Big changes for Savinelli : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Big changes for Savinelli


With a 135-year reputation for innovation, it was inevitable that Savinelli would decide at some point to reinvent itself. It’s doing that now and the results are impressive.
P&T Editorial Staff

Savinelli pipes may be the best-selling pipes in the world—and for good reason. The consistent quality and value of each pipe is evident; the famous convertible balsa system that absorbs moisture harshness is efficient and practical; the multitude of shapes, styles and finishes are easily recognizable. But there’s always room for refinement in creativity and service, and that’s where the company’s concentration is now focusing, thanks in large part to new management both in Italy and the U.S.Sonia Rivolta is the new CEO of Savinelli Italy. She is energetic and vibrant, with an eye for the aesthetically pleasing aspects of pipe design and a dedication to customer service. Her colleagues also say that she is a pleasure to work with.

There’s been a change at Savinelli USA as well. E. Ruben Ysidron, who started Savinelli USA in 1972 and has run it since, has turned the company over to his son, Steven, as of the beginning of this year. Ruben still goes into the office most days and continues to advise, so it may be said that he’s helping with the transition stage, but Steven now steers the company.

“Basically,” says Steven, “I’m directing the company into the future. Dad is still here, though—I couldn’t do it without him.” His office in Morrisville, N.C., is filled with pipes, pipe furniture, humidors, family photos and guitars (some of which he built himself)—he has surrounded himself with what he loves. Except for a 10-year hiatus in California (where he dabbled in the mortgage banking business and in playing rock and roll and blues music in several bands), he’s been involved with Savinelli his whole life.

As a boy, Steven worked in the warehouse, swept and mopped, did endless odd jobs. He also learned and performed lighter repairs for the Corona lighters that Savinelli USA distributes. Corona lighters are famous for their durability. Even after the warranty period, Savinelli USA has always repaired the lighters should anything go wrong. There was a very reasonable $8 fee for the service, but that is one of the changes that has been implemented. “If anything goes wrong with one of our lighters,” says Steven, “we now repair it for free, except, of course, where obvious abuse is at fault. That’s for life. Just send it in.” It’s a valuable service and testament to the confidence that the company places in this product.

It’s not just lighters that he learned as a boy—he also learned about pipes. “When I was 14,” he says, “my dad sent me to Italy to work for the summer.” He worked in the Savinelli factory and learned much about the supplier side of the business. “I was just a kid,” he says, “and I don’t really remember what I thought of the whole experience, but I’m sure I didn’t appreciate it fully as the remarkable opportunity it was.” He lived in town and went to the factory every day just like any other worker. Already 6 feet tall at that age, he fit in better than most would imagine. “I got paid, got a check every week. They were strict but I learned to carve pipes.” That was mainly after work when they would let him take some briar and work on pipe ideas of his own. “They weren’t very beautiful,” he says, “but I learned a lot. And I learned from people who had decades of experience.” He learned to choose briar and what blocks worked with what shapes, and he even went into the mountains to dig briar. He saw firsthand how everything was done.

Back in the U.S., Steven also got plenty of sales experience and would actually go on the road for three weeks at a time with sales representatives, visiting tobacco shops across the country. “I used to go on the road with Robert Littlejohn—he was an amazing salesman. Our national sales manager was Steve Eldridge. He made Nebraska and Kansas a great area, though it had traditionally been pretty slow. I was on the road with him once for three weeks, and he called my dad up and said, ‘Listen, I’m sorry but he’s not a salesman. The kid can’t sell; I just want you to know up front that he has no future.’ My dad talked to him a couple of weeks ago and told him I was taking over the business and Steve laughed and said, ‘You tell him that I said he can’t sell a damn thing.’ He’s a great man. It was nice to grow up with mentors like that.”

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Category: Feature Article, Pipe Articles, Spring 2011

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