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FoxTown and Collina d’Oro
Silvio Tarchini, owner of the Tarchini Group, is best known as the founder of factory outlet center FoxTown in Lugano-Mendrisio. A profile of the active entrepreneur.
Silvio Tarchini looks out of a high arched window at his luxury resort Collina d’Oro, his gaze sweeping across the densely forested hill, Lake Lugano sparkling in the distance. “That is where I came into the world. As a child I thought I would become a lawyer one day like my father, but I soon realized that the academic mindset didn’t really suit me. I have to be able to pull out all the stops and make something,” he says, presenting the elegantly decorated room with an energetic sweep of the hand.
Apprentice Years in Wood and Plastics
Outside of Ticino, the businessman is best known as the founder of the FoxTown factory outlet center. But FoxTown is only a single piece of the puzzle, albeit an important one, in the life of Silvio Tarchini. He was only 21 years old when he took over his grandfather’s timber construction company shortly after he passed away. “But I soon felt the need to acquire more experience outside of the business,” he says. So he worked in various timber operations in England and Germany and then in Milan at a plastics company. “In 1967 I came back to Ticino. I was 23 years old and I recognized a gap in the Swiss market in the area of PVC packaging films,” Tarchini remembers. He had inherited some money when his grandfather passed away. He used the money to buy a plastics processing company and founded a new business called Plastar. That same year, Tarchini became a client of Credit Suisse. “Even in those days I felt like I was in good hands as an entrepreneur at Credit Suisse, because I expected my bank advisor to engage with me and challenge me.” In 1975, at the age of 31, Tarchini already owned a 5,000-square-meter factory. And yet it had all somehow become a little too easy: Silvio Tarchini was yearning to discover new horizons.
Core Business Established
He sold his business and traveled the world with his wife in search of new inspiration. Buenos Aires held a special fascination for him, because he recognized that the city was lacking in office space. By chance, the opportunity arose to buy two old houses. He and his wife pulled up stakes in Lugano and moved to Argentina with their three daughters. He had a large office building constructed, with the plan to turn around and sell it three years later. Tarchini explains: “I worked day and night and fortunately didn’t go into debt. Instead I used my own capital and everything went well. But inflation was around 170 percent and that was too big a risk for me to continue doing business there. So we moved back to Lugano.” With his experience in manufacturing and real estate, he determined that his homeland Lugano was not an attractive region for industrial enterprises, because there were no suitable warehousing or manufacturing facilities. The first thing he did was construct an industrial building in Mezzovico, and he soon had a respectable real estate portfolio at his command.
Speed as a Trademark
In September 1994, Silvio Tarchini was reading an Italian newspaper and came across an article about factory outlets. The idea took hold of him instantly. He began to familiarize himself with the topic and discovered that some presentations were to take place in London. He bought tickets and flew there. In London he spoke with numerous experts and learned that the Annual Factory Outlet Meeting would be held in Atlanta a month later. “I traveled to the U.S. for a week with one of my employees. We came back as a group of three. Also on board with us was an expert in factory outlets, who stayed with us for a week and conducted market and feasibility studies,” Tarchini remembers. The results were promising. The next important question was: What would be the primary store in the outlet, the engine, so to speak? It turned out to be Nike. Nike was headquartered in Amsterdam, so Tarchini packed his bags once again. After taking a look at the Ticino location, his contact at Nike told him, “If it’s you in charge, we are on board.” It had taken three months to get to this point: “At the end of the year, my mind was made up: I would open a factory outlet center.” Giacomo von Wyl, Silvio Tarchini’s client advisor of four years at Credit Suisse, notes: “This systematic process for FoxTown is typical of him: When he has a new idea, first he considers everything very thoroughly to minimize risk and brings in experts whenever possible. My task is to go over everything again with our internal specialists and call his attention to any additional opportunities and risks.” Silvio Tarchini greatly appreciates this approach. He emphasizes that he needs the bank to help him keep discussions at the level of equal partners. Luckily, they are just as fast as he is, which is essential: “As an entrepreneur, you have to act fast on your ideas, I’m convinced of this – and it is my nature.”
Proud of New Jobs
There were still a few hurdles to clear before the factory outlet center FoxTown opened its doors 15 months after Tarchini’s initial idea took shape. The planned location was in an industrial area, but the Mendrisio municipality was persuaded by the argument that the businesses in FoxTown would operate like factory outlets. Another problem was doing business on Sundays, because factory outlets around the world are open every day of the week. “I presented my request to the authorities in Bellinzona and we found a solution: In Ticino, the legal situation is such that businesses that attract tourists are allowed to open in the region on Sundays. It was just a matter of definition,” explains Tarchini. At the same time, he was working with the labor unions on a collective bargaining agreement. Tarchini convinced authorities that his plan would create 200 new jobs in the midst of an economic crisis in Ticino. Today, 20 years after its opening, nine businesses have become 160 and 1,300 people work at FoxTown. “The first time I brought up the idea of FoxTown at Credit Suisse, my client advisor asked me a lot of questions. Giacomo von Wyl can sometimes be quite stubborn, but for me, that is what distinguishes a bank for entrepreneurs – recognizing that someone there is really engaged with your ideas,” says Tarchini. Von Wyl adds, “Mr. Tarchini is always extremely well prepared. We provide input specific to banking, but our input also often comes from our experience with other entrepreneurs.” There are plenty of opportunities for such exchanges, because Tarchini never seems to run out of ideas. For instance, he just opened a data center, as well as a commercial building with small, furnished offices for start-ups. A residential building with senior apartments is under construction, and his latest idea, which will probably already be under way by the time this magazine is published, is a parking garage for classic cars. When asked whether he has any dreams yet to be fulfilled, Silvio Tarchini thinks for a moment and answers dryly, “No. I am continuously making my dreams a reality.”
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