The end of the Italian adventure

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I was amazed at how quickly I felt at home in Italy, which made leaving quite a challenge.

After returning from Rome, we had time to go over the quantities sold and the net amount made from the event. This provided very good market research, and it was obvious which products people liked over the weekend, which served as a good indication of the types of beers to produce in the future.

It was then time to prepare for the biggest event in Arcidosso’s annual calendar, festival della castagna (the chestnut festival). Arcidosso is surrounded by mountains and nature. Walking through the woods upon leaving the village, as well as the vineyards and olive trees, it is hard to get away from chestnut trees. Mid-end October is the perfect time to enjoy them, so each village has a large chestnut festival, and Arcidosso’s is one of the biggest. Ordinarily the streets are filled with a handful of people scattered around; there are only around 2,000 inhabitants after all. But the chestnut festival attracts huge numbers of people, some of whom have travelled long distances to attend the event.

Several companies open up ‘cantinas’, small pop up shops which sell food and drink. As one of Birra Amiata’s main products is a chestnut beer, then this is obviously a key annual selling point which the company relies on in order to be sustainable through quieter months.  The event had been spoken about for some time, and production seemed to double in the lead up to the week as well as several hours spent organising and stocking the cantina.

The weekend didn’t disappoint; the streets full of tourists eager to eat chestnuts and enjoy the food, drink and music on offer. I personally had a fantastic time and it served as the perfect end to my Italian adventure. From a commercial point of view, I know that Birra Amiata did exceptionally well, which proved to be the icing on the cake for me.

It was with a heavy heart (and slightly sore head) that I embarked on my 11 hour journey back to the UK the following day. My trip involved buses, trains, lots of waiting around (making the most of the final sun I’d see in a few months) and a typically bumpy Ryanair flight.

Friends and family have since asked me what I learnt. They often phrase a question along the lines of ‘so you clearly enjoyed yourself, ate and drank a lot and met some great people, but did you actually learn anything which will be beneficial to your UK business’. I pause and reflect upon the question for a moment and realise how much I got out of it as a learning experience. I got to witness a full production operation in action, I saw the importance of a strong supply and distribution chain, I saw how they market their products and generate sales and I saw how they control cash flow and employ staff in a very difficult economic climate. When I then add the by-products of the trip: the fact that I sampled and now know what real spaghetti carbonara, pizza and coffee should taste like, that I learnt some incredible values which has changed my outlook on life and that I can now get by in Italian, then my answer is a resounding yes!

I genuinely believe that in my short time away in Italy, I learnt more about business than I ever did in education. That takes nothing away from some excellent lecturers, modules and content, but that proves a foundation, and in my opinion, the best way to experience business, life and to challenge yourself is to go to a country that you’ve never been to, with a language you don’t speak and work with a small business in the industry you want to work.

This blog is also available on the Kindle Store and you can follow me on Twitter (@benpfsmith) to find out more or get in touch

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