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HiNelson store in Milan
The first physical store-over 400 square meters-opened by HiNelson is located in Milan at 6 Via Masolino da Panicale.

Launching an e-commerce business is always risky business, doing it in the years when Amazon has practically cannibalized the online shopping market is almost madness. Yet HiNelson, which started out as an e-commerce four years ago, has grown year after year to become a benchmark for all boating enthusiasts.

HiNelson – How it became the go-to reference for boating enthusiasts

Today, the company is experiencing a very important moment, with the evolution toward the omnichannel model that includes the opening of several physical stores, following the excellent success of the first store opened in Milan in 2022. The HiNelson team has about 15 people and an organization that, thanks in part to major investments, has enabled the company to achieve a turnover that is doubling year on year. We interviewed Marcello Labruna, CEO and founder of HiNelson, to better understand how the company is changing.

Marcello Labruna - Co-Founder of HiNelson
Marcello Labruna, 28, is the Co-Founder of HiNelson.

What do you mean by omnichannelality and why do you think it is the winning model compared to pure e-commerce?

It is true that we were born as e-commerce, but today simply doing e-commerce is not enough. Over the past 18 months, we have therefore begun to evolve our business model toward omnichannelity. At the center of the omnichannel experience is the user, who should perceive no difference between an online and in-store purchase. We opened our first store in Milan, and we are opening a second in Rimini, with the goal of reaching four stores in Italy by the end of the year. Our business plan is to have a total of nine stores by 2025, but I see this as more of a starting point than an end point. It is not true that the user no longer wants to go to the store, it is true that the store needs to evolve to offer a different user experience, especially in a market like ours where the customer is not satisfied with a click when they have to buy certain products. People who come inside a HiNelson store want to breathe boating, then maybe even buy a product, but what they want to find is a place to spend time with those who share their passion. I think those who read the Sailing Newspaper in the winter months do so because they dream of getting back on the boat as soon as they can, and in the meantime they live their passion this way even when they are not on the boat. It is the same thing that our customers do, who come to us because it is one more opportunity to experience boating, to have a chat with an expert, to find a welcoming and professional place to live their passion.

How do the stores you are opening reflect the omnichannel model?

In general, all the new stores you see today are becoming places where people choose to spend leisure time, and they will become more and more like movie theaters and museums. As I see it, omnichannel is a winning model if we understand it in a 360-degree way: in addition to product, logistics and personnel are also omnichannel. Our specialists advise both the in-store user and the online shopper, and warehouses serve both stores and e-commerce. Omnichannel also means that those who buy online can pick up or return the product in store and vice versa, obviously finding the exact same prices on both channels. It happens more and more often that people who come to the store and talk to our experts then decide to finalize their purchase later online, perhaps asking for a final phone consultation with the very person they already talked to in the store. But one of the points I am most proud of is another, which is the fact that people who come to the store spend much more time on their visit than an online visitor. This means that beyond sales you are generating value, you are creating a much deeper direct relationship with the user, who willingly spends free time inside the store.

How do you work with regard to the catalog? Do you try to have more products or more exclusives?

Certainly our catalog is already well-stocked but not complete, and we are constantly working to expand it. Especially with regard to exclusives, which are very important to us, and we work to seek more of them. But what is even more important than the product for us is the service. By taking advantage of our affiliated stores and installers, we are able to provide many services such as installation and maintenance of products up to, for example, raft overhaul. I would like HiNelson to be identified more and more as a hub for boating enthusiasts and not just a retailer of products. To do this, we have decided that our manifesto, around which all HiNelson’s activity is developed and the prerogative for which we want to be recognized, is reliability. It means being close to the user’s needs, such as meeting shipping deadlines. Today, thanks in part to the investments that have come in, we have been able to increase inventory and ensure absolute reliability in this respect.

What are the three best-selling products at HiNelson?

Tender Cadet Alu
The Cadet Alu tender can be purchased at hinelson.com, the exclusive Italian dealer of the Zodiac brand.

Definitely among the bestsellers are Zodiac’s Cadet line of tenders, for which we are the exclusive distributor for Italy. Fishing also generates very interesting volumes. We began to explore it in earnest as a product line a couple of years ago, when in response to one of our surveys, “What do you do in your spare time when you’re boating?” about 40 percent of users answered that they fish. Beyond the best-selling product, what I personally always say in the company is that we do not sell products but satisfy customers. Regardless of what product is sold or its category, the most important thing for HiNelson must be the satisfaction of its customer. We are very much looking for dialogue with our users, and we are very keen to retain them.

For example?

One example is the Miles Points program, which was created precisely to enhance even more the relationship with our customers and help them experience their passion for boating more easily. In an effort to be as close as possible to our customers, we decided to launch a loyalty program that allows you to generate points for every purchase and save a lot on subsequent purchases. Then there is the HiNelson Academy, a project that we are pursuing with the videos and the blog because we believe it can be an additional resource for our customers to experience boating in a 360-degree way, and it falls squarely within the concept of omnichannel.

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