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FiocchiThe Fiocchi empire began improbably with a bit of a splutter, born of a predecessor’s failure and a bank foreclosure. In the early 1800s Fiocchi family ancestors lived around Bologna, a thriving commercial and industrial center. Two of the men followed Napoleon’s army in his Italian campaign and took up residence in Milan. One of them, Giulio Fiocchi, became a bank manager and was fatefully assigned to oversee a loan made to a manufacturer of black powder and muskets in Lecco, a small city northeast of Milan located at the southern tip of the eastern prong of Lake Como. Suffering hard times after the war, the arms manufacturer defaulted on the loan. In 1876 Giulio was instructed to visit the facility and extract whatever funds could be negotiated. On horseback Giulio rode to the gorgeous city, investigated and concluded the borrower was insolvent and that any repayment was unlikely.
Giulio knew nothing of guns and powder but possessing a keen business intuition, he sensed an opportunity. He consulted with his brother, Giacomo, an engineer educated at the newly founded University of Milan, on the viability of starting their own ammunition business. Since the time of the Roman Empire, that area of Lombardy had been famous for manufacturing metallic small parts. The first cased ammunition for breach loading firearms started to appear and Giacomo was willing to risk that metallic case ammunition production could be profitable. Giulio persuaded his Milan bank to loan them the money to buy the defaulting company. They ceased musket production and in 1877 hunting and sporting ammunition production began under the name Giulio Fiocchi Enterprise.
Fiocchi implemented a forward vision of employee benefits and relationships. In 1904 Giulio Fiocchi built houses in Lecco for the workers and paid them sufficient wages to enable them to afford a decent living and to buy the houses if they desired. Fiocchi hired women and built a school and a nursery for the workers’ children, which still are in operation. These enterprises were all funded by the Fiocchi family, resulting in worker loyalty so strong that presently many third and fourth generation workers are at the firm. Fiocchi became a principal supplier of ammunition to the Italian army during WWI. Giulio, who fathered thirteen children, died in 1916 and bequeathed the company to son Carlo. Although Italy endured difficult times after WW I during its reconstruction, Fiocchi flourished.
Shortly after the commencement of WW II, the Fiocchi factory was seized by the Nazi Wermacht. As defeat became imminent, the Nazis attempted to destroy the plant to keep it out of Allied control. Fiocchi workers thwarted the Nazi effort but their accomplishment was somewhat pyrrhic in that British and American bombers almost totally destroyed the factories.
After the war the seven Fiocchi brothers faced a stark choice: go their separate ways or rebuild the factories. They decided to rebuild. Assisted by their workforce of about fifteen hundred, the facilities were reconstructed in about one year, without any investment from the Marshall Plan. After the war Carlo served as an economic advisor to the prime minister of Italy.
The facilities were modernized with new equipment boasting superior design and technology, many designed by Fiocchi engineers tailored specifically for manufacturing modern ammunition. As related to me by Carlo Fiocchi, the current vice president of Fiocchi of America, grandson of Carlo mentioned above, Fiocchi thus gained an edge over other ammunition manufacturers in the 1950’s and 60’s. “The factory was extremely modern by ammunition company standards.” The ammunition market changed at an accelerating pace after WW II, with globalization creating competition beyond regional and national spheres of influence. The company had to become marketing oriented in addition to constantly improving product quality.
Gun powder is from U.S.A. sources.
Fiocchi of America’s competitive target shotgun ammunition is made by shooters for shooters, Carlo said. All the workers on the production line are extremely proficient. Advisor Bob Oxsen was on the all American team. Carlo Oderda, a current product manager at Fiocchi Munizioni and an Italian Olympic level shooter, draws upon his skills to interpret what competitors need and what the market wants. Oderda travels to FOA about five times a year to design the top competition loads. “He is a magician,” Carlo Fiocchi exclaimed over the phone and then analogized, “To put regular gas in a Ferrari is a capital sin. It’s the same with putting mediocre ammunition in a top gun.” Not all shooters have the same needs so Fiocchi makes a vast array of competition shotgun cartridges. The Exacta line is Fiocchi of America’s premium line. Most popular for F.I.T.A.S.C., given the 1 ounce load restriction and no velocity limitation, are the Crusher at 1300 fps, the Super Crusher at 1400 fps and the Little Rhino at 1250 fps. Most popular for sporting clays is the White Rhino 1 1/8 ounce load at 1250 fps. All Exacta line shells are loaded with 5% antimony lead, as opposed to the 3.2% antimony content used in Fiocchi’s more economical Shooting Dynamics line of competition shells. These loads are available with nickel plated shot produced exclusively for Fiocchi by Locatelli in Italy. Jackie Stenton, assistant to Carlo at Fiocchi of America, asserts that the ‘knockdown’ effectiveness of nickel shot greatly exceeds that of copper plated shot. No other US manufacturer uses nickel plated shot, she informed me.
To get a sense of their shotgun shell performance, I interviewed Fiocchi sponsored shooter, Anthony Matarese. At age 25, he has more championship titles than Imelda Marcos had shoes, including 3rd place at the 2009 Sporting Clays Open, being an All American thirteen times and being the current captain of the Open Team USA.
Anthony has been shooting sporting clays since he was ten, starting at his family’s sporting club in New Jersey. Fiocchi has sponsored him over the past ten years. His favorite load is the White Rhino, which he describes as the hardest hitting shell with the least recoil, qualities likely attributable to the shell’s wad cup design and him shooting a Beretta Urika II semi-auto. He uses a light modified choke 95% of the time. Shooting FITASC, Anthony favors the 1300 fps Crusher because it kicks less than any other shell near that velocity. Anthony noted that Fiocchi respects personal relationships. “Carlo calls and asks how I’m doing. He seeks my thoughts on how to make better loads.”
A View of the WorldThe most challenging aspect of his work, Carlo told me, was giving his company an identity. He has great respect for his US competitors but added, “I want something of a different flavor, a different perfume.” His strategy is to offer the highest quality ammunition by working with the top designers and competitors. “Mr. Federal doesn’t exist and Mr. Remington doesn’t exist any more. My family name is on the frigging box! I cannot sell anything but the best. It’s my Italian sense of pride.” Carlo explained his perspective of Fiocchi’s place in history. “We have a family business, not a publicly traded company. We don’t have to meet stringent quarterly targets as far as we respect a shared vision. We have an easier task discussing long range strategies with family shareholders.” Carlo is a close friend of Franco Beretta, a good friend to have. “Our vision is to be the Beretta of ammunition,” Carlo said. “We want to have something for our children and grandchildren. We look down the horizon and want to leave something for future generations.”Carlo will likely achieve his goals. Fiocchi of America attracts skilled dedicated employees. Jackie Stenton commented that Fiocchi has extraordinary talent working for it. “The passion evolves into our own personal pride.” “You have no idea how proud I am working for Fiocchi,” Dee Zambetti told me. “Anytime you work in a company owned by a family, it’s different from a company owned by stockholders. Working at Fiocchi is like coming home.” Fiocchi Munizioni and Fiocchi of America proudly support the industry by sponsoring a wide variety of programs at the national and local levels such as programs for disabled shooters. They realize that the combined efforts of many dedicated enthusiasts are needed to ensure the future of the shooting sports. Pietro Fiocchi’s words in the introduction to the 2009 catalog poetically capture the company’s guiding prophetic philosophy: “Together, in our own corners of the world, we can protect our natural resources while enjoying our own traditions, whether handed down, rekindled or begun for generations to come.” No ammunition manufacturer could offer more.
All Article by Michael Sabbath
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Sporting Clays Pros Staff