Luca Vezzaro is an Italian wood artist who has been residing in the Philippines for the past two decades. He is the founder of Four Legged Tiles, which was launched in 2017, specializing in the production of handcrafted wooden tiles, wall art decors, and tiled accent furniture. The early part of 2020 would have been the start of something big for Four Legged Tiles, but as everyone has experienced, this pandemic spared no industry, no livelihood, and no individual.
Four Legged Tiles was supposed to join the March edition of the Philippine International Furniture Show (PIFS), set at the SMX Convention Center. The most prestigious furniture event in the country had to give way to the lockdown, shutting its door a few days before its official opening.
A few weeks prior to the event, Luca says he was very happy as he had prepared many new collections of unique, innovative, and exclusive lines of handcrafted, handcarved, and handpainted wooden tiles, which can become part of wall art decor, wall accents, and claddings.
“We were very excited to present and launch these new collections into the local market, so the lockdown news came as a shock—a lightning bolt out of the blue,” Luca says. “We initially didn’t know what could and would have happened, not just to our company and operations, but to the local and world economy, as we both export and also sell our products locally. We never imagined that an unknown virus could create such a mess in our personal and professional lives.”
Uncertainty and surprise
Like other business owners, Luca was filled with worry and anxiety during the first few weeks of the nationwide lockdown. He realized, however, that worrying wouldn’t do much to change the situation. So what he did was to immediately offer the new collections through the company’s existing online marketing platforms.
“We felt that for innovative products like ours, we could still find a market, despite the limitations of the lockdown and a suffering economy,” he says.
In the words of Luca, it is in crises and times of difficulties that one has to show courage, persistence, and determination. This kind of determination paid off and he, together with his team, was very surprised with the outcome.
“To our surprise, we registered an increase in sales during the three first months of the lockdown (March to May). I was very blessed and lucky that all our professional in-house carpenters spent the three months of lockdown at the company’s in-house accommodation.”
The company’s workers not only received their salaries, but also essential goods. They were also provided with cellphone load for them to be able to regularly communicate with their loved ones.
More than determination, Luca also credited “readiness” as they kept a huge inventory of raw materials, which allowed them to produce all the new orders received during the lockdown.
“Shipments were organized as soon as we were able to officially restart our operations under the new normal, which occurred in the Laguna area in mid-June. All our clients were not only understanding but also very cooperative. That made our life easier!”
As the prolonged pandemic extended various restrictions, Four Legged Tiles also learned to adapt to the times. “What I missed most was the meeting with clients, making presentations of our products, and showing off our new collections. But as the need rose to substitute these activities with online chats and meetings, this new normal way of doing business was rapidly adopted by all involved parties.”
Filipinos, Luca observes, are “fantastic in adapting to new situations and are brilliant users of social media platforms, which can be seen in our Facebook page, where our audience is growing every single day.”
‘As long as you believe in what you do and you love your work unconditionally, you won’t fail. Nothing will stop your success, not even a terrible virus!’
“After six months of the pandemic, we are grateful that we were not drastically impacted by the health crisis. Orders came in on a weekly basis and our workers were busy. That helped ease the psychological impact that the lockdown might have had. I was in touch with them, through video calls, on a daily basis. They needed not only to be busy, but also to feel cared for,” he says.
Lessons and hopes
The pandemic has taught Luca a lot of lessons, even observing the behavior of Filipino homeowners. “Those who were stuck at home for a long time spent more ‘quality’ time browsing the Internet and paid more attention to products that could satisfy their need to embellish their new world and, in many cases, their new working place: the home.”
With this keen observation, Luca says his passion was ignited to further develop products that could reach a wider audience and stimulate their interest.
“If their house was, and is, the place where they spend most of the day, we want them to make it a beautiful environment. With the help of our products, their living spaces could become a joy in their eyes,” he says. “I created new concepts and products because a few years back, I thought that the furniture world was already ‘crowded’ and too competitive. So I created a product that didn’t exist—an artistic product for the embellishment of walls, headboards, and furniture tops. But we succeeded and our works were appreciated.”
Luca’s motto in life, he shares, is “as long as you believe in what you do and you love your work unconditionally, you won’t fail.”
“Nothing will stop your success, not even a terrible virus!” he says.
As for the furniture industry, Luca is optimistic that local manufacturers such as his company would survive this crisis. And this is in big part due to the “very talented Filipino designers and craftsmen, who would continue to come up with unique and innovative concepts.”