In 2000, Laitmon was named as the U.S. representative for Piaggio & Co. SpA, maker of the Vespa motor scooter. The assignment: To re-launch the Vespa brand in the United States after a 20-year absence. The Laitmon team developed the business and marketing plan, created a website, established a national dealer sales network and set up a back-end and port-of-entry infrastructure. Concurrently, we began advertising, public relations, sales promotion, branding and co-branding initiatives. Most importantly, we forged strategic alliances with such high-end co-marketing partners as Neiman Marcus, The Sharper Image, Hammacher Schlemmer and Coach. (To date, Vespa's current most successful dealers are still among the original 25 selected by us)
Initially, Piaggio planned to locate Vespa's U.S. office in New York City. After a 20-year absence from the U.S. market, it seemed the logical choice: Of all American cities, New York's urban sophistication and large Italian-American population most closely mirrors the vitality of Rome or Milan, where Vespa had proven extremely successful since its launch in 1946.
However, when Laitmon was brought on board, the plan was to change. We recognized that Los Angeles, with its unique blend of warm weather, access to celebrities and branding/promotional opportunities was a better choice. It also had more members of scooter clubs and enthusiasts than in any other U.S. city and leveraged Vespa's role in the 1953 movie classic "Roman Holiday." The film had not only introduced American audiences to Audrey Hepburn (starring with Gregory Peck), it also starred the Vespa.
This switch was not an easy sell, but its successful implementation was a significant factor in Vespa's rapid U.S. success. Once this decision had been made, the next step was launching www.VespaUSA.com to showcase Vespa scooters and accessories for potential consumers and dealers, while building a database of early adopters. Laitmon selected the web developers and directed all aspects of the site's construction, ensuring the appropriate tone for this lifestyle brand.
As a result, by the time the first Vespa boutique opened in November 2000, the website had registered more than 7,000 consumers interested in learning more about Vespa. The boutique not only showcased the scooters, but did so alongside a line of clothing and accessories that lent a hip lifestyle context.
The Vespa boutique opening was coordinated with a themed launch party at the Paramount Studios movie lot where Roman Holiday was filmed; creating the perfect venue for the slogan "Everything old is new again." It was a star-studded, evening with Vespa center-stage. Featured guests included Audrey Hepburn's son and Gregory Peck's daughter, aboard a Vespa in homage to their parents' appearance in "Roman Holiday."
The opening generated a phenomenal amount of media coverage through the public relations firm retained by Laitmon. We then activated the 25 highly-qualified dealers selected to roll out the Vespa boutique concept. This distribution model was to prove so successful that the network grew to 50 boutiques in its second year of operations, selling 9,000 units and reaffirming Vespa as the U.S. market leader.