On 12th July 2000, on the initiative of Maurizio Gattiglia, Marcello Poli and Antonio Tirelli, Agorà Network was born in Milan in the form of a limited liability company. The goal of the founders was to establish a long-lasting alliance between family businesses sharing the same values and quality. A partnership that would contribute, thanks to the exchange of business experiences and the pooling of core activities, to the further quantitative and qualitative growth of the three regional small/medium enterprises they lead: SoGeGross, Supermercati Poli, and Iperal. Due to the current context, the first task was the conclusion of common trade agreements with key suppliers. In the small office in Viale Ferdinando di Savoia, the buyers of the three companies immediately established relationships that extended far beyond the purchase, by relying on some shared operating marketing activities, such as the analysis and management of the assortments of the sales networks and joint promotions and by structuring a transparent exchange of information and experience at all levels of the company, which proved to be the propeller of their future development. Prof. Ravazzoni titled one of his articles on the specialised magazine Mark-Up: Agorà Network suggests a new way of being on the market a Federative association is born. He was not wrong. The quality of the allied companies, witnessed by the high market shares in their respective geographic areas of influence, has allowed Agorà Network to join ESD Italia Group Purchasing Organisation the following year, with Esselunga and Selex Gruppo Commerciale, from the beginning of its activity. In 2002, the well-known determination of the Orrigoni family to focus its business in the retail sector led the Tigros company to join the alliance. The experience of those early years, the extent of the benefits achieved and the realistic evaluation of some difficulties of managing a participatory project, have helped the entrepreneurs understand that in bridging the size gap that separated their businesses from top national players, they had to go further, dare to pool the entire commercial and logistical phase for the most common products, groceries. Hence, the project for the centralisation of grocery purchases in favour of the sales network established by the hypermarkets, supermarkets and affiliate stores of all four companies was born in 2006 and was implemented through subsequent steps in 2007. From a corporate point of view, the model has required the transformation of the legal form of Agorà Network into a consortium and the partners have had to supply adequate financial resources (to date 2014 financial statements around 30 million). From an organisational point of view it was necessary to search for new headquarters (now in via Pergolesi n. 25) capable of hosting a streamlined sales team, formed by trained and motivated people (buyers, purchasing agents, marketing
analysts), a strong and well-structured management control, and support administrative offices. These functions are now performed by over 30 employees. A logistics site suitable for size and functionality has also been identified in a central location with respect to the extensive network of the partner companies as well as a logistics company of international standing that could handle it according to high quality standards. Substantial investments have been allocated to the implementation of information systems and interaction tools between the Milan headquarters, the logistics site of Brignano Geradda (Bergamo) and the offices of the four members, in Genoa, Sondrio, Trento and Varese. A unique project in the field and, for this reason, at its presentation it was greeted with suspicion and perhaps disbelief by some. In fact, too often the retail world has featured dramatic announcements, which did not eventually match the actions promised. This project instead was accomplished, an efficient project that has allowed important economies in the supply chain, but also efficiency economies. The extended catalogue of the 12,000 products present in the Brignano logistic site has in fact allowed the companies to only manage small/medium selling formats to be planned with relative ease, and always relying on the expertise of colleagues, to successfully develop much larger stores. The determination in the development of the centralisation project for grocery caused some misunderstandings with the other members of ESD Italia, so they left the Purchasing Organisation and began a new three-year alliance with Carrefour. Having completed this experience, as Carrefours changed its relationship strategies deciding to bring the relationship with many suppliers from an Italian to an international level, Agorà Network was asked to be part again of an ESD Italia quite different from the one it had left, given that in the meantime Esselunga had left it. Since 2010, the partners of ESD, that is in addition to the historical Selex Gruppo Commerciale and Acqua & Sapone, SUN and, since 2015, Aspiag Service, are perhaps more homogeneous companies than in the past. The activities of Agorà Network have gradually expanded and, since 2011, the consortium manages on behalf of three partners the frozen products commercial and logistic phase (from the platform in Casorate Primo – PV). The growth recorded in the first 15 years of Agorà Network and the companies allied was remarkable, having more than tripled their share in the domestic market. This growth was not only fostered by a major development of quality, but also by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of its sales network (Like4Like). In a competitive context in which the productivity of stores has decreased by over 10%, Agorà Network shops have instead constantly marked growing turnovers, with winning performances (in the top three of the about twenty Groups surveyed).