“In Italy we have reached our peak, now we must continue to grow globally. The secret? Quality, a professional attitude, investments and a fantastic work environment in which we really feel like a family”.
Interview with Lorenzo Chierici
Nowadays, MecTiles Italia, which has been on the market for over twenty years, has a reputation for quality and efficiency and has been a global leader in the regeneration and repurposing of used ceramics machinery. But where did the idea behind the success of MecTiles come from? How did the Reggio Emilia-based company succeed in expanding worldwide and, above all, where is it headed now? What are its secrets? We spoke to Stefano Compagni, the co-founder of MecTiles and the company’s current chairman and main shareholder.
When was MecTiles founded and how did you get the idea of establishing a company like yours?
“My long-standing partner Gianfranco Medici and I were colleagues in the ceramics sector, and after giving it some thought, in November 1998 we decided to take a risk and start a business focusing on the regeneration of used ceramics machines, which we then sold to companies in the sector. We started out from a very small factory, but since we knew lots of companies, we immediately began to earn appreciation; then, customer after customer, we gradually evolved into the MecTiles that we can see today”.
There were many options in the ceramics sector to choose from. Why did you ultimately decide to focus specifically on regenerated machines?
“Because we realised that the companies in our sector actually needed that kind of product. Even today, the regeneration or even the repurposing of used ceramics machines, depending on the customer’s needs, is our core business, but over the years MecTiles has learned to regenerate any type of machine involved in the ceramics sector, including those for preparing raw materials or for finishing and storing tiles ready for being sold on the market. In all these years we have hired more and more technicians specialised in each individual sector of the production chain and have become experienced in operating and even creating from scratch increasingly advanced technological systems in each branch. We have built up a remarkable team of top-notch technicians who are able to work on machines of any brand, manufactured by any company in the world. Our goal is to recover whatever can be recovered in the ceramics sector and then reintroduce the machine on a new market, which may often be quite different to the cutting-edge Italian market, after a specific regeneration process”.
You started out in the so-called “ceramics district”, around Reggio Emilia, and then expanded worldwide. Has the search for new markets contributed to fuel your growth?
“Precisely. Over time, many foreign companies in the ceramics sector realised that purchasing a MecTiles regenerated product was far more convenient than purchasing a new product and that the performances were identical in terms of production. Just think of all those systems that are decommissioned, with lines that must be overhauled or individual parts that need to be replaced. This is our strength: satisfying all the customer’s needs with reconditioned systems, sold at second-hand prices, for optimising income while maintaining an extremely high quality level”.
Has your business really taken off after reaching a specific important target?
“We started out by overhauling small machines, whereas today we sell complete lines. There wasn’t a single key moment, it was a constant growth over time. Some of our customers grew with us, first by getting us to work on small machines and then on larger systems. Some of them introduced entirely new lines, which we now also sell thanks to Sacmi, while others purchased used regenerated machines or combined both new and regenerated parts so as to reduce their production costs. There are several countries that produce ceramics equipment with a lower performance compared to Italian products, but that used one of our regenerated machines to quickly expand thanks to a higher quality standard and lower costs”.
However, in August 2015 Stefano Compagni, who is a big fan of the Reggiana football team, was appointed to head the sporting company that he has always cherished. What did you feel when you became the president of the Reggiana team and how was this experience?
“I’ve always been a big fan of Reggiana, my home town team, and after sponsoring it for years with MecTiles, I joined the company and in 2015 became its president. There’s no doubt that being the president of a football team takes away a lot of time from work and the family, but the passion that I’ve always had for Reggiana allowed me to overcome every obstacle. That experience improved me a lot as a man and as an entrepreneur; I had the chance to meet many interesting people, and it was quite a unique experience in my career, which both enriched me and made me very proud. I was not guided by ambition, but simply by my passion for the team: ultimately, the whole experience was fuelled by my feelings as a fan, which I have always nurtured. I am no longer the president, but of course I keep sponsoring and supporting my home town team, and I know that I will always be very fond of it, because passion cannot be erased”.
How did you manage to balance your work at MecTiles with being the president of Reggiana?
“It was no easy feat. Being involved with a football team in a city like Reggio Emilia is very time-consuming in itself, and being the team’s president kept me away from the company and I think that MecTiles suffered this condition to some degree. On the other hand, I really did everything I could: the president of Reggiana has to be at the office every day. Despite this, thanks to all my collaborators and their incredibly professional approach, MecTiles continued to grow and this experience also helped to improve our company and ourselves, allowing us to expand our horizons: today we are looking far ahead, even beyond the ceramics sector. We have opened a division dedicated to the Food & Beverage and cookware sectors, to systems for the construction sector and other entrepreneurial initiatives that are quite rewarding for us and are contributing, each sector in its own area, to the constant growth of MecTiles Italia”.
Getting back to the company, at one stage your long-standing partner, Gianfranco Medici, after sharing each step of the way with you, decided to announce his much deserved retirement and left you alone at the helm. Did this mark the beginning of a new era?
“Gianfranco had been with me from the very first day and we made the company grow together. Our brand and our success was already consolidated when he went into retirement, and I’m very grateful to him for all that he has done. Following his well-deserved retirement, I decided to promote new young people who grew professionally within the company and who were already poised to take up important responsibilities. I went through with it and the results speak for themselves”.
Before you mentioned the company’s expansion into other sectors. Besides regenerated machines, which remains the core business of MecTiles, you have started commercialising slabs and tiles of the finest Italian brands, manufacturing sanitaryware and presses for pots and now also for the beverage sector. In what sector, besides regenerated ceramics machines, have you become a reference for the market? And, in your view, what business segment do you think will offer the highest margins for development in the future?
“We are certainly leaders in the building sector, therefore whatever revolves around the construction sector is strategic for us. Besides this, within the company we have a partner who studies and develops new company branches, alternative to our core business, that enable us to expand our horizons. We have also started to regenerate machines used in the Food & Beverage sector; moreover, we have developed another product that is being quite successful, namely new presses for the production pots used on traditional and induction hobs. Moreover, with regard to the building sector, the demand for large-size ceramic slabs has grown exponentially; for this product we have invented a new eco-friendly and technologically advanced backing application line, which is gaining widespread appreciation from Italian and foreign customers alike. In addition, thanks to Sacmi, we can also sell new machines for ceramics lines, some of them even integrated with used and reconditioned machines. As you can see, we are not short of ideas, but these ideas materialise into tangible results”.
How many employees and collaborators does MecTiles currently have?
“We have around 50 in-house employees and a further 50 or so collaborators who have been with us for a long time, plus various companies that work exclusively for us. MecTiles Italia, besides the head office in Casalgrande, has opened other branches in Turkey, Spain, Iran, Egypt and Poland where our trusted managers and collaborators work, amounting to a further 50 people or so”.
What’s your most interesting market and what do you think could be the next market to conquer?
“The markets have changed over the years. Italy and Spain generate considerable results, but over the past few years the Indian market, where we were pioneers in the ceramics sector, has really exploded. Back in 1991, I went personally to India to open an agency and in the space of a very short time this activity led to a considerable growth. I believe that India can rely on a lot of highly intelligent youths who are able to learn quickly. In India they immediately grasped the advantage of repurposing used ceramics machines (and even regenerating them, depending on the customer’s needs), such that there are currently over 1300 ceramics businesses in the country, all headed by very young and highly skilled entrepreneurs. Other countries where MecTiles is recording significant and, above all, growing figures are Turkey, Iran, Egypt and, generally speaking, the whole of North Africa. We also work with Russia, the United States and Brazil, but with today’s sky-high energy prices we are mainly focusing on countries with lower energy and raw material costs, such as Turkey, or even Iran, Brazil, Mexico and India. These countries, should the energy prices remain high for a long time, will certainly have a big advantage over traditional markets, because ultimately the figures are incontrovertible.”
Could you provide some details about your partnership with Sacmi, a leading company in the production of new ceramics machines?
“With Sacmi we had been collaborating for a long time without any written agreements; then, building on the excellent relationship between us, five years ago we partly merged with them to try and expand our business outside our sector: they rely on us for regenerated used ceramics machines and we rely on them for new machines; in some cases we dismantle the used system while they assemble a new one. Now, among other things, Sacmi has acquired a 30% stake in MecTiles, while the remaining 70% is owned by myself.
What are the forthcoming goals of MecTiles in terms of expansion of the business area, turnover and the company’s global growth?
“Regarding the expansion in Italy, I would say that we’ve reached a good stage in terms of size; my goal is to grow further abroad. Nowadays, the ceramics sector requires a 24-hour service and in order to enhance efficiency we need to rely more and more on our agencies in Turkey, Iran, Poland, Egypt and India, employing more staff so that we can adopt the same method that we used for Italy”.
On a personal level, Stefano Compagni has fulfilled all his ambitions: he has a nice family, he was president of the football club that he has always supported and he’s the CEO of a multinational company that he founded himself. Do you still have any long-cherished dream awaiting to become reality?
“I am very fond of my work, but I was able to grow professionally thanks to the support of a sound and united family that gave me the strength to persevere, step by step, and accomplish all my goals, despite all the sacrifices I’ve had to make. I really hope that my children, Giulia and Gianluca, will join me at the company: in fact, they are already involved, although they must not feel compelled to follow in my footsteps but rather choose their path freely; and if they end up loving this job and this company as much as I do, the future is in good hands. This is my long-cherished dream: to pass the baton to my children, obviously as late as possible. However, if they feel ready to take the reins before then, I wouldn’t mind helping them and then stepping back. Today’s youths have different aptitudes compared to my generation: they live in an electronic and digital world; business is conducted at a much faster pace today than in the past and they’re used to this. I’m one of those entrepreneurs who want to give young people a chance, provided that’s what they truly want”.
Besides your passion for this job and for the company and the expertise of technicians and other professionals and collaborators, does the success of MecTiles perhaps also depend on the relationship you have with your employees?
“I hope that’s true or, at least, that’s the feeling I have and the impression I get every day at the company. I’ve never regarded our people as employees, but always as work colleagues. I started working as a technician and employee and built my career step-by-step, but the strength of MecTiles is not Stefano Compagni: it lies in the group of people involved in our project and who are supporting our cause, collaborating in a healthy work environment without any mutual envy or jealousy; at least, that’s what I perceive in mostly all the departments. Life has taught me that we cannot achieve anything on our own, but incredible results can be obtained by working together and collaborating harmoniously in a healthy environment at work and in the family. I notice all this in the eyes of my colleagues who are supporting the cause and I consider this one of my biggest successes. As a sports fan, I know that the group can make a difference and the MecTiles team is a truly special one that will take us far”.