Interview with Sergio Mannino
The Sergio Mannino Studio
is based in New York, but recognized internationally, having completed over 250 projects including in China, Italy, Canada and across the United States. Headed by Sergio Mannino himself, the committed team is made up of professional architects, interior designers, graphic designers and branding consultants. SM Studio is motivated by the desire to create spaces that synthesize creativity, excitement and functionality - blending classic Italian design with contemporary flair. Although the studio was established as a primarily retail design company, in recent years they have been involved in a broad range of residential, branding, and furniture design projects. The studio’s clients include Prada, Lexus, Kensiegirl, Miss Sixty, Miu Miu, Vince Camuto, Bottega Veneta, among others. Work by the studio has been widely published in magazines, books and blogs throughout Europe, China and the US.
Hey Sergio, could you please introduce Sergio Mannino Studio and what led to your founding your own independent company back in 2008?
Sergio Mannino Studio is a multidisciplinary design company specialising in retail, interior and furniture. I started the company in 2008 and in the last 10 years, I've worked with my team on over 250 projects around the world.
We've worked in China, Europe and of course in the United States. We work with different companies from large corporations such as Prada or Bottega Veneta or Lexus to smaller startups or direct to consumer companies. Direct to consumer companies are brands whose only presence is online. They sell directly to their customers, meaning you're buying directly from the brand and there is not an intermediary. Right now these brands are actually the most interesting thing out there and they're starting to open stores. It's a very interesting time and we're helping them to open their stores.
How does today's iteration of Sergio Mannino Studio look different from what you'd initially imagined the studio would look like ten years in?
I opened the studio in 2008 in the midst of the worst financial crisis of our lifetime. The prospects of starting a new business were very challenging at the time. I saw it as an opportunity because there were brands that were taking this opportunity to actually invest and they were confident that things would change as they did. But what I witnessed, working especially in retail projects, is that the retail industry had completely changed. In 10 years, nothing has remained the same. This is especially true in the US as thousands and thousands of stores have closed and continue to close. There is a massive change in the way people shop, you can shop online, you can shop on your phone, you can look at products on your Instagram page, there are new challenges and new channels that didn't even exist when I opened the company. That's a very interesting prospect and times are very interesting, that's why we help clients transition.
What sets the Sergio Mannino Studio aesthetic apart from others in the field? How did you build up your international networks in places like China and Canada?
My background is Italian. I studied architecture at the University of Florence and I moved to the US in 2001. In every project we manage, there is a very strong component of the Italian design culture. There is nothing we can do about it as it is in my blood and I share the same passion with my team. The team is an international team and we all share this passion for design and I think you can see it in all the projects we do. When I opened the office I didn't really know what to expect in terms of marketing strategy, how to get clients. I jumped in and started working because I met our first client and we worked on the first project like that. I learnt that there are no referrals in this business, every client we get is a new client. We always get clients because our projects are published. They see a publication, they see a picture of one of our stores, or one of our projects in a magazine or on a blog and they want something similar, so they call us. Our marketing, and really our only marketing strategy, is to try to do the best possible project and try to publish it as much as possible.
How has the rise of influencer marketing changed your outlook on branding, graphic design, and client acquisition?
The rise of influencer marketing hasn't really changed the way we do business in the office. I think we still get our clients from publications and from spreading the word of what we do and what we specialise in.
I write articles on the retail world periodically and this year I've been writing for Forbes, several articles on branding and on retailing in general and what's happening in the retail world with the closure of so many stores. The retail world has changed dramatically and the rise of influencers has also changed the way people look at items to buy, so they're no longer going to the store to look at something, but they go to the store after they already looked at something online. They do their shopping on their phones, on their computers and then only when they like something, they look it up online and they go to the store to take a closer look at it. The store has changed its function, it's no longer a place where you sell an item, it's a place where you sell an experience. People that already know your product, they go there to feel it, to touch it, but also to have fun. Then the sale itself may not happen in the store, it might happen online, on Instagram, on a phone, on a computer, or via another channel, and all these channels have to work together in a holistic way. These are the new challenges and the new things that have arisen in the last few years.
What's next for your work with Sergio Mannino Studio? What are the main partners, markets, and mediums you'll be focusing on in 2019?
In 2019 we're going to be working on different retail projects in the US and in China. I cannot disclose the details because of course, they're very confidential. We are expanding in different types of business and different than the ones we've been working on in the past. We will continue working on pharmacy projects, but also we will focus on a line of furniture that we are developing and it is very interesting. It's a limited edition series that is partially handmade and we're very excited about that.