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U. Grazia Company


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Italy is a country rich with history and Italians pride themselves on their cultural beginnings. Here, tradition is more than just a handing down of customs from one generation to the next; it is a way of life. Today, tradition is scarcely upheld better than in the city of Deruta, Italy. Deruta, located within the region of Umbria, is home to an array of ceramic companies due to its local clay deposits; however, none as astonishing and steeped in custom as the Grazia Ceramics Company and factory.
The Grazia family has been producing ceramics for over 500 years beginning in the year 1500. Operating for so many years has ensured competition for Grazia; however, it distinguishes itself from the multitude of other ceramic stores in the area – and the world – not just with its designs, but primarily with its method of quality production. Still family owned and operated, Grazia prides itself on producing “high quality majolica ceramics using time honored handicraft traditions passed down from generation to generation.” Majolica is the particular process in which the ceramics are made and decorated; a method that can be dated back to the 1200s. Today, almost every aspect of Grazia’s current production mirrors that of the company’s beginnings.
Grazia’s procedure is exclusively manual and is one of the only companies to produce each piece from start to finish in one building, without outsourcing any work. Local clay is first brought in from the adjoining hills and is run through a series of processes until it reaches the desired consistency and quality. Each piece is then either shaped by hand on a wooden lath turned by foot or hand-pressed into a plaster mold. Once the desired shape is achieved, the piece is set to dry for a surprising three weeks before being taken to one of the four large kilns and baked at an intense 1,050 degrees centigrade. Now, the piece known as “bisque” is submerged in a soup of metal oxides, providing a surface for the paint to be applied. It is at the painting stage where Grazia’s most detailed and painstaking work is completed.
Each colorful design begins as a pencil drawing on transparent paper, which is then perforated along the lines of the design with extreme precision. Carbon is dusted over the perforations, leaving an outline of the design on the bisque as a template for the artists’ steady hands to follow. Top local artists now spend hours upon hours meticulously tracing the stencil with brush and paint, adding a wide breadth of color to each piece. From here, the piece gets a spray coating of liquid glass which, during the final stage, adds durability, shine and brings the colors to life. At the end of this exhausting road of perfection, each piece is sent to the kilns for a second time, solidifying all the parts of production together. It is these stages of production which have allowed the Grazia roots to mature and spread, creating an unmoving foundation that has lasted over half a millennium.
Over 500 years of operation means something. Grazia has stood the test of time and has created a lasting name for itself built on tradition, quality, and status. Intricate designs, historic wooden benches and laths, attention to detail and tradition; everything about this company exemplifies the majolica practice. Consumers take great solace in purchasing from a company which “knows the ropes” and believe if a company can stay in business this long, they must be doing something right. However, Grazia isn’t just selling pieces of ceramics from Italy; they are also selling a lifestyle.
Grazia has put a lot of effort into invoking an upper class sense of being by targeting a particularly wealthy niche market. Each product produced by Grazia is as much of a piece of art as it is a dining instrument, making it very attractive as well as a luxury item. Grazia’s target market allows for deep pocketed clients of its artful product, but also makes the company especially vulnerable to style shifts and economic turbulence. Today, swift style changes and another crumbling of the global economy once again test the strength of the company.
Grazia’s ability to adapt to changing styles has been a company strong point. Owner, Ubaldo Grazia, states the implementation of his artist exchange program greatly boosted sales, especially in the United States (which accounts for the majority of Grazia’s business). Mr. Grazia hosts hand-picked, emerging artists to come up with modern designs for his traditional product, promising royalties in exchange. Reaching out to the modern world of style, Mr. Grazia keeps his brand relevant and profitable in a time of declining sales. Unfortunately, a fresh design is not what the majority of consumers are looking for in today’s market.
The same aspects which make Grazia great may be hurting it in this down turn economy. From the visit to the Grazia showroom and factory, it would seem sales have taken a drastic plunge, forcing Grazia to reduce its employee base, leaving a skeleton crew to perform what few orders the company still fills. Most consumers have pulled back on, or even completely suspended, luxury spending and are finding cheaper alternatives to their ceramic needs. As the economy crumbled, Grazia saw the majority of its customer share disappear along with its profits. Where Grazia is great at entering into the modern world by marrying modern style with traditional roots, it seems to be having trouble adapting to this economy and the more money conscious consumer.
Listening to Mr. Ubaldo Grazia speak about his brand and the economic situation, it appeared the company has become so taken with its own product that it is focusing only on what Grazia feels is a desirable product and what they believe a customer should want; effectively losing sight of current customer needs. Customers do not seem to presently be in need of a piece of art; they are more likely looking for a quality piece of ceramic ware to use at the table and on special occasions. Current consumers may not be interested in the bells and whistles of highly intricate designs because they believe the extra designs will cost them more money, without adding much value to them in return. It is probable many consumers in Grazia’s target market are still willing to spend their money on high quality ceramics; however, they are more likely to purchase more practical items rather than extravagant ceramic art.
Grazia faces big problems in the years ahead if it cannot find a way to remain afloat during this harsh economic climate. Mr. Grazia specifically said, with contempt in his voice, all Williams Sonoma was selling these days is white plates. If this is what the United States consumers of today are looking for, Grazia may do well to serve this desire instead of turning a blind eye and hoping the economy will change. By playing to its strengths, Grazia has seen times of great profits and large shipments abroad, but has also conquered when faced with world wars and the Great Depression. The struggles of today should not deal a fatal blow if the company focuses primarily on the needs of the current consumer, secondly on its own view of its products, and continues to focus on one of its greatest strengths; passion.
Listening to and observing Mr. Grazia as he talked about his company and product, it is hard not to take note of his intense passion. The same intense fire that hardens his craft burns inside the heart of Mr. Grazia, hardening his resolve. He lives and breathes for his profession and although this obsession may have brought him too close to his brand, it is this same enthusiasm that makes the U. Grazia ceramics company a power not to be ignored or forgotten. Its relentless need to supply the world with the highest quality majolica ceramics ensures the ability to overcome and last another 500 years.

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