In the world if you say “flower” you say Barile Flowers Service. In this issue we meet Nino Barile, founder and manager of a surprising company based in the artisan area of Terlizzi (Bari) and with offices all over theworld. It is the largest in Italy in the field of marketing and distribution of flowers. And it is among the first in the world. Flowers of all kinds: roses from the mountains of Kenya, tropical flowers, hybrid flowers, flowers born from genetics. Barile Flowers is the fusion of three companies into one. It has, in fact, a segment that deals with innovation and software capable of anticipating the production of various species, a segment that deals with logistics through patents of innovative packaging, as well as a distribution system that allows you to deliver to wholesalers fresh flowers three days ahead of all other competitors, and finally a segment that is concerned with the trade of products with exclusive brands. Terlizzi’s headquarters is a kind of Google. Elegant, minimalist, modern. Like the man in front of us.
Who’s Nino Barile?
He is an agricultural expert, son of farmers who invented a profession. Nino Barile is one of those who started in Southern Italy importing flowers and selling them here where the flowers are produced. I started when the discrimination between North and South was stronger than today, when the biggest importers were located only in Northern Italy or Holland. I’ve been through a lot of difficulties. Nino, however, is a person who doesn’t stop, he has a strong resilience and for each goal a deadlineis imposed and then he accomplishes it. Imagine that next to my desk I still have a list of the 2018 objectives: I have completed them all. I always write down my goals, I pronounce them to myself, I make them public at the beginning and not after having reached them.
Terlizzi is one of the most important wholesale markets for flowers, in this area live several generations of flower producers and traders: how can it happen that only one of them reaches a global dimension? What do you think you have more than the others?
Well, I don’t think I have anything more than others, I just think I’m very determined and I’ve had a vision of not giving up. Maybe a big flaw of many small entrepreneurs when they are at the beginning of the business is to invest their money not for their education, but for the good life, for champagne and other. In the golden moments when I began to earn money I have always reinvested them within my own circuit in training and business trips. ou can imagine that I spend thirty-five weeks a year by plane for work, from North to South America, from Africa to Asia, passing through Europe. There is no European city that I have not visited door to door.
You are a man of the world and when you come back to Terlizzi you return not only to Italy but to the south of Italy. What is there in the areas you visit that you don’t find here in your country?
Well, let’s start by saying that there are areas of the world that are in even worse conditions than ours. Just as it is true that there are areas of Europe that offer opportunities and competitive advantages that you can’t find here. Here in order to do anything, even just to move an Enel pole, you have to do ten letters, you have to face the long times of bureaucracy, you have to have knowledge. I don’t ask anybody for courtesies: I ask for pleasure, but I don’t ask anybodyfor favors.
But you’ve always been here in the South.
Yes, that’s true. Before investing in this company in Terlizzi all my advisors from Northern Italy and abroad told me that itwould be much more competitive to create Barile Flowers in Holland: I would have done it in half the time, with half the money and with less taxes. Instead, I decided to build this “cathedral” in a desert. There is nothing around here, while when you enter here you will find a Danish-style company, glass, crystal, cleaning at any time. It was the love for my country that ade me stay, the love for my citizens. The roots. I said it before… I am an agricultural expert, son of farmers… farmers have their roots.
What did your parents produce?
Olives and oil.
And how did this love for flowers come up?
It is a love born by chance. I was twenty years old and as soon as I finished high school I received a letter from a company in the North that produces organic manure, dried cow poop. I started selling shit. Organic matter, but it really smelled. At that time, I bought a 400,000 lire car from the car wrecker: I still remember it, a Citroen BX that a doctor from Molfetta went to demolish. I was out there behind him, I waited, and when the doctor left I went in. Please, I told the junkyard, do not demolish it, I give you 400 thousand lire, I need it to sell products. The fact is that I always carried with me samples of my product in the car and at that time I had also found my girlfriend: every time she got into the car the first thing she told me was that it smelled like shit.
But that car took her far away…
I started selling organic fertilizer to floriculturists explaining the advantages compared to chemical products. They found my fertilizer to be of the highest quality, they found that the plants responded well by producing more and better. They thought I was selling gold. I had turned shit into gold. In just one week I was able to sell products that other agents had sold in 3-4 months thanks to my strong aptitude for selling and communication.
And how did it get from shit to flowers?
Since the organic fertilizer had worked well all the floriculturists asked me for other products for the sector and so I returned to Milan in search of new things. In the next four years I worked on young plants and bulbs. Then in 1994 I realized that the future was not to produce flowers in Europe, but in the equatorial bands: there you have twelve hours of light and constant temperatures night and day, that is the natural conditions for a plant to always flower. I started buying flowers. I resigned from all the companies and launched myself into the Barile Flowers Service. Imagine that at the time, at the age of twenty-four, I abandoned a turnover of over two billion lire a year as a sales agent to choose a turnover of one and a half millionlire. This is Nino Barile: courage.
From there an extraordinary adventure was born, which continues to this day.
I bought a one-way ticket to South America, I had heard that in those countries they produced very special roses. Yellow pages in hand (at the time there was no internet), I was looking for special products and tropical flowers to buy and resell.
You are still a salesman.
Yes, always. But discovery, a lot of discovery… a lot of adventure, a lot of exploration. I discovered that all the biggest distributors in the world bought flowers, received them in their own warehouse and then sent them to wholesalers. On the other hand, living in Terlizzi, I understood that if I had sent my flowers here in the South of Italy and then sent them to the North, I would have wasted too much time: so I decided to create a logistical system that allowed the flowers, once they arrived at Malpensa or Fiumicino airport, to be sent directly to wholesalers in Italy by specialized carriers.
At that point, from the Italian markets to the rest of Europe, the step was short.
I met Holland. In particular, I met an international customs clearance company that gave me opportunities, so I migrated all outsourced and from there we entered the entire European community. We started working “just in time”: the others had stocks in the warehouse, we had zero stocks and then immediate deliveries. A cut flower normally has an average life of fourteen days, imagine what it means for the same price to be able to deliver it three days before your competitor, so on average with three more days of freshness. Which flower would you buy?
What has Barile Flowers Service become today? Can we give figures?
We invoice about 30 million euros, twice as much as our first competitor in Italy and with a margin that is three times that of the first competitor. We have 56 internal and external collaborators all over the world. Locations in Holland, Ecuador, representative offices in Africa, Asia, Frankfurt, Warsaw. Here in Terlizzi there is the administration, the communication, the commercial platform: here everyone speaks English and Spanish, in addition there are those who also speak German, Romanian… in total here twelve languages are spoken. In addition, we have developed predictive software that allows us to give our growers around the world a harvest screening up to eight weeks in advance.
Which flower do you like best?
It depends on the moments. At this precise moment I like the fresh rose. Before the winter I prefer a tulip, in the summer the wild flowers.
I imagine that you have courted your wife with the flowers.
Yes, of course… Even more today. Sometimes I come home on Saturday and Sunday mornings I have to leave again. Even before I get home, I call my trusted florist and ask him to send a bouquet of flowers to my wife. And when she sees them coming, she understands everything: I am leaving again.
But a woman never gets tired of receiving flowers.
Flowers are emotion. You can give anything to a woman, a dress, a bright, etc. … but a flower is the only product that gives a genuine emotion. When they ask me what I do in life, I answer: I sell emotions
Is there still a future for these emotions called flowers?
A lot. The market changes, but it cannot die. The biggest difficulty lies in catching the changes in the processes but it is clear that if you do not adjust, it does not mean that the market is dying. I mean: if out there a supermarket sells less, it doesn’t mean that you don’t sell any more food, it means that Amazon or someone else is doing it. The flower market is not growing so much is true, but this happens because of those operators who do not sell a fresh product: the risk is often that a housewife buys a flower that after two days is already dead. On the contrary, if you can certify a fresh product, Mrs. Maria will return to spend ten euros for a bunch of flowers to put in the house.
Do we buy flowers only for the wedding or is there really the Mrs. Mary who uses flowers to adorn the house?
Unlike the German market where everyone buys flowers for the home, in Italy there is still no use of the flower to impress, we do not have yet the education to bring the flowers home. Therefore there is a huge sea to explore. I’ll tell you an anecdote thata great seller told me. One day a company decided to start selling shoes in Africa and for this reason it hired two sellers. The first one called and said: send me a plane ticket immediately because everyone goes barefoot here and nobody uses their shoes. The second seller after the first day called and said: send me immediately a container full of shoes because here they all go barefoot and nobody uses shoes.
Two different ways of perceiving life… By the way, how many types of roses are there?
Twenty years ago there were about fifty, today there will be a few thousand varieties of roses. The multiplication of genetics produces different species every day, so you must always be up to date.
You are a rich person, how important is this to be happy?
There are three pillars of happiness: health, love and economic well-being. It is said that without money you are happy the same, I do not believe it. Just as without health or without love I believe people are sad. The balance and priorities between these three pillars is personal, but no one can miss them to be happy.
Is there a luxury that you grant yourself?
No, believe me, I’m happy like that. On Sundays when I’m not working I go to the countryside, I don’t have a boat, I’m a humble person. I’m happy with little. In my diet the most consumed meal is a frisella with oil and tomato.
Is there one thing that scares you?
To understand exactly when it will be time for me to hand over the management of the company to another manager. Today I am fifty-one years old and by the age of sixty I feel I have to pass the management of the business to another person, I hope to a son, but certainly to a young person. I don’t want to be here until I’m eighty or ninety.
Do your children work with you?
I have two children, a boy and a girl, who still attend university. We have a holding company that owns this and other companies: if they want they can run a start-up, but certainly when they will start they will have to do it from the bottom, starting from the warehouse. Meanwhile, they have already done several missions abroad: they have been in the Netherlands and in the camps in South America. When they were ten years old we sent them to England, today they both speak English and Spanish.
You seem to be a kind and elegant person: how is the relationship with your collaborators?
I am a very demanding person. In thirty years, none of my employees have ever heard me screaming or blaspheming. I have great self-control, but at the same time I am demanding. When I realize that there are no conditions to invest in you, I invite you to change profession and to change company. It’s useless to rage. Many times I hear from my colleagues that one is good and another is not, I think it is a terminology that does not respect the dignity of people. I believe that there are people who are predisposed to a certain activity and people who are not: when an employee cannot have self-esteem, when he no longer finds emotion in what he does, I feel obliged to tell him that it is righter that he finds stimulus elsewhere.
When done as a manager, what will Nino Barile do?
I’ll go to the countryside. Olive trees and olive growing are my hobbies. I have a farm, more than a hundred hectares of olive groves and maybe I’ll buy more. And then I’ ll travel. Lots of trips without the assistant who organizes the day and without the agenda that contains an appointment every half hour.