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175: Pumping Up Plumbing Fixtures and Hardware with Palazzani

Written by Rob Stott

July 11, 2023

If you’re in the appliance industry and not also selling kitchen and bathroom hardware, it’s likely you’re missing out on a major revenue generator. Mani Majano, VP of sales and brand management at Palazzani, shares some brand and industry updates on the category. And, leaning on his independent retail background, he offers advice to dealers thinking about jumping into the space.


 

Rob Stott: All right, we are back on the Independent Thinking podcast, and diving into the world of kitchen and bath and hardware… high-end luxury hardware today, and excited to do so with Mani Majano, VP of sales and brand development for Palazzani, the U.S.A. arm of Palazzani. Mani, appreciate you taking the time and calling in and chatting with us today.

Mani Majano: Thank you very much for the opportunity. It’s good to be here with you.

Rob Stott: Yeah, absolutely. We’re excited to dive into this and also talk to you, and introduce our dealers to a brand, a name they probably know. We’ll dive into that a little bit here in a minute, but I want to give you a chance first to just introduce yourself. Tell us about who Mani is, your background, and your path to Palazzani.

Mani Majano: Well, since I grew up in the retail environment, in the community of selling appliances and decorative plumbing fixtures and cabinetry, I was part of our family business for more than 20 years. I started to veer off and go into another venture, and I mistakenly ran into Marco Palazzani at a kitchen and bath show. After that introduction, I ended up becoming his sales rep for the U.S. market.

Rob Stott: I love that you say mistakenly. Before we hopped on, we talked about your last name. I could ask you how he pronounced it, and is it how I said it at the top of the show? Is that right?

Mani Majano: Yes, you’re right. That’s true. That’s the truth of the matter.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. So, talk about what it’s been like working with him, because I know, obviously, a family… and we’ll dive into the brand here in a second, but a family and brand that has a steep Italian history, and has made its mark in this space, but talk about what it’s been like to work with that family and this brand.

Mani Majano: Well, when you work with a family like Palazzani, there is a variety of categories and industries that they’re part of in Italy. They’re a family of entrepreneurship. They have their own foundry, they have cousins that own earthmoving equipment. They were engineers that produced machinery for the plumbing industry. And today, I mean, they’re proud to have another family member to work closely with Ferrari, Carlo Palazzani, that is in their design team for Ferrari cars. It’s really fun to be with a family like that.

Rob Stott: Yeah, it’s a powerhouse family over there in Italy, and neat to see how the brand, and specifically as it relates to our space in the kitchen and bath world, make its way over here. Like I said, it’s a name that is probably recognized, for those in this kitchen and bath space, and very high-end, a luxury brand of finishes and hardware. I want to give you the chance, tell that story. For those that don’t know Palazzani, introduce us to that brand, and what it means here in the U.S. market.

Mani Majano: Well, I’ll start off with the story with Palazzani. So, in 1868, the family Palazzani business started in a small town in Brescia, Italy. It began manufacturing bridge components, wooden packing crates, and carriages. They did this for the Italian government as well, and then, during World War I, the family foundry started to produce brass and bronze parts. Then, in 1905, the family became the first manufacturer of taps in northern Italy and Brescia, and continues, to this day, to be very proactive in researching new and innovative solutions for plumbing fixtures for more than 30 countries.

Rob Stott: Wow.

Mani Majano: What we can say today, Palazzani is a global brand, and without compromising the quality of material design and engineering and production, Palazzani is importing Italian decorative plumbing fixtures at an affordable price in the U.S. market. Yes, that is correct. The artisan Palazzani, they will have a variety of kitchen and bath design products, made in brass and PVD finishes, in a variety of colors.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. So, when we say finishes, for those that… The first thing that obviously comes to mind is faucets. Is there other areas of the kitchen and bath space that they’re involved in, that if someone comes to Palazzani or browses the website, what type of products will they see?

Mani Majano: Well, today you will see the faucets and shower systems. However, today, on the U.S. website, the majority of our product collections are made in chrome. However, Palazzani has invested millions of dollars in new machinery to produce PVD finishes, and PVD is a physical vapor deposition coating. It’s also known as a thin film coating, and that is a process in which solid materials vaporize in a vacuum and deposited onto the surface of a part. That will provide a stronger and harder finishes for a variety of colors, in a beautiful fashion. Now, this is exciting for the end consumer, because now we’ll have a variety of finishes that will match the variety of colors in tile and in sanitary ware in the market today. Something that designers want to use when they’re working with their clients.

Rob Stott: Gotcha. Now, when you say a variety of colors, when I think of sort of… and I don’t want to say standard, because it’s not standard when you’re talking at this level, but the chromes and golds and nickels, that sort of thing, are there… what other… does it get exotic, I guess, in terms of the color opportunities that exist because of this?

Mani Majano: Yeah, so we will be offering a color collection that’s not used today, and that is matte copper.

Rob Stott: Okay.

Mani Majano: Matte copper is a beautiful finish, and we will have that in our new design collection. Matte copper is being requested in a very high-end design community, especially in the hospitality realm. You might see in luxury hotels some of these new colors such as matte copper. We’ll also have another color similar to gun metal, we call it the brushed dark nickel, where you will see an artisan finish, where it seems like it has… it’s finished with brush strokes. So, there will be some new design elements within our finishes.

Rob Stott: Gotcha. Now, hearing you talk about the technology, I know that that’s obviously an exciting thing. I’m wondering, for you specifically, when you think of this brand and the direction it’s heading and products that are coming, what gets you excited about Palazzani, and being able to talk about this in front of the kitchen and bath community?

Mani Majano: In today’s standards, in the industry, in the professional world and wholesalers and governmental agencies, they’re looking to protect the end consumer. So, Palazzani, our brass is lead-free and we’ll have a very high quality chrome plating that will not increase the possibilities of cancer. There are finishes that the government today states, or provides warnings on product that, if you’re around it, you could maybe catch cancer to a certain level. I mean, you’ll see this in little warnings-

Rob Stott: Right.

Mani Majano: … on cups. Or you go into certain coffee shops, you’ll see these warning signs. The chrome plating that Palazzani has with its new production, we will be at the highest level, so that we would not have these type of warnings.

Rob Stott: No, gotcha. That’s obviously important, and a, I think, unique sort of story to be able to tell as well. I say unique stories, and I want to take a second just to dive into your own for a minute, because I… You mentioned it at the top, in terms of your background and path into this. It kind of relates to another question that I want to ask about, getting to what excites you about working with our retailers, but talk about your retail background a little bit. How does that play in, and make you a unique piece in this, for the Palazzani brand, knowing that… You have that. You come from a family that had that background in retail, and to be able to share that when you’re going to retailers and these showrooms to talk about how to position this product and things like that. How does that play in, or help you develop those connections with the people that you’re talking to?

Mani Majano: Well, as a previous retailer for more than 20 years, I was engaged in the appliances, cabinets, decorative plumbing, audio/video, and electrical industry. I really enjoyed the retail home improvement sector of our business, and our designers and our sales team made a lot of families happy with the brands that we represented and sold. However, I realized, in my early twenties, we had a Home Depot built a few miles away from our showroom, and I figured it would draw new consumers from outside of our 45,000 populated city, and at that time, in my early twenties, we only sold appliances.

Rob Stott: Right.

Mani Majano: So, I asked my dad if we could install kitchen faucets when we replaced the dishwasher and the water disposer, and he said, “Yes, it’s only a replacement item.” So, I found a local distributor in my area that I could buy kitchen faucets. We took a small space, a 10 by 10 space, and I started to show faucets, and our sales team began to sell faucets when we took out a dishwasher. And so, I started to see interest in this space, so I thought, well, when we build our new showroom we’re going to need displays for our built-in appliances.

We built a brand new, 10,000 square foot showroom, and I was a little gun-shy about getting into the cabinet business, but as I learned more about the cabinet business quite rapidly, I decided to bring in a few brands and start to display them with our appliances. I ended up hiring designers and architects for our showroom. After a few years, our business grew 10 times more.

Rob Stott: Wow.

Mani Majano: It was very profitable, and I tell you, I enjoyed every bit of that.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome, and I got to tell you, hearing that, I think is so relatable for our retailers too, because we’re starting to see more where… even just from the Nationwide perspective, of trying to see where these sort of congruent categories can relate to what we’re doing in the home, and whether it’s a… Obviously, we’ve got the core of appliances, furniture, and electronics, and you see the relationship with an FEI, and the flooring opportunities, and the influx of hardware, and all of these are related, which means that there’s just this massive opportunity to expand what you’re doing.

Not saying that retailers settle, but if you have that willingness and desire to innovate your own business and expand and grow, there are ways to do it, and you did it in your retail background of finding ways where just selling a dishwasher can turn into, basically, light kitchen remodels, right? Changing faucets and things like that. I think that experience is something that a lot of our retailers could relate to, if they’re interested in getting into these related verticals and things like that. So, having that background and experience to be able to share with them how to do it, I think is important.

Mani Majano: Absolutely. I mean, the membership of your members, they have proven for years their trust and loyalty and their commitment to the community, and definitely those type of qualities are great in the remodeling industry.

Rob Stott: Well, I want to ask too, because I mentioned that the opportunity’s there, is it an opportunity for everyone, necessarily? I guess not necessarily from the Palazzani brand perspective, but putting back on your retail hat, does it make sense for, say, every appliance dealer that sells dishwashers, to use your example of dishwashers leading to faucet sales, does it make sense for all appliance dealers? If a retailer’s interested in exploring this space, is there a way they can decide whether it is right for them or not, or if it makes sense for them to venture out into this world?

Mani Majano: Well, for a brand perspective, I would say it’s a good fit. Nationwide Marketing Group members are great brand builders, and what I’ve learned is that they support national brands where they can make a decent margin. Definitely, adding a new vertical can be a challenge when most plumbing brands do not provide a healthy margin for independent plumbing showrooms. What’s interesting is that Palazzani brand, we support the brick and mortar showrooms, where this particular brand will provide a decent, healthy margin of 35% to the dealer. We don’t sell to the Fergusons of the world. We don’t sell to build.com, or any other national facilities of this nature.

Rob Stott: Right.

Mani Majano: We’re here to support that brick and mortar store. So, can anyone get into it? Well, not really, because if those people came to us we would say, “No, you can’t sell Palazzani on your retail side.” However, if a Nationwide member comes to us and say, “Can we sell Palazzani?” the answer is, yes, you’re part of a fabulous organization that helps and supports brands, and this is what we’re looking for.

Rob Stott: I love that answer. I think it kind of shows the commitment in not only the ability and expertise on the retail side for our dealers, but also the commitment of a brand like Palazzani, I think. Important and comforting, I’m sure, to an independent retailer listening, that it’s a brand that… You don’t want to call it protected per se, but the idea that it’s… You’re not going to be able to find this… You’re not going to get shopped on this brand, for sure, so that’s exciting to hear, and I think important, too, to put emphasis around for anyone listening that’s maybe interested in this space, or interested in the Palazzani brand, for sure. And unique too, right, because we talk about the opportunities in this kitchen and bath design space, and if… Anyone that has been paying attention over the last couple of years, you know that home remodels and things like… It was kind of off the charts, right?

Tough to compare anything to what ’22 was like for a year across all verticals, but specifically, I think, in the home remodel world. I’m wondering, from your experience, and not asking you to cite data necessarily, but are you guys still seeing… Is momentum in that home remodel space, is it still there? Are there opportunities? Because that could be a thing, too, for a dealer interested. They know that these last few years have sort of been above average years, but as people are paying more attention to their homes and spaces they’re spending more time in, but I guess there could be concern that it’s cooling off. Are you seeing that, or is the momentum really still there around the remodel industry?

Mani Majano: When you see and read the reports today in this category, the numbers are flourishing. They’re growing.

Rob Stott: Yeah.

Mani Majano: People today, as interest rates have increased, many have decided to stay in their homes and remodel, and that’s huge. Many of these folks would rather do the upgrades for themselves than someone else, and these type of folks look for quality brand products. They will go into a decorative plumbing showroom and choose what they like. They will choose a higher-end brand product, since they will be enjoying it themselves. That is why Palazzani has invested millions of dollars in a PVD machinery, to provide a variety of colors at a competitive price, where the consumer may purchase something from Italy. That’s a wonderful thing, because a lot of consumers don’t always want the least expensive product coming from manufacturers that produces and uses low-end material. When it comes to plumbing fixtures, they want a strong product.

Rob Stott: Yeah, I think dealers could appreciate hearing that, for sure. And you know what’s exciting, too, to hear you talk about, is the showroom, the in-person showroom, because I… I didn’t plan it this way. It was actually just a unique circumstance, a coincidence, really, that you and I are talking the same week that the National Kitchen and Bath Association, which I know you guys have a relationship with as well, just launched their first-ever independent showroom study. Which I think was, like I said, just unique timing to be able to talk to you as they’re launching that, because the segment… It all intersects, right? So, we’re talking about the same thing, about kitchen and bath showrooms. The idea, another reason why anyone listening, if they’re not already in this space and dedicating some time and resources to it, might want to consider.

The in-person experience with showrooms is so important, still, to homeowners, and I think important, too, to note that you mentioned that momentum’s continuing as interest rates are up and consumers are looking to stay put and do those remodels. Because that showroom is a… I don’t want to call it a cash cow, necessarily, for dealers that are in this space but, I mean, it’s an important piece of the business. I mean, the NKBA, just to cite one nugget of information that they talked about this week, and launching that report, consumers, first of all, they absolutely want to be going into these showrooms to be able to see and compare product, right? Compare brands, and see what different finishes look like, whether it’s of counter tops and cabinets and things like that, or the hardware that they’re going to install. Typically, when they go into the showroom, a homeowner might have a set budget, but when they go in, they find themselves spending like 31% more.

The example NKBA used was a homeowner that has a reno budget, or a remodel budget, of $41,000, they’ll end up spending $54,000 on that reno, because they went to an in-person showroom and consulted with the dealer, and their salespeople and sales associates, and realized when they get in-person and they see a product like a Palazzani faucet, they’re willing to upgrade, more willing to upgrade, and go after that product. Just a unique thing to think about in the grand scheme of this business, and what you guys are doing, and the opportunities that are out there.

Mani Majano: We’re excited to be part of this. I know I’m definitely excited to be part of it.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome, man.

Mani Majano: Life is not boring.

Rob Stott: No, not at all. I mean, I’m sure you could appreciate that too, right? The importance of getting the consumer to come in and look at your product, and see it side by side. Even if they’re comparing models within the Palazzani portfolio, to be able to look at one faucet and compare it to another, just how important that is to them to be able to do that in person.

Mani Majano: Well, every time a client picks up a faucet, they know the weight of it represents quality. It’s a big difference.

Rob Stott: Yeah, absolutely. No, we’re excited. You talk about in person, I’m excited to get face to face with you guys and see you in Nashville here in just a few weeks. Talk about that a little bit. I believe we’ve had you at previous PrimeTimes, is that correct?

Mani Majano: Yes.

Rob Stott: Yeah?

Mani Majano: I’ve definitely been there over the last four years. I’ve done a couple of shows. The one’s online.

Rob Stott: Right.

Mani Majano: There so are so many dealers that pass by the booth and they wonder, could I get involved in this business? They wonder, can they make any money in this business? As that particular excitement has grown with them, we as Palazzani decided to open up the other opportunity besides decorative plumbing, but to introduce the Palazzani cabinetry for the dealers.

Rob Stott: Right.

Mani Majano: Because dealers sells appliances, and a lot of them don’t understand the possibilities of the profit and margins that they can make off cabinets. If they’re displaying built-in products using their manufactured displays, those displays are not making them any money.

Rob Stott: Right.

Mani Majano: However, if they add kitchen cabinets with their built-in products, then they could sell the kitchen cabinets to the consumer. Now they’re using their space a little bit more wisely. This is where the excitement is at the Nationwide show, because when we come in to show plumbing, we will start showing the cabinetry opportunity for the dealers, and many, many dealers are requesting this opportunity.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome, and excited to get you there in Nashville, and have those conversations, and see more dealers get into this space. I know it’s something that I’m excited about, and clearly you are as well, and our dealers should be if they aren’t already, but it sounds like certainly a number are.

Mani, I appreciate the time, man. This was fun to connect and dive into the brand a little bit. Dive into your background too, because I think that’s an important part of this, is hearing your experience and how it’s something that our dealers can relate to and hear from you directly, having done this yourself. So, we appreciate you sharing that and giving us a little glimpse into the background of Mani Majano, and that’s what I’m sticking with.

Mani Majano: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate it. It’s exciting to be with you today, and I always enjoy myself at the Nationwide trade shows, and meeting fabulous business owners across this country.

Rob Stott: Awesome. Well, look forward to seeing you, and until then, thanks for joining us.

Mani Majano: Thank you very much.

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