Malaguti USA

Breaking into the Market: The New School Entrepreneurs
By Vert James


In a time when gas prices are driving the masses back to the days of carpooling and public transit, a name like Vespa is reforming itself to mean more of a transportation alternative than a piece of nostalgia. Scooters are just beginning to receive major attention right now in the US and for more reasons than our tradition of stealing anything that is cool and European. With gas prices and traffic through the roof, the scooter market is set to explode.

Many Americans have already heard about Vespa coming back into the market with a new corporate feel and slick boutiques featuring classic models and cappuccino machines at every location. However, the hot topic in the scooter scene is the name Malaguti. Unless you are a fan of elite motor engine and body models, or a connoisseur of sought after Italian quality, you are probably unfamiliar with this brand of scooters. This will soon change.

Malaguti is Italy’s third largest scooter brand and was recently introduced into the US market by a group of young, energetic college grads from the University of Florida. Apparently, college got boring after the first two years and it only seemed logical to these real-world newborns to start a business. Today, their communal attitude and youthful spirit continue to drive Malaguti USA forward at a mind-blowing rate. The company’s focus is to stick to the young, growing scooter crowd and offer Italian Scooters at American prices. While Vespa’s new US models start at $3,000, the Malaguti’s average $2700. They have also embraced the traditional scooter crowd, ensuring an incredible amount of street credibility, something the young executives noticed that Vespa lost when it sued small Vespa shop owners last year for name infringement. “Sure we want to make a buck,” said Ian Kirby, a Malaguti USA marketing executive, “but we’ve seen not only the scooter market, but most all of America, turn into a pathetic corporate wasteland.

At Malaguti USA we’ve embraced the extremely simple idea that if everyone is happy, from my coworkers to our customers, then we can’t go wrong.” This philosophy seems to be carrying Kirby and the rest of Malaguti USA to the top of their game faster than they realize.

How Malaguti Arrived In the States

Growing up in Miami, Joel Martin recognized scooters, a vehicle analogous with a European lifestyle, as part of his everyday being. Helping father Froilan and grandfather Manuel run a small scooter outlet in Miami, Martin became a natural expert in motor scooters and the related business. In college, he was approached by Malaguti and was asked to do American market research for the Italian firm. His college career was already highlighted by marketing internships at companies like Coke and Sony and so it came naturally to him to try to find a market for the Italian scooters. After consideration and the following realization of the huge potential for an American scooter market, Martin asked his friends Chris Esposito and Ian Kirby for help in looking for marketing opportunities for scooters in the US. Immediately, Esposito, Kirby and Martin turned their small DJ entertainment company that they ran for extra cash into a PR firm for the Malaguti scooter empire. In January they launched the Malaguti USA brand and have been hard under pressure to keep up with demand since they started.

When questioned about the birth and development Malaguti USA, Esposito said, “Most of our friends left college regretting the fact that they didn’t drink enough beer. I left regretting that I didn’t turn my DJ business into a PR firm that handles international accounts earlier. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation—my hobby has turned into my career.” Kirby added, “Everyday, we wake up and know that we are making our living doing exactly what we want to do. California is whining about the energy crisis but we’re loving it. It’s funny, people didn’t think scooters would sell, but now that gas prices are up everyone wants an Italian scooter.”

Since Graduation they have been turning down jobs left and right. The trio has omitted positions at marketing firms and youth-oriented websites. “The temptation’s always there—job security, company cars—that sort of thing, but that’s submitting to the rat race. Where’s the adventure?” Joel Martin, president of Malaguti USA asked. He continued, “We’re actually pretty lucky that we haven’t hopped on any of the corporate opportunities that have been offered to us. All my friends who left for the dot com field are now looking for jobs; we followed our hearts and were doing okay. It’s not about money.”

While the classically trained businessman would most likely frown upon the Malaguti USA marketing and promotional strategy, many established marketing experts are highly impressed by the innovative approach the young firm uses to promote itself. Their first event was the Indiana Motorcycle show at the RCA dome in February. While companies like Yamaha and Harley Davidson had expensive and flashy setups, the Malaguti team knew they would need something more if they were to attract the attention they were looking for. Using industry connections, their booth included a light show and a constant live performance by DJ Factor E who recently went on the road with the MTV Campus Invasion Tour. The Malaguti booth received national rave reviews and was voted one of the best booths at the event.

Their second event soon followed in March with Playboy Magazine’s Spring Break on South Padre Island, Texas. Playboy Playmates paraded around the island for the entire week on the hottest new scooter brand around. Esposito, Kirby and Martin personally escorted the Playboy limousine wherever the Playmates went on the island. The event received international headlines in the motorcycle and scooter press, on top of being featured on Playboy.com.

Malaguti USA opened its US headquarters in Miami, Florida where Martin’s family scooter shop was located. Malaguti SpA has been so impressed by Martin’s work, it extended Martin’s contract and asked him to set up all of North America to receive the giant scooter brand. His first mission was to send out Kirby and Esposito to open up the West Coast offices. Before this could happen, the Malaguti events reached the ear of Playboy’s president Cindy Rakowitz who offered to take on the Malaguti cause. She hired Chris Esposito as her Event and Program Coordinator for a new Marketing, PR company called RakNRoll (www.RakNRoll.com) Thanks to the new PR firm Malaguti is now making a name for itself outside of the scooter crowd. “With RakNRoll’s help we will be able to develop the brand to the point where it’s at in Europe in a shorter time. People know that Italian scooters are the best there is in style and quality, and it’s up to us to show them there’s more out there than just Vespa,” commented Esposito.

The next large event featuring Malaguti will be the Ducati World Weekend in Nevada this October. Hundreds of thousands of motorcycle fans will flock to the Vegas racetrack from all over the world to participate in the event. Malaguti USA just reached an exclusive licensing deal and promotional agreement with Ducati North America to be its official scooter. Malaguti will also be launching a line of limited edition US Ducati replica scooters for collectors this fall, all of which will have high exposure at the World Weekend.

In the meantime, Esposito, Kirby and Martin continue to run Malaguti USA in their own particular manner. Said Kirby, “It’s not an issue of Malaguti adjusting to the business and consumer here; it’s an issue of us retraining the American market to embrace the product we have and the way we do business. And it couldn’t be going better.” With that Kirby had to excuse himself. He said that he was on his way to the beach to meet Esposito—in the middle of the business day. “That’s what we do. We run our business on the precept that if we’re happy ourselves then everyone else will be happy with us.” Martin emphasized this in a separate interview saying, “At Malaguti we like to think that if it’s not getting better, you’re not doing it right.” After a laugh he said, “Well, it’s getting better.”

Not bad for a few kids who three months ago were looking for change to order a pizza.

All pictures courtesy of Malaguti USA

A novelist and scooter enthusiast, Vert James’ one goal in life is to be credited with inventing the bumper sticker slogan: I’d Rather Be…

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