Europe in My Region

This is the sixth date in the series La Valle d’Aosta agli occhi dei valdostani (Aosta Valley as seen by its inhabitants).

This is a repost of Tascapan: dall’ecommerce alla rete di imprese. Dove porta la passione per il proprio territorio?, originally published by Agnieszka Stokowiecka (@ciekawaosta, Facebook, Google+, Instagram), and submitted to the Europe in My Region 2016 blogging competition. Image: Tascapan on display at a fair.

Let me introduce Mathieu. He has created Tascapan, a start-up e-shop for typical Aosta Valley products. Tascapan was also created thanks to the European Social Fund Project about establishing enterprises. In order to start-up his e-commerce business for typical products, Mathieu was able to benefit not only from a grant, but also from a personally tailored training path. So the Tascapan e-shop was born.
However, the credit for everything that happened thereafter and that is still happening goes to this young businessman, who has never shied away from evolutions, changes and new chances. Where is this adventure leading him?
For the moment, it is leading him to create more than just an e-shop: a real local enterprise network, together with a territorial development scheme. Because today Tascapan is no longer a mere online window display for shopping, but rather a much, much broader and engaging entity, telling stories from the Aosta Valley through people and places.

This is the interview with him

What is your educational background?
After attaining a Maths & Science High School Diploma, I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Management Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Real Estate Engineering at Politecnico Milan University. I enrolled in the Master’s Degree Course in Marketing and Global Markets at the Second University of Milan (Bicocca). I just attended first year courses because I had no longer time then!
Was it hard to find your first job in Italy as a new graduated?
This is strongly tied to your personal educational background: both the school you chose and how quickly you completed your studies.
So, while you were accepting a job in Switzerland, Tascapan originated in the Aosta Valley. How was it at the beginning and how did it develop over time?
As for the job in Switzerland, the last recruitment interview (4/5) was still to take place, to be honest. Meanwhile, I got two job offers in Milan and Bolzano. It was fairly hard at the beginning, because I had to roam around all offices and departments trying to understand how to dodge the red tape. Then I learnt about the Start-Up Project (Neo Imprese) being fostered both by the Regional Administration and the European Social Fund (ESF). Through the project, I could get EUR 9 800 of resources for my new business that have been really useful to me!

Apples from Saint Grat (a local producer) within the Maison Bruil museum.
Apples from Saint Grat (a local producer) within the Maison Bruil museum.

Is Tascapan no longer a simple e-shop making up a window display for typical Aosta Valley products?
It was just that when the project began. Now, as time goes by, we are changing its configuration each month. Nowadays, Tascapan rather looks like a sort of enterprise network where we are able to promote not just one producer or one product, but a whole range of goods categories representing the entire Valley thanks to our joint efforts.
How did you come to the idea of integrating an e-commerce window display and the Aosta Valley Food Museum at Maison Bruil, thus creating (in reality) not just some kind of Aosta Valley enterprise network but a starting point for a territorial development scheme?
At a certain stage of the project (3/4 months after it started), I realized that I needed a collecting point to make things easier for producers. After having seen some alternative storage facilities around the Valley, a producer suddenly thought of Maison Bruil – The Aosta Valley Food Traditions Museum. We wondered whether there was any interest in leasing this Museum for management and there was. The Mountain Community Administration, which was the building owner, launched a call for lease in which I took part and won. The Museum has strong links with Tascapan since it puts the Food and Culinary traditions of the Aosta Valley on display at a prestigious location: this house is an all-in-one functions house, dating back to the 1600s and typical for Alpine regions.

Maison Bruil in Introd. It also hosts Tascapan Headquarters.
Maison Bruil in Introd. It also hosts Tascapan Headquarters.

We thought we would arrange our warehouse at the end of the Museum. There, the Museum visitors could visit and use it. We display and store up the products by the Tascapan producers in this room. Then we carry out e-commerce orders by picking the products up directly from the point of sale. As a result, this room has three functions: point of sale, warehouse and collection point.
Tascapan has thus evolved from virtual to territorial marketing (promoting local products and territory). Today, the latest means of development is oriented towards experience marketing. We don’t just sell products, but even stories from the producers by letting them take part in the events launched at Maison Bruil (e.g. tasting parties, seminars …).

One of the latest parties for tasting typical products. It was organized by Tascapan and local producers.
One of the latest parties for tasting typical products. It was organized by Tascapan and local producers.

Can your business be termed a ‘start-up’? What were the biggest difficulties when setting up your own independent business?
Yes, we could term it a ‘start-up’ (after all, we all call the simplest things in the world different things, like starting-up a new enterprise). The initial difficulty definitely was (and continues to be) bureaucracy. It is incredible how complicated it is to unravel the red tape and understand what to do in the various offices and departments to get everything up and running.
Could you benefit from some grants from the European Funds in order to start your business up?
I referred to finding funding a short while ago. I finally managed to identify a kind of support suitable for me, i.e. the Start-Up Project (Neo Imprese) being fostered both by the Regional Administration and the ESF. The ESF contributed to a very important stage in my project: the planning stage. Indeed, a 10-day course was financed through the project, in order to widen knowledge about a business plan and all its related issues. This has been extremely useful because, since the project was complex, I clarified my mind about how to proceed. Then everything changed, of course (from the Museum to fairs …).

Tascapan at the Desarpa Summer Ending Festival in Valgrisenche
Tascapan at the Desarpa Summer Ending Festival in Valgrisenche

What are the criteria you adhere to when selecting products from the Aosta Valley that you will market through Tascapan and Maison Bruil, too?
I’d rather speak about producers than products. The craftsmen and farmers I work with have mostly already been recommended by the producers participating in the network. The project’s success depends on confidence and mutual respect. Sometimes, I personally introduce new producers I have known and appreciated. Of course, I introduce them and wait for the opinion of the producers that already belong to the network. The product prices in the portal and at the point of sale are decided in partnership with the producer, thus creating a fair pricing policy that respects the producer’s wishes.

Exhibition at the Maison Bruil Museum in Introd.
Exhibition at the Maison Bruil Museum in Introd.

Why does an individual producer deciding to sell his/her products online often fail to succeed?
The problem with e-commerce for every single producer is costs, time and how much he/she can boost this commerce. Of course, the costs for doing e-commerce right are high. As a result, it will take a long time for the investment to pay off. Once you have created your e-commerce, you have to properly promote it. This requires expenditure, time and patience. Last but not least, there is the most important factor: time. For a producer, fulfilling an order involves: 1) order receipt 2) order answer 3) payment management 4) very accurate preparation of the parcel to be sent 5) dealing with couriers 6) possible shipment problems and solutions 5) getting in touch with the customer again to find out whether everything arrived.
Time is precisely what led us to start the project. I’ll explain: it takes every producer approximately 3 hours to send his/her package. He/she’d quite rightly rather spend this time tending to his/her land and creating his/her products. The question for the producers is then as follows: is it worth spending 3 hours shipping a product or is it better to focus on production? Tascapan was originally created precisely to solve this problem and help producers with shipment.

Sheep going down the Valley Their wool will get to the skilled hands of Les Tisserands – drap de Valgrisenche.
Sheep going down the Valley Their wool will get to the skilled hands of Les Tisserands – drap de Valgrisenche.

The European Union strongly supports networks, even if real networks find it difficult to take off and then survive (despite getting start-up grants) in Italy. On the contrary, Tascapan has grown into an enterprise network naturally and over time. What are the advantages for the enterprises participating in it?
You should ask this question to the producers participating in Tascapan. In principle, the producers currently benefit free of charge from these services:

  • visibility on a website;
  • product shipment service;
  • having their products sold at a prestigious location, like the Museum;
  • having their products promoted during events/festivals/meeting/fairs;
  • organising their participation in regional-scale and national-scale fairs;
  • enhancing the product through its story, on the Internet but above all in the point of sales, at events, festivals and meetings;
  • presenting their stories at seminars/meetings/presentations (I’m thinking of several presentations at universities, seminars on the issue of rural development, round tables about agriculture …);
  • setting up a think-tank for future development (e.g. new events they are thinking about, taking part in specific fairs …);
  • promoting their stories with interested journalists.

Of course, there is really a huge amount of material. This is why, in the future, we should just focus on some points or comprehend how to develop the Tascapan network.

Tascapan-collage[1]

In your opinion, is e-commerce strongly developed in Italy in terms of typical products from the various regions?
In my limited experience, I can assure you that e-commerce is quite slow-paced for handicraft, agricultural & food quality products. Before buying ‘something to eat’, Italian people have to try/see/understand the product. I have already seen huge growth in e-commerce over eighteen months, but we are still far from being able to say that e-commerce can ‘stand alone’.

Local produces for sale within the Maison Bruil.
Local produces for sale within the Maison Bruil.

What are your plans for Tascapan’s future?
An engineer’s answer: based on my initial business plan, which I amended once I started using the Museum, my set deadline for coming to a conclusion is 2017. As a result, next year I will carefully consider with all the producers what has happened and what we will be to do.
A Mathieu-like answer: of course, developing my project by increasing the number of producers, beginning sales abroad, considering developing Tascapan within the local territory, increasingly strengthening the link between Aosta Valley Food & Culinary Tradition and the project, opening new display points, bringing development to the territory around Introd, but also the Region through offering culture/gourmet culinary & wine art … and thousands of other ideas.
A concrete idea for the future is considering an opportunity to find partners nurturing the same passion as I do, to share this experience and develop the whole Tascapan system altogether. Sometimes, I realize how difficult it is when I’m alone, both in terms of time and ideas & possible developments.

Mathieu explaining Aosta Valley traditions to my daughter at the Maison Bruil Museum.
Mathieu explaining Aosta Valley traditions to my daughter at the Maison Bruil Museum.

I used to ask these two questions to every Aosta Valley inhabitant I have an interview with. What are your favourite places in the Aosta Valley?
I could suggest a lot of places. Nevertheless, in my opinion, the best I can do is suggest that you pay me a visit at the Museum. There is a long list of places on my mind to let you see, taste and discover!
What are Aosta Valley inhabitants like in your opinion?
Do you remember Asterix and Obelix? I think people from the Aosta Valley look like them. We try not to surrender to technological invasion and loss of values, tradition, culture and much more.
All joking aside, people from the Aosta Valley are historically a bit reserved. However, I feel that times are changing and people are now starting to discover how hospitable the people from this Valley are and how much care they take of their local territory! I’m increasingly noticing people who take time to give tips, clean common areas or something else. In my opinion, we are shifting our interest from areas such as public works, industry and so on to tourism. According to me, our region’s salvation will be its beauty and tourism. Everyone has to contribute to this development by keeping his/her garden clean, safeguarding the local territory thanks to agriculture, providing tourists with pieces of advice and above all by avoiding ill feeling among guests to the region.
Let’s highlight our positive features, other people will take care of the rest!
Thank you for your help and good luck for your ideas’ future development.
Thank you!


Sources:

  • Maison Bruil is an excellent example of the way the EU concretely and rationally acts to the advantage of Regions and citizens. The Ethnographic Museum had already been financed – as concerned its organisation, setting up and promotion – by the European Regional Development Fund under the two following ALCOTRA (cross-border cooperation programme between Italy and France) projects: “Paysage a croquer” (2000 – 2006) e “Les racines du gôut” (2007-2013).
  • If you wish to better get acquainted with Mathieu & Tascapan, please visit the Maison Bruil in Introd (open every day from 10.30am to 6.30pm apart from Tuesday). You won’t just see the Aosta Valley Food Traditions Museum, but also a store selling typical products. If you live far away, just visit the Tascapan website and get in the mood to savour some Aosta Valley delicacies.

This post is a part of my project La Valle d’Aosta agli occhi dei valdostani (Aosta Valley as seen by its inhabitants). If you wish to read more interviews, just click here: CiekawAOSTA in Italian. I also presented it for the #EUinMyRegion for blogger European Commission Contest! Find more Info about the contest here: The blogging Initiative by the European Commission.
See you soon!

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