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I Have seen One Future, and It Works – Pasticceria Besuschio and a Future for Retail   Leave a comment

A few days ago, during our Easter break, we drove some 14 miles (21 kilometers) to visit one specific retailer: the bakery and confectionery shop Pasticceria Besuschio.
What in Lombardy could entice anyone to drive away from Milan, a much larger, more diverse town, and go into the small, if wealthy-looking, former country market town of Abbiategrasso, for the single purpose of buying sweets?

Indeed, Pasticceria Besuschio is rated among the top 10 in Italy by the reputed Gambero Rosso guidebook of Italian bakeries. While this got us there, on a leisurely and sunny morning, we like to think we are smart enough with Italian food to tell substance from hype; our real purpose was to see for ourselves how good this place could ever be.
We looked at a number of preparations on display, from small “mignon” pastries to curiously-shaped iced cakes, from peculiar-looking Easter eggs to an impressive range of leavened cakes. Some fancy-named cakes were invented there, such as “Crakelé” (“craquelé” being the French word for a pattern of cracks on a surface, often obtained on purpose on an art work) and “porfido” (a cube-shaped cake named after porphyry, the rock once used around Milan for small cubic paving stones). Others were renditions of known traditional specialties, such as cornmeal “pan meino”, or self-proclaimed rediscovered traditions such as “pagnotta di fràa” (the friars’ bread loaf).
Finally, we listened to Mr. Besuschio’s explanations and tried a couple of pastries with our cappuccino and tea.

What was our conclusion? We walked away fully confident that this is going to be the place where we will bring international friends to show them what can sweets be in Lombardy. This is where we are going to get our sweets and cakes for special occasions at home, as well as gifts for our friends in Milan. This combination of flavour, taste and design feels better than any we have found in some of the most famous bakeries in Milan, and the less famous ones we have long liked. Almost as important, we found prices very reasonable, only slightly higher than those of mass-produced cakes at supermarkets.

On our drive home, we caught ourselves wondering about what lessons may this local, almost remote boutique shop hold for a much broader audience.
What can we glean from shops like this about the future of physical retail shops, as they struggle in many countries to keep up against both large-scale sales chains and online providers?

While walking the ancient streets of central Abbiategrasso, we had seen a few other shops that impressed us: a fashion shop, a pharmacy and L’altra libreria (“The other bookshop”). Each of their windows conveyed a conscious effort to display a very thoughtful selection of goods, chosen with specific purposes and criteria. What each window really is about is the shop itself, and reasons to enter and ask for advice, much more than any specific merchandise you may want to buy there. For example, the bookshop’s window promotes È tutta colpa di Ipazia (“It’s all Hypatia’s fault”), a public reading and discussion forum named after none less than the ancient Greek female philosopher and astronomer).
Both Pasticceria Besuschio and L’altra libreria articulate an engaging, sophisticated message in their web sites; what struck us is how much of the same message manages to come across loud and clear through a physical window.

These shops clearly show, and implicitly tell, that they can be your specialty adviser on their wares, and on the whole cultural niche that surrounds those goods, be they books or garments, sweets or health products. In their windows, this offer for advice is based on choosing very few items among the enormous number of options available; it’s the choice itself that comes across as valuable as soon as you look at the window – clearer, you will feel as you look at it, than I can articulate in words here, and the owners themselves on their web site.
Their next challenge is probably to leverage physical and virtual social networks to get their adviser message across over virtual channels, to people beyond those who happen to walk in front of their windows, then to turn that attention they fully deserve into paid sales – either of goods or of those very advice services.
This sounds difficult, for sure. Still, what they already managed to do has likely been difficult for them, and surely impossible for so many others: finding for themselves something special to do, or even to be, different from commodity, mass-market suppliers.

What may be your Pasticceria Besuschio?
What shop is so special that you are prepared to drive, walk or browse to it beyond more popular ones?
What do they offer that makes you want to do so?  

Milano, 05/05/2014. Gianluca Marcellino

Alcuni diritti riservatiSome Rights Reserved: CC – BY

I wish to thank Fiona Talbot, TQI for her advice on making this post clearer and better.

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Posted May 5, 2014 by Gianluca Marcellino in Retail

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