, panoramic, curved window. No matter where you stand or sit in the library, you have a view into the park.

The stacks end five feet from the windows and nothing else is allowed to get in the way of the expansive view. It is like an IMAX theater experience; a surround-sound view of the thriving Sonoran Desert landscape, backed by the copper-colored White Tank Mountains. The building is so ideally situated that the terrain curves up and away from the view, like it’s really a diorama, or a carefully curated display like the famous Neanderthal man exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The placement is such that from inside the library, almost no distracting elements of the park (roads, trails, or shelters) are in the view.

The windows perfectly frame a Western view. That means sunsets, which can be spectacular in the desert even on the most mundane of days.

The White Tanks Library was designed by Arizona-based DWL Architects & Planners and is a living testament to their ability to imagine a building that honors its surroundings, is designed to have minimal environmental impact, and is practical enough to be constructed in a challenging environment.

If you ever get the chance, I encourage you to pay a visit to the White Tanks Library. If you're a lover of libraries, of nature, or of architecture, I promise you'll be impressed.

14Oct/180

Dear Twitter (a break-up letter)

I’m sorry, but I can’t see you anymore. It isn’t working between us. I need some space. And by space, I mean, I’m leaving. And I am not coming back.

I know this probably comes as a shock and I’m sorry to be so blunt about it, but I want you to understand that this is about me, not about you. I’ve reached a point in my life where I have to make some changes. Changes for my health, for my well-being, for my sanity even. I want to be happy, and I’m not happy when I’m with you. And honestly, I can’t believe you’re happy with me either. As much as it pains me to let go of a years-long relationship, I need a clean break.

Please don’t cry. We’ve had a good run haven’t we? It’s important to me that I believe much of the time we spent together was positive. In fact, when we first met and everything was still so new and fresh, you opened me up to a world I hadn’t been part of up until then. At first, we had the same friends, then you introduced me to a whole world of new people. I was drawn to the stories and the people that you knew and could get me access to. I met all kinds of other writers and artists and people I admired. You let me see practically inside their heads and how they thought about their work, their place in the world, and shared their successes. I even got to commiserate alongside them for their losses and missteps.

To be part of your life while you became famous was really special to me. I got to watch you grow, to ride along as you empowered people to change the worlds. You grew so powerful that you helped people literally overthrow their oppressive governments, settled debates among titans, and gave voice to the creative and the suffering. I fed off your power. I felt connected. I felt like because of my relationship with you, I had a bigger voice than I’d ever had before.

The truth is, as strong and powerful my love for you was, I was always reserved in our relationship. I allowed myself to be pulled by you. When we’d spend time together, I always let you choose what we saw and how we spent our time. You set the agenda. I was passive about it. Which is fine. I know this was my choice. But looking back, maybe that was a sign this relationship couldn’t last. I gave you too much power over my mental wellbeing. I didn’t contribute, I just consumed. Which made me feel weak and controlled. And I began to resent myself for it.

The wings of darkness are flapping over us

Then things turned. I know this is tough to hear, but it’s as if dark forces took you over. The Twitter I loved started to get moody and irritable. It wasn’t long before politics, fear, negativity, and hate replaced that beautiful window into the worlds of my creative and positive friends. All everyone wanted to do with you was fret and wring their hands about the world. Even though I still wanted to see you every day, I would leave our time together feeling bad about myself and scared for the future.

Your success, in the form of attention and growth in numbers, seemed like it was a drug to you. Even if you knew (I believe in your heart of hearts, you knew) that it was bad for you, you kept taking it. You acted like that attention was all that mattered. You didn’t seem to care that it was corrosive and negative and harmful to the great collective human soul. Attention was attention.

You are feeding on darkness. You have become infected with desperateness and mean-spiritedness. I catch a little more of it every time I am around you. Being with you, I allowed darkness to grow inside me. Which means, I am then feeding your need. It is a nasty cycle and I hate myself sometimes for both what being with you is doing to me, but also by what this co-dependency does to you.

Worst of all, you have started to take sides in some of the debate that you are enabling. You had never done that before. And I find myself almost constantly on the side you chose against.

So, for both our sake, I have to let you go. I’m making a clean break. I don’t trust myself to just take some time off or put us through a trial separation. It’s over. I’m leaving. I’m deactivating my account.

I know that this will have no real impact on you, I’m not naive. I was always just a teeny-tiny blip in your journey. You meant way much more to me than I ever meant to you. But I didn’t want to leave without you knowing why. I still love you enough for that.

I hope you understand my choice. And I hope that somewhere, maybe deep inside you, you know that I’m actually doing the right thing and you can be happy for me.

Anyway. Thank you. I love you. But goodbye.

Steve Medcroft

PS: The steps to deactivating a Twitter account are:

  1. Login to Twitter in a browser on your PC.
  2. Click on your profile image to open Profile and Settings.
  3. Select Settings and Privacy.
  4. To save your history, click on Request Your Archive. You will receive an email link that allows you download the history of your activity on Twitter.
  5. Click Deactivate Account. You will be taken to a confirmation window that notified you your username is reserved for 30 days

After deactivation, some of your activity may be available in search engines, internet archives, and the feeds of other people. You will receive a confirmation when the deactivation is complete. Then you’re free.

11Oct/180

The leap from PBX ACD to CCaaS?

A long time ago, I wrote a book called Call Centers Made Easy. It was an attempt to help small businesses realize that they had a call-center inside their company, in the form of their sales team, their service department, IT department, or Human Resources. The book taught that modern PBX phone systems could give them access to the tools large call centers used to manage interactions between customers and staff more efficiently. The book is outdated but the premise is still valid.

Last week, I met with a client with an HR staff of fifty servicing a national workforce using basic PBX ACD functionality and reporting. The goal was to help find ways modern contact-center systems could improve their staff's workflow and, more importantly, help them serve their customers (the company's employees) more efficiently.

The meeting challenged us to lay out clear gains for the business to move from a PBX technology frozen at it's latest release to a provider delivering under the CCaaS model.

So what are the gains? Do we just rattle off a checklist of features that our CCaaS provider partners offer? Or can we frame the discussion in terms that help a business realize their mission-oriented goals of improving department efficiency, enable them to give better client service, and provide them the kind of analytics that help them make smarter decisions is service of the mission?

Here's the case we made. What do you think? What did we miss? What are the other wins for a customer in this same position? And if you are customer with the same challenge, can City Communications help you solve it?

The potential gains for a business moving from PBX-based call-center technology to CCaaS:

  • Improved efficiency for the staff. Today's contact-center systems offer new call-routing and agent-grouping methodologies. You'll be able to design workflows to help your team manage more interactions with finer analytics. You can add the ability for your agents to handle department-bound email, chat sessions, text messages and other digital interactions. Which will improve your staff's work experience and your ability to establish policies and processes for how you're handling contact with your clients.
  • A better experience for your customers. The goal with any new system is to find ways to reduce friction for your clients and help you to meet clients where they live (increasingly on mobile devices). Allowing you to offer text messaging, mobile-app integration, and chat capability means clients get better access to your department. Interactive Voice Response and integration to your back-office systems could allow you to open up self-help options so employees can get questions answered outside normal hours and offload some calls and messages. Automatic callback and other outbound-calling services allow clients to connect with you at the best times for them (and help you manage busy times more efficiently).
  • Analytics that improve service. By integrating all contact types into one system, you'll be able to improve (and demonstrate the improvement of) service levels. You'll get granular, cradle-to-grave data on how well you're servicing your clients (how often they call, email, chat or text with you). If we can integrate to your current CRM, the systems should be able to share information (contact records and notes posted to the CRM, the analytics being able to reference ticket information to contacts).
  • Future-proof investment. Cloud-based systems are services you subscribe to, not products that you buy. Your expense is limited to the subscription cost. No capital outlay. No annual maintenance. No upgrade or expansion charges every year or two. Every company we partner with that provides this kind of service maintains you at their latest release and offers new features as they come online as part of the service.

Originally posted on LinkedIn in October, 2017