Katonah, New York resident Palma Settimi spent 10 years working as a comptroller for an Italian Apparel firm before a third child made her career unmanageable. “I quit,” she says to take care of my children. Only one perceptive colleague told Settimi that she wasn’t the stay at home type – suggesting she get a fax machine and a computer to take care of one of her former companies. “So I did,” she says, and 19 years later Palma Settimi, Inc. acts as an outsourcing firm that caters to dozens of Italian based clothing companies.
Clarifying – not to evoke the negative connotation outsourcing has in America – Palma Settimi, Inc. (PSI) serves as intermediary between their Italian clothing manufacturing clients and the retailers they supply in America. Initially operating out of her basement and now moving to a 5000 square foot building in Brewster, “We’re a very unique, niche business,” she says, and minimizing the many issues that the gap in time and distance create is their model.
Large companies like Armani can send out their own Manhattan staff to determine the business viability of a retailer in midtown but small Italian companies with far less reach are prisoners to out of date credit reports from private credit rating services. “Salesmen go out and sell but they don’t know if it’s a good sell,” she says.
That knowledge is central to their employer needs back in Italy. Having decades of experience in the industry and a large portfolio of contacts, Settimi can certainly offer a keener insight to good and bad credit risks.
Either way, collection issues can seem to amplify the actual distance between Italy and final payment. To address, foreign companies employ “factors” to do collections. In comparison, their efforts seems one dimensional to PSI’s comprehensive package.
Factors collect and post an invoice, while Ms. Settimi provides more of a customer service connection that simplifies things for both her employers and the retailers they supply. In fact, she says, “Some retail owners themselves are so happy to work with us because we can iron out any problems they have with an incorrect shipment or mistakes made by salesmen.”
On the other hand, a factor falls out of the loop in the event of a dispute and charges back the invoice. PSI also can provide pertinent information to retail agents on the latest shipment long after Italy has gone to sleep.
And Ms. Settimi’s clients can say plenty about the service they receive. PSI receives an order, a credit check is run, then arrange for a security deposit and set the terms of the sale. Italy thus goes into production, and PSI sets up the shipping and collects the money before depositing the check.
Still, lots can happen that drive up costs and cut into a manufacturer’s monetary hemline. Large retailers like Sachs, Barney’s and Bloomingdale’s can have complicated shipping guidelines, which PSI are well versed in. “There’s procedures and manuals and manuals to follow when you’re shipping,” she says, and the mistakes add up in the form of fees charged back from the retailer.
Dollar exchange rate fluctuations also compound matters – especially in regards to collection issues. PSI’s proximity and streamlined procedures easily exceed the random salesperson or factor chasing down bad debts. Order confirmations are quickly in hand, and 20 or 30 days of normal dollar drops are avoided with PSI directly depositing checks into the local Italian branch.
As for emerging from the basement of her house to an office on Fields Lane and now the larger space in Brewster, she sees no reason to fear expansion in the slow economy. “There’s always going to be a market for high end luxury,” she says, and 20 years speaking on behalf of those offering the best in fashion, will provide the same stability for the company’s future.
Rich Monetti interview of Palma Settimi