Interview with Walter Turniano of Italica – Treviso
Walter Turniano, founder and owner of Italica, a leading manufacturer of customised bicycles, cargo bikes and bike racks. His career began a long time ago. First as a representative of musical instruments (a profession born of Walter’s great passion for music). As well as selling his instruments, in 1990 he and his cousin David Contesotto founded the nationally renowned music group “Profumo Nero“. A love of music that after almost three decades continues to excite and involve Walter and David, even engaging them in a new project called “Natural_Mente“. After a long experience as a salesman at the official Mercedes-Benz dealership in Treviso (where he was also awarded as the best salesman in Italy in 1999), and a past in the world of cycling, Walter gathered his professional and personal baggage and launched into his entrepreneurial adventure. In 2008, in the midst of an economic crisis and defying all negative forecasts, he opened his first website “www.biciclettepersonalizzate.com“. The claims are not high, but the desire to dedicate himself to this world, which has seen him as a protagonist since he was a child, is stronger than any doubt. Soon, almost unexpectedly, the first results arrived. In 2015, Walter acquired the pandabike brand – from an importer supplying the Chinese market – moving the entire production from China to the province of Treviso, using personally chosen collaborators. A path against the tide compared to other competitors, but which distinguishes Walter’s character and his determination to create a product with a low environmental impact and which respects the fundamental rules of production. He therefore places his trust in our local craftsmen, in their professionalism and in the experience that has always distinguished the Venetian workforce. In 2021, together with his partner Anna and cousin David, he opened the first Show Room “Cargo Bike House Treviso” in the Santa Bona district of Treviso, where Walter lives and grew up. Today, twelve years after the first publication on the web, the company Italica and the brand pandabike, boast a constantly increasing production, a turnover that exceeds one million euros and a package of customers scattered throughout Italy.
Walter Turniano, thank you for granting us this interview. At etichettaveneta.com we try to get to know and share the experiences that have made and continue to make our region the cradle of great entrepreneurial and personal skills. We want to tell the stories and the protagonists behind every great success, so that they can be a stimulus and advice for present and future generations.
Who is Walter Turniano?
Tough question!!! Who is Walter Turniamo? Walter is a forty-nine years old man, happily living with Anna and father of two beautiful daughters, Camilla, eighteen years old, and René, the little one of four. My women, my loves, my life. I consider myself a fairly lucky and simple man. I try to live according to principles in which I believe a lot: respect for life, for the environment and for the people around me. I strive to pass on these convictions to my daughters and my colleagues.
When and where did this passion for bicycles start?
My passion for bikes goes back a long way. Even as a boy I preferred a healthy ride to kicking a ball around. I also competed at youth level, but after an injury due to an accident, I preferred to retire. It all happened suddenly and I was faced with a difficult, painful but inevitable choice. Leaving the world of racing, however, did not affect my passion for the sport. I continued at an amateur level, even competing in a few races, with some good results. Today, work takes up most of my time, but when I can, I still enjoy a good ride. After so many years I have managed to turn a passion into a business and this, as well as being a source of pride, fills my heart with joy.
This brings us to the next question. When did the idea of marketing customised bicycles first arise?
After twelve years at Mercedes-Benz, I worked for another competitor for a while. It wasn’t a positive period and at the tender age of thirty-seven, I found myself asking myself some questions. I asked myself what I was going to do with my life and following my instinct, my passion and my heart, I opened and launched www.biciclettepersonalizzate.com on the web. One morning, unexpectedly, as I was getting ready to go to work, I checked my e-mails and realised that one had arrived with a request to buy about ten bicycles from a hotel in the Lake Garda area. At first I thought it was a joke orchestrated by some prankster friends. But then I realised that the request was real. From that moment on, I knew what my future career would be. I finally combined my youthful passion with the educational experience I had accumulated over the years, and I launched myself into a world that had been unknown to me until then: the world of entrepreneurship.
How did the ‘pandabike’ brand come about?
When I launched the website I obviously did not have the items for sale but referred to several carefully chosen suppliers beforehand. Among them was a supplier from Padua, a well-known lawyer who imported pandabike bicycles from China. One day he contacted me and told me that the increase in orders was distracting him from his main job and that he had to stop this activity. I then decided to buy the “pandabike” brand, which as a whole reflected the vision of image that I wanted to give to my entrepreneurial action. This was the start of a process of change that culminated in the creation of our pandabike, designed and manufactured entirely by our company. Aware of the great skills of our master craftsmen, I set out in search of the best collaborators and after a long and complex selection process I transferred all production entirely to the provinces of Treviso and Padua. In this way I realised a dream that has always accompanied me: to build a highly ecological product, useful for the protection of the environment and entirely made in Veneto.
You start your business in 2008 in the midst of an economic crisis. Your fears?
Fortunately, as I told you before, everything started almost by chance. At that time I was still working and enjoying relative security. So I cannot speak of fears but rather of uncertainties and courage. Taking the decision to leave my job to pursue my passion and dreams was a difficult choice, born of deep-rooted convictions. Adequate project preparation, combined with personal experience, are fundamental elements for the success of a project.
What do you mean by ‘adequate project preparation’?
I mean that every project must be carefully and expertly studied. Evaluate costs, sustainability and feasibility. I started out by studying a working method based on the “sale of sales” and which therefore did not entail major business risks. From the modest numbers of the first few years, with a lot of patience and perseverance, we have moved on to more important volumes; we have even managed to surpass the target of three thousand units sold in total between pandabikes and customised bikes. However, we have maintained our modus operandi of producing a product exclusively to order, modifying and adapting it to the demands and needs of the customer.
Was it hard to start?
started out knowing that I would have to proceed step by step without great pretension and focus all my energy on this project. My experience at Mercedes-Benz helped me a lot. During that time, I had the opportunity to meet with several entrepreneurs. Their advice and personal stories enriched my wealth of experience. An essential source of knowledge, which I still draw on today at crucial moments in my professional career.
Which customer categories are most interested in the pandabike product?
We work a lot with hotels, campsites and various accommodation facilities, which make our bikes available to their customers. We have also made bicycles for big names such as Duracell, Riso Scotti, Laura Biagiotti, Ugo Boss, Levis, to name but a few. The product is customised and used in events of various kinds. We also work very well with breweries, bookshops, shops, and agencies of various kinds that choose to brand the bike and then display it in exhibitions or shop windows. In addition, the interest of individuals and families in eco-sustainable mobility is growing. The market is constantly expanding: we receive requests from freelancers, elderly people, street vendors, etc.. Our customers can consult us, choose a model from those on display, or request special modifications, and then the construction of the product begins. Each pandabike is made exclusively to order and built around the needs of the individual buyer.
Is your target market national or international?
We currently receive orders from all over Italy; Puglia, Sardinia, Tuscany, Lombardy, Sicily, the Romagna Riviera and many other areas. Of course, our domestic market in Veneto is a very important part of our sales. We serve hotels and campsites in Caorle, Bibione and Jesolo. We are also present in the Garda area where we have several customers. We constantly participate in very important international trade fairs such as: SIA Fair in Rimini, EXPOHOTEL Fair in Riva del Garda, Upper Adriatic Fair in Caorle, PROMOHOTEL Porec in Croatia, etc. We recently exhibited at the “GO GREEN GO” Fair held right here in Treviso. An event dedicated to sustainable mobility, the central theme of all our production activities. As far as the foreign market is concerned, we are taking part in very important international trade fairs, even though it is not easy to break into some very selective markets such as those in northern Europe. We are focusing a lot on the Croatian market. This is still an untapped area, but one that we think could represent an excellent opportunity for growth in the coming years.
Partner, father and entrepreneur. How do you manage to combine private and professional life?
From this point of view I feel very lucky. My partner Anna works here with us and takes care of the company secretariat and marketing. Many of my choices are the result of a constant sharing with Anna, who I consider not only my life partner but also an irreplaceable partner in my professional life. In addition, my cousin David Contessotto, with whom I have a deep friendship that goes far beyond family ties, joined our team more than two years ago. David deals exclusively with the pandabike model and his work concentrates on the assembly, maintenance and delivery of the rented products scattered throughout Italy.
When you are managing such an important project, it is often not enough to close the shop door and relax after a hard day’s work. Can you separate your professional and private life?
It is not easy, especially in my case. We are not a big company where you can delegate functions and tasks. Ours is almost a family business. We use external collaborators for the manufacture of the frames of our bikes. But for assembly, order management and deliveries, everything is done by myself, David and Anna. When you close the door of the shop and park the van, other thoughts inevitably start to take you home. Invoices to pay, customers to contact, debts to collect are just some of the most common thoughts. Being your own entrepreneur also means this. We sell vehicles that are operational on the road and therefore subject to possible problems arising from the nature of the product itself. It is therefore essential to provide the customer with constant and punctual availability.
How much does family support influence your profession?
Family support is very important to me. As I said before, I am lucky enough to work with my partner, and in difficult moments or when making important decisions, her contribution is indispensable. I can’t deny that we face daily challenges that require determined and resolute choices. I like to share my concerns with Anna and listen to her advice. If I decide to take a step backwards, she pushes me to take two steps forwards. Anna is my driving force, my positive side, the extra gear I put in during dark and difficult moments. My eldest daughter Camilla also helps me with some of my activities. She often accompanies me to trade fairs and shares with me the hardships of hours of presentation and public relations.
You have made a very brave choice in these particularly difficult times. You have just opened your first showroom in your home district of Santa Bona in Treviso. Are you satisfied?
Yes! I feel very satisfied. We opened at an extremely sensitive time and defied all negative predictions. We can consider ourselves lucky and fully repaid for our gamble. We chose this location to be close to home and therefore not to have to use our own means of transport to get to work. The spirit that distinguishes us and characterises all our work is based on respect for the environment and the promotion of eco-sustainable mobility. We also won a tender promoted by the Municipality of Treviso for non-repayable funding for new business initiatives with an ecological character and low environmental impact. I think that each of us, through small personal choices, can contribute to safeguarding the environment, making it better and more liveable for everyone. I also try to convey this message to my daughters and to the many people I meet in my daily and professional life.
Can you tell us about a typical day?
Look, there are no typical days. My commitments are divided between meetings with customers, product deliveries, attending trade fairs, working in the office and many other activities that are easy to imagine. My days are very long and dynamic, sometimes even tiring and heavy. But I face my daily tasks with a positive spirit, because I love my work and the satisfaction it often gives me.
Italica manufactures all its products here in Veneto. How do you choose your suppliers and collaborators?
Our choices essentially depend on factors that we consider very important: care, professionalism and respect for the environment. We have decided to use local collaborators and suppliers, bringing production back to our territory. We believe in the skills of our master craftsmen, in their professionalism and in the work culture that has always distinguished the Veneto people. We therefore maintain constant control over production and supplies, and are able to intervene promptly at every customer request. We have decided to personally take care of the collection of the goods: this allows us not to use packaging and other synthetic protections. In addition, these choices allow significant savings in terms of logistical consumption and therefore a substantial reduction in environmental impact. All our business decisions are based on this principle, which always puts our environment and its protection at the centre.
Plans for the future?
We are working on a project which is very important to us and which we hope will be completed as soon as possible. It is the development of a Cargo Bike for the transport of disabled people, which is affordable for everyone. Today, with the help of wheelchairs, we can only accompany our loved ones for relatively short distances without the aid of motorised vehicles. We would like to try to change this situation and allow those with disabilities to enjoy the carefree moment that only a long bike ride can provide. We are studying the possibility of extending the front seats to allow the disabled person to be transported safely. It will be a long and delicate path, but we intend to pursue it by investing all our energies.
What is the secret of Walter Turniano’s success?
There is no magic wand or special secret for achieving success in your profession. In my opinion, the most important thing is to believe in what you want to achieve and to love it deeply. Being at the service of the client, interpreting their needs and trying to satisfy them as much as possible. I have never believed in expensive and targeted advertising investments. I prefer to invest time and money directly: in the field. When I worked at Mercedes-Benz I learned a maxim that I still keep in my mind: ‘The happy customer will never talk about you except to a few people. But the unhappy customer will immediately run and tell the whole country‘. Nothing could be truer. I love my job, I love the smile on a child’s face when they sit on one of our bikes and imagine themselves riding a motorbike. I love the excitement of our animal friends when they are transported and enjoy the breeze. I love being part of a project that is environmentally friendly and can make a small contribution to making this small world of ours more liveable. I think this is my strength and what drives me to continue with ever greater energy and confidence.
Cosa si nasconde nel cassetto dei desideri di Walter Turniano?
At the moment I feel particularly lucky, both professionally and personally. I would like to thank all my employees, our loyal customers, my family and all those who have believed in me and my project over the years. If I had to make a wish, I would like to fulfil my dream of expanding our retail network. The first Show Room is named after my home town: Cargo Bike House Treviso. I’d like to replicate this format in other Italian cities. I’d like to create a franchise by supplying everything you need to set up the Show Room but always keeping production in our area. As I was saying, we build our bikes around the customer’s needs. We sometimes receive visits from far away to discuss production details, or we have to travel a long way for the same reason. I would like to create meeting points where even the most distant customer can find assistance and support during pre-purchase and post-purchase choices. An ambitious project that would certainly bring advantages in terms of retail sales but also, and above all, in terms of environmental pollution as it would drastically reduce the journeys that we are inevitably forced to make today.
What advice would you give to young people who want to pursue an entrepreneurial and professional career like yours?
What I can recommend is to learn as much as you can. Draw on every source of learning without rushing to get there. Listening, understanding, asking, participating are essential elements to fill our cultural and professional baggage. I have been fortunate enough to have had several experiences in the working world. From simple tasks to more demanding ones. This has helped me in times of difficulty by guiding me in the most important choices. Passion, heart, love and courage are the characteristics we need to look for within ourselves in order to face every challenge with a smile and with the utmost self-confidence.