Chance encounter : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Chance encounter


Build a website, find a career

by Stephen A. Ross

The last notes of Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” reverberate inside the meeting hall at Milan’s Fornace Curti as the four members of a string quartet rise and bow, acknowledging the applause from the audience, an assembly of pipemakers, retailers and pipe collectors from around the world.

While the initial applause might have been meant for the quartet’s performance, an even larger round of applause cascades around the room for Luca di Piazza, the man who organized the celebration, Neatpipes: The Party 2.0, while a special cake commemorating the occasion is brought into the room. Di Piazza is the 33-year-old owner of Neatpipes, an online retail store specializing in high-grade pipes, and, an associated website that represents a growing list of Italian pipemakers to retailers in the United States, Europe and Asia. He spent months planning The Party 2.0 with his team of six people, made up mostly of family members.

Left to right: Le Nuvole's Marizio Tombari, Luca di Piazzola and Il Ceppo's Franco Rossi

Left to right: Le Nuvole’s Marizio Tombari, Luca di Piazza and Il Ceppo’s Franco Rossi

Neatpipes hosted its first event, The Party 1.0, in April 2014 to great success. The second party, in April 2015, was an even bigger event, and initial feedback from those in attendance suggests that it was a big success as well, which should come as no surprise—di Piazza has accomplished a lot of great things since entering the pipe world 13 years ago.

As an 18-year-old architecture student in Milan, di Piazza built websites to earn some extra spending money. One day, he got a call from a pipe collector, Franco Bolognesi, who wanted a website to sell his collection of Dunhill and Castello pipes.

While he might have initially thought he was just taking on another job, di Piazza soon found himself fascinated by the pipes in Bolognesi’s collection. He asked questions that Bolognesi was more than willing to answer. The two men formed a close bond, and Bolognesi became di Piazza’s mentor.

“I had no idea about pipes until I met Franco,” di Piazza says. “I thought they were just a piece of wood that older people smoked. I was amazed by their beauty. Right away I discovered that this is what I wanted to do with my life. Franco introduced me to a retailer in Milan that wanted to make a website. I managed their website and I selected the pipes to sell online and shipped the pipes. They closed their store within a couple of years, but I had made good contacts with customers online, and I reasoned that I should try to do this myself. opened on July 18, 2002.”

Bolognesi had also introduced di Piazza to Franco Coppo, who operates Castello. Coppo had a reputation for closely guarding his precious brand. Not just anyone could sell Castello pipes— Coppo chose his dealers after periods of intense scrutiny. Coppo was also very conservative, so it was a big surprise when he agreed to allow di Piazza to sell Castello pipes on Neatpipes.

An eight day pipe set made by pipemakers that di Piazza represents.

An eight day pipe set made by pipemakers that di Piazza represents

The concept behind Neatpipes is to give consumers the same sort of experience online that they would feel if they were shopping at a brick-and-mortar tobacco shop. The list of pipes available on Neatpipes has grown to include pipes from nearly 40 pipemakers, but di Piazza keeps the selection of pipes to a manageable number. He estimates that there are never more than 150 pipes available on the website at one time so that each of those pipes can be repre- sented in the best possible way. There are at least five photos and a one-minute video for each pipe on the website. The video shows the pipe rotating on a plate and includes footage of di Piazza holding the pipe in his hands, giving viewers the opportunity to see all the angles of the pipe and some idea of its size.

“We don’t want to become the biggest pipe dealer online, but we want to be one of the best,” di Piazza says. “We don’t want to sell anything but hand-made pipes and give them the respect that they deserve. We do a smaller selection so that anyone interested in buying a pipe from us will have all the information they need by making a few clicks with a mouse. We try to keep as a boutique shop that sells the best pipes from around the world. We also work with carvers on special lines, such as the Radice Chubby billiard the Radice AeroBilliard.”

Those special pipes are due to a conversation di Piazza had with the Radice family—Luigi, Marzio and Gianluca— about the ideal pipe shape, a pipe that would have a huge bowl but also be fairly short and comfortable to hold in one’s mouth. In January 2006, he asked the Radices to create a very short billiard pipe, and 10 months later the Chubby billiard was born. The collaboration between di Piazza and the Radice family was a rewarding experience for both parties and led them to an even closer relationship.

luca4“Two years later, the Radices asked Neatpipes to represent them around the world,” di Piazza explains. “It was really nice, and I have a very strong relationship with the entire family. Marzio tells me that he is surprised about the collaboration between his father and me. Luigi was 65 at that time and had 40 years in pipemaking, but he was open to new ideas from a 24-year-old man. We really entered into a very great relationship right away.”

The relationship is much more than just developing two new shapes and representing Radice pipes around the world. Talking with consumers globally, di Piazza had a clear vision of how consumer tastes were changing in the Internet age. He formulated a few ideas about how the Radices could update their line, making their pipes more attractive to the changing world market.

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Category: Feature Article, Other Stories, Pipe Articles, Summer 2015

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