The smallest of gestures that is spreading the greatest of love, and people definitely perceive that. The campaign, “Wear masks, respect others, spread love”, is beautiful, so simple and straight to the point. What was the inspiration?
“Governor Andrew Cuomo. He’s been the most popular guy in the past few months, especially for us here in NYC, and then obviously his honest and reassuring briefings. One day what he said about the masks was very inspiring to us . Our masks came about because all our hotel clients that we served closed, the US shut down and there were no new orders to manufacture. Everyone was looking for masks, even the Governor and Mayor didn’t know where to get them, so we re-tooled our factory to manufacture them, we knew that clients and friends would need them. If you think about it, it’s a small thing — a mask, a piece of fabric. It’s not something expensive or complicated but I was very pleased and surprised by its meaning. A little, simple gift and gesture touched everybody. It means that, these days, people appreciate their health, want to stay together and value small things that, maybe, during normal times, they would not remember”.
Bellino has also been supportive of artisans in Italy, who have been devastated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Your artisans are located there.
“Yes, the linens, our products, are manufactured at different facilities in northern and southern Italy”.
You’re giving a percentage back to your artisans for purchases over $200 from your website.
“We actually have had a few initiatives. At the beginning of the pandemic, we decided to partner up with an organization called ReThink Food, which is located in New York and does an incredible job. They transformed restaurants – also famous ones — into soup kitchens to make thousands of meals for people in need and healthcare workers. We decided to offer a 25% discount site-wide, then donate an additional 15% to them and raise some money. They go to hospitals and neighborhoods in need every day and now involve more and more restaurants. They not only provide food to people who need it but also kept restaurants open: employees, chefs and staff could keep working and bring home a salary. It was a great initiative on their part which we were happy to support. We also did the same thing for a client of ours, Sydell Group, which closed all its hotels and restaurants and had to furlough 90% of the employees, many of whom are friends of ours and with whom we worked for many years. We are offering 25% off every order and providing a 15% donation to their relief fund.
We also have a collaboration with a hotel that we service on the West Coast where we sent 1,000 masks: they gave half to their staff and half to the Boys and Girls Club of Malibu, where they’re located. This organization helps senior citizens and vulnerable families. We’re looking to do more of these things, they do some good, help people, and we can work closely and keep great relationships with our hotel partners”.
COVID-19 will still be around for quite a while.Where do you think the partnerships with your current hotel clients will be in the next 12-18 months? Is this something that you see as long-term, as a pivot in the business model?
“Yes, unfortunately. The good news is that several hotels have reopened or are reopening in different areas. Also, in NYC, which is some encouraging and positive news. But it will take a long time for everybody to reach a level of occupancy which can cover costs and generate growth. Hotels have many rooms, no one is traveling now, basically zero tourism, no corporate travel: they will have low occupancy for a long time and our business will be slow for a long time too. We really grow when there is high occupancy, since hotels go through a lot of linens, wash them and re-order them. Fortunately, our business is diversified; the hotel division is our main one, but we sell directly to consumers through our website and this is the area that we are currently expanding. Online sales are up and home products are in big demand, we’ve been getting lots of orders and requests from friends and clients. Everybody wore out their linens during the quarantine and now need fresh ones for the summer. We’re expanding our mailing list, creating various initiatives, growing our social media following and doing everything we can to expand our online sales”.
I visited the link where you offer a free mask order per household and clicked on the link where additional masks can be ordered, and you’re selling them at only $5 each, which is a low price point considering their high quality. Many merchants are selling masks now, and not at very affordable prices.
“Yes! The masks are needed to protect people, and this is the time to help so we decided to be generous, gift them and sell them basically at cost. We did not think of them as a volume and profit-making product and we’d be very happy if soon they will no longer be needed — it will mean the virus is gone! Their value is great considering they are made in Italy, 100% cotton and much healthier and fresher than a lot of the masks that are on the market. Many merchants are selling them at $25-$30, promoting sophisticated and expensive versions. We simply wanted to promote our high-quality cotton that we already sell as linens and keep our Italian factory busy and feeling proud. It’s a nice feeling to put cotton instead of paper on your face and an even better feeling to help and be generous with the community.
What is really sweet and beautiful is that many friends and clients ordered their free mask first. They tested it, loved it then started ordering in quantities for their entire family – like 50 pieces, 10 shipped to California, 10 to Florida, New York, etc., to their parents, kids, siblings, work colleagues”.
It seems that Bellino, under your guidance as VP of Sales and Marketing, is taking a philanthropic turn at this point. Do you consider yourself a philanthropreneur? Is that something you see as long term, and where you’re taking Bellino?
“I’ve always believed in these values, in being nice and kind, as individuals and as a company, but we’ve never seen times like these. All of these inspirations, all of these ideas, came about because the world told us to adapt and change. We felt the need to do something, and people needed help. With all of these big changes and problems affecting the world, people are more willing to deal with people they like, they trust, with people that, they believe, share good values and are helpful and supportive. So, it came to us as a spontaneous gesture during the crisis, but more and more businesses are going in this direction”.
Did you send any masks to Governor Cuomo?
“No, but I tried hard! I DM’d him on Instagram, DM’d his brother Chris, but no answer. I emailed him through the NY State website, no answer. I tried every way possible to contact him. When he involved actors Chris Rock and Rosie Perez as ambassadors to encourage the public to wear masks I also messaged Chris Rock but, again, no luck. I would love the Governor to have our masks and know about our sweet story and initiative. After all, he is America’s top mask promoter and his family comes from our beloved home country”.
You not only took a really bad situation and decided to use your product to manufacture masks, but you’re giving them away for free. What response have you had from the community?
“I have seen beautiful and moving responses! Lovely emails, letters, photos, Instagram posts, etc. One post stated, “This is an amazing thing you are doing. Giving back, just wonderful! My heart is smiling today”, and another, ‘This is a wonderful and thoughtful gift! I love it’, or ‘Thank you so much Maurizio! So thoughtful of you!!! Just ordered mine. With deep gratitude’, and ‘What a fantastic idea, Maurizio! I signed up to receive one and will post it to spread the love.’ And one of our clients posted on IG: ‘Hey, community, when businesses reopen remember who to buy from. Buy from people who are doing good!’ This was just heart-warming to read!”
Your company has joined Brands x Better, tell us about this coalition.
“At the beginning of the crisis, we were trying to see what we could do to keep our business and happened to see a brand promoting the BXB coalition. It is comprised of young brands, many from New York, and we liked the idea of working with people in our same situation, sharing and discussing issues with each other, consulting each other, helping each other in many ways. Someone knows a lawyer that can help someone else that needs legal advice, someone else knows of a marketing company that can help increase sales, someone else knows how to launch Kickstarter campaigns or other services that the other members can use. Several brands teamed up and created events and giveaways together and each brand offered the other members the ‘friends and family’ discount. The requirement to be part of this coalition is to have a charity organization you donate to and every week you must report the amount raised and donated. It’s something that spontaneously came about, we’re all small businesses with the same needs and in the same troubles, it’s nice to see different brands and people team up as a community. As of today, 140 brands are in the coalition and close to $4 million have been donated to people in need. Pretty spectacular! We’re very happy to have joined and we look forward to doing more with them”.
Update (August 24): Below a recent letter from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to Maurizio Bussolari.