Skvirel Group, a success marked by Made in Italy

by Simona Storchi

From a business idea – to provide customers the best Italian ceramic tiles – to a big group that is today one of the top largest retailer of Italian ceramic tiles in Russia and Belarus with 33 showrooms in 15 cities across Russia, Belarus and United States with 590 employees. Skvirel Group was founded in 1994 in Minsk and with a total turnover of 50,4 million euros and 870.000 sqm of ceramic tiles imported from Italy has become one of the main player in the post-Soviet area ceramic sector. The Group’s business also include (since 2009) a tableware division with 5 showrooms dedicated in Minsk, a sanitary division (since 2010) with 9 showrooms in Minsk, Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Mogilev, Brest, Lipetsk, Voronezh and Briansk.
“The main motivation to start my business was the necessity to provide for my one-year-old daughter – explains Dmitri Lazar, chief executive officer of Skvirel Group –  This is why now my business is almost twenty years old and she turned twenty-one. I mean to say that in the post-Soviet space we are all just like you, people of Western Europe and Italy”.

In  August 1998 Skvirel opened its first showroom in Minsk with Cooperativa Ceramica D’Imola, just a week before the severe crisis and economic default in Russia. “It has been a hard time, with no customer, no dollar in the pockets and a brand new showroom fully equipped with an impressive variety of tiles, decor elements, and excellent design solutions”.
But fortunately in the post-crisis period the real estate market was available to anyone so Skvirel started to invest in new showrooms all across Russia. Last August Skvirel has opened the largest showroom of Italian tiles and sanitaryware in the Commonwealth of Independent States Region: a modern three-storey building with an exposition of 1,200 sqm and headquarters’ offices. Here are displayed and presented 161 collections of ceramic tiles and 98 collections of sanitary ware, 47 ready-designed bathrooms. Most of the offered items are in stock to allow an instant purchase including all the materials for the construction process. “We invested more and more into the creation of huge stock of ceramic tiles in Minsk and Saint Petersburg. Without fully realizing it, we established a new standard of service in our business. Thanks to professional displays with huge tile surfaces on the panels of 2-4 sq meters, each client could select a tile of his liking from an on-site warehouse, with a complimentary 2D design project. This format was gladly accepted on the market”. The big choice of products available in stock minimizes the necessity to order goods by catalogue.

By 2003 it became clear to Skvirel that its expansion will be continuous so it would be fundamental to invest in young promising managers and entrepreneurs who would trust in the company’s mission. “The rapid expansion we experienced would, certainly, not have been possible without the support of our reliable partners”. The next step was to open new branches in Moscow and Bryansk.
By 2004, the Group opened the first joint enterprise with Cooperativa Ceramica D’Imola in Samara and shortly after the second in Lipetsk. “All the new showrooms were characterized by the same standards of service, the same design,  same belief in creative talents of young people, but we were looking at a new high level”. In 2006 the Group became bigger thanks to the opening of joint locations in Volgograd, Voronezh, and a few in Togliatti and Tyumen. But for Skvirel the big challenge was the launch of the first showroom with a brand “Italo Ceramica” in Rockville, nearly Washington DC, USA (July 2013).
“We are thrilled with the success of this launch and anticipate more to come in America. The main objective of our US business remains the same: we want to provide the American consumer with the whole range of modern Italian ceramic tiles, plus our excellent standard of service”.

All the success history of Skvirel has been marked by Made in Italy and Italian ceramic companies. Nowadays export ceramic industry is driven by concrete personas, in most cases area or regional managers. With varying levels of success they supply the products to the market, offer them first to importers, and finally to customers. «I can recall from my experience several sad examples when excellent products perished in the hands of lazy people: when fake productivity hid the lack of minimal progress, when excessive caution led to the loss of time and clients, when reluctance to take responsibility was masked by the alleged complexity of undertaking. Except a few truly professional agents, the whole slew of commercial representatives is still using the principle of the great Venetian explorer Marco Polo—enjoying their trips and telling tales on either side of the border». Nowadays a company’s success entirely depends on the personal motivation of its managers: for the past 18 years of dealing with the Italian suppliers, we witnessed ups and downs of well-known brands, moments of glory and oblivion, but what remained constant was the underlying decisions of concrete people”. For the number one of Skvirel Group “We will remain devoted to Italian tile industry for many more years to come, even if the two our countries and markets will be shacked by cataclysms, because ceramic tile industry has become our lifestyle”.