A Distributor Sales-Driven Past and a Bright Future
In 1980, Riccardo Azzoni was approached by a friend who had invested in an Italian company that manufactured do-it-yourself woodworking machines. They were looking for an entry into the United States market. The company, Zinken Italiana, manufactured a five-in-one combination machine and was targeting the DIY market. Since Azzoni was living in Stamford, Connecticut at the time, and working for a plywood importer who had several DIY customer centers, it made sense to get him involved.
Zinken invited Azzoni to the Atlanta show to help them introduce the line. During the show, Zinken and ACIMALL donated a machine to President Carter, an avid woodworker himself. The publicity was tremendous, and the inflow of leads followed suit.
When Azzoni returned to Connecticut, Zinken continued to pursue Azzoni and sent him the leads from the show. With his employer’s blessing, Azzoni began to follow the leads up on his own time and soon started selling machines and eventually found himself importing containers of those combination machines.
By late 1982, Azzoni quit his job and devoted full attention to selling Zinken machines.
Somehow word spread in Italy and Azzoni was contacted and visited by Griggio, another machinery manufacturer who wanted to enter the U.S. market, this time with industrial machines—sliding table saws, planers, shapers, and joiners. Within a few short months, Atlantic Machinery Corporation was established.
Azzoni traveled to Italy for three weeks to familiarize himself with the product line. Upon his return he was the sole representative for Griggio in the U.S. “As the Griggio representative, I sold a lot of machines in the next 18 years,” stated Azzoni. But right from the beginning, he realized it was impossible to cover the U.S. by himself. He began to set up distributors and sell machinery from coast to coast.
“In the heydays Atlantic Machinery had about 60 distributors.” Eventually, Zinken fell away because Atlantic Machinery was just too busy with the industrial woodworking market. Soon, Vitap, an Italian manufacturer of boring, CNC machinery, edgebanders, and other unique machines came to Atlantic Machinery because they worked with Griggio in other countries. “Then Coral, dust collection, and anti-pollution products came along.” Before long, the company sold profile sanders, hot and cold presses, glue spreaders, single-end tenoners, optimizing rip saws, down-draft tables, spray booths, and air make-up systems. “I had a whole portfolio of manufacturers that wanted to do business with us,” explained Azzoni. “Obviously my language helped, and we built very good relationships in the North America and the reputation of Atlantic Machinery just grew.”
In 1986, Riccardo joined the WMIA. At that time, it was the Woodworking Machinery Importers Association because it was strictly for importer members. He also joined the WMDA. “I was a member of both so I could join the distributor members during their meetings and the importer members during their meetings to learn about the trade and strike up alliances.” He became involved with various committees, eventually sat on the Board of Directors, and in 1997, became the Association’s President and oversaw the merger between the WMDA and WMIA.
Business continued to increase and new lines were added. By the middle of the 1990s, Atlantic had 10 employees, with a sizable warehouse, and they were bringing in containers of machinery on a monthly basis from Italy. Azzoni was also approached by manufacturers from other countries who had cheaper-priced products but he refused to carry them for reasons of quality and serviceability.
In the years that followed and after being recruited to become a WMIA rep in the IWF show, Azzoni was asked to become the executive vice president of WMIA during a turbulent period for the Association. The economy was sluggish and he considered this invitation as a privilege. “I saw this as a great opportunity to give back to the Association given the amount of knowledge and experience I acquired throughout my WMIA membership and my 15 years on the IWF Board.” During this period, Atlantic Machinery, with some employees still in place, supplied spare parts and technical service for the next four years without Riccardo.
Azzoni returned to Atlantic Machinery in 2015 when his contract with WMIA had expired. “All of the manufacturers we represented were anxious for my return,” said Azzoni. “Their businesses have been around through second and third generations and some for over 60 years. They experienced the same economic downturn as we did and understand that in order to do business in the United States they needed consistency, and to be here during the good times and the bad. Atlantic Machinery was still here.”
Azzoni said the market had changed dramatically over the years since he was gone. There are fewer distributors and the majority of the bigger ones are representing the larger importers and manufacturers. The market was, and is, more competitive. Today, with 21 dealers in place around North America, for Atlantic Machinery, sales are strong again. “We rely on these distributors to sell and service the customers. We don’t go around them and sell direct,” emphasized Azzoni. “I am fiercely protective of our dealers!”
The focus for Atlantic Machinery has changed as well. Azzoni said that he has moved away from competing with some of the larger companies and had given up representing some products to concentrate more on niche or unique products and markets. His major supplier, Vitap, has introduced a number of newer machines that are unique and are opening doors to existing woodworking shops as well as other markets and showing great success. “We had two machines as finalists in the 2016 Challengers Award at IWF and the 2017 AWFS Visionary Award. We are going into more niche markets, selling quality products with much better margins, so we have a strong future,” said Azzoni. “I invite my distributors to call on customers who are producing composite materials and aluminum products and introduce our line.”
Azzoni believes the profit margins, for many smaller distributors in the woodworking machinery business, against some of the larger importers, are just too small. “There is no glory in selling machines and making little to no money on those sales. Why not spend the time to sell machinery where they can make good money and have very little competition?
“It might take time to find niche markets but it is worth it. In the end, what really counts, is the bank account. We do sell a lot of woodworking machines and we see our future in the niche markets with innovative equipment,” Azzoni stated. “I look ahead and think about where I can make more money and how. That’s my goal for this company and my distributors. But I have not forgotten where we came from and still support our existing customers with spare parts and technical support even today.”
- 1.WMIA News – August 2017
- 2.Member Profile: Atlantic Machinery (October/November 2017)
- 3.Member Spotlight: Riccardo Azzoni, Atlantic Machinery (October/November 2017)
- 4.President’s Message: October/November 2017
- 5.WMIA News: October/November 2017