When I was offered the chance to visit, and tour, the Beretta Factory in Gardone Val Trompia, it took less than a nanosecond to answer “yes please!”. I’ve been waiting like a kid anticipating Christmas morning since the offer was made and finally made the trip to Italy this week to experience a behind the scenes look into what really occurs at one of the world’s largest manufacturers of firearms.Gardone Val Trompia is a small town in the province of Brescia, in Lombardy, Italy. It is easily accessible from the UK thanks to the two airports in the locality; Malpensa (2 hours away) and Bergamo (one hour away). Ryanair was my airline of choice as their direct, low cost service ticked the majority of my boxes and despite a couple of hours delay on the outbound flight I got to Bergamo in one piece. The upside of the delay was that it gave me the chance to chat to my fellow exit-rowers and somehow get offered a lift from the airport to Brescia where I was staying, avoiding the challenge of negotiating the local public transport network.
Arriving at Brescia train station, I was greeted by Daniele from Beretta’s Marketing Department. Despite our original plans to go for dinner have been scuppered, an appetizing alternative presented itself in the form of my first experience of Piadina; a thin Italian flatbread filled with fresh meat, cheese and herbs, at the local Piadineria. Just what I needed after the extended travel schedule. Having eaten my fill, Daniele gave me a brief tour and then helped me check in to my hotel, where I settled down for the night, eagerly anticipating the events of the following day.
Breakfast was a traditional Italian affair washed down by some truly great coffee. I thought I knew my coffee before this trip but now I have a whole new level of appreciation for what really constitutes a good coffee! With breakfast digesting it was only a short walk down the street to meet up with Daniele a short distance from his apartment and grab a ride into Gardone Val Trompia to Beretta HQ.
Upon arrival at the main reception, you cannot help but be taken aback by the sheer beauty of the Beretta Villa and gardens, playing host to an integral part of the landscape and also facilitating the structure of the entrance hall, offices, private museum and affording a permanently available private residence to the Beretta family as and when required. Beretta employ almost one thousand staff at their facilities in Gardone Val Trompia. Yes, you read that correctly: “facilities”, two separate facilities that are a short car ride apart. Security, as expected, is tight and any plans to visit must be preceded by being invited and having made the necessary prior arrangements. One short conversation, a couple of handshakes and a security pass later and I was in!
Our first port of call was the Marketing Office where Daniele introduced me to some of his colleagues. The layout of the office was conducive to facilitate interaction between colleagues. The shelves were adorned with products past and present, along with a multitude of awards and memorabilia from previous product releases. The collective pride in their achievements and the passion behind promoting the brand were obvious.
As we had arrived early, we grabbed a quick coffee before heading off on the “tour”. The office section of the Villa is linked to the outer buildings by a series of corridors. As you walk from one area to another you are surrounded by examples of Berettas rich , and varied, history. A Beretta GTU Coupe is parked in one of the corridors, a symbolic gift from General Motors as part of the out of court settlement that they had with for trademark infringement involving their use of the Beretta name for a car. In addition, Beretta requested that the settlement fee of US$500,000 was donated by General Motors to a Beretta-sponsored charity which was also affiliated with the GM Cancer Research Foundation.
Walking towards production, the walls are decorated with assorted images of the factory in past decades, printed advertisements and posters of international success using Beretta products. Outside, a full size punt gun and boat resides, protected from the elements by a purpose built shelter and paying homage to regional hunting practises from yesteryear. En route to the “production” areas of the facility is a product portfolio area set up in the style of a Beretta Trade Show booth where all of the latest products are showcased. Overlooking this is a training room. On the day that I toured the facility Mario Contin, one of the company’s leading gunsmiths, was using the room to train local Italian Dealers on the finer arts of setting up DT11’s and 692’s. It’s a hard life!
In terms of the production process, we actually toured the facility in reverse, as entering the main production facility gave us access to dedicated areas for final assembly, packaging and the warehouse. The warehouse was stocked from floor to ceiling and reminded me of the first time I visited Hamleys in London as a child! The packaging area sees the product packaged in its specific case and/or box, along with all of the corresponding items such as oil, tools and manuals. Every gun is weighed, and the model details such as serial number and other specifications are recorded accordingly.
Final assembly is buzzing with activity; batches of already assembled components such as barrel sets, actions, stocks and forends are integrated into completed production shotguns. The flow of parts throughout the area is as impressive to behold as the workmanship on display. Everything is fitted by handed, then checked and checked again as it passes through the assembly area. Quality control just does not do the process justice; it simply has to be perfect and to be honest this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to how deeply that ethos runs throughout the company as these are the “standard” production guns…
It was great to see a batch of guns destined for GMK, Berettas sister company in the UK, being final assembled and tested whilst I was there. The demand for new Berettas in England is clearly strong as the range of guns that I saw labelled up bound for English shores included 692’s and the brand new 690 Field III, which was previewed at the CLA Game Fair earlier this year and will be available throughout Europe just in time for the commencement of the game shooting season.
Heading deeper into the heart of the factory and you are greeted by the magnitude of Berettas machine shop. Capable of running 24 hours a day for 365 days per year the sheer production capability of the company is breath-taking. Aside from the functionality of the space, it was surprising to see the that intermingled with the CNC machines were areas displaying exactly what the machines were actually producing. Where multiple stages of machining are required, examples of each stage are shown, highlighting the heightened level of detail that each pass of the tooling brings. A comprehensive view of the main machine shop can be found on Beretta’s new interactive App: http://www.beretta.com/en/world-of-beretta/app-beretta/
One of the most interesting processes involved the fabrication of Berettas sets of barrels. Each barrel starts life as a solid cylinder on metal and is extruded into the profile that we are much more accustomed to. The machine performing the process is easily visible as you traverse the shop floor and the extrusion process is mesmerizing to behold. Creating a “set” of barrels for an Over/Under from a pair of tubes is an art in itself ensuring that everything is lined up correctly prior to the “assembly” being heat treated. The barrel set is then ready for a series of cleaning and coating processes; prior to being polished by hand and checked by eye for any imperfections.
With part one of the tour completed we strolled back to the Marketing Office and Daniele made the necessary arrangements to borrow a company car to take us onwards to “Beretta Due”; a second industrial estate that is home to the Gun Service facility, the Premium Gun sections, the Master Engravers and the other brands that Beretta owns. Security, as expected, is strict seeing us physically scanned upon leaving the main facility and stopped at the entrance of Beretta Due to validate our reason for wanting to be there.
The tour of Beretta Due began in the Gun Service area. Walking into the building you cannot help but notice the are immediately greeted by the huge Beretta Shooting Stars Banner covering the corner of the woodwork room and emblazoned with signatures of Berettas world class sponsored shooters, past and present. I offered to sign it but Daniele politely declined:
At the very front of the building is a showroom, showcasing the latest clothing, accessories and guns. A central walkway leads to the main service counter; the interface that allows both the public and the trade to bring their guns in to be serviced or repaired directly by the manufacturer. Either side of the central walkway are glass fronted workshops; one specialising in repairs relating to stocks, forends and chequering on the left and one dedicated to DT11 wood fitting on the right.
We were greeted by Claudio, the After Sales Service Manager. He escorted us into the Premium Showroom where numerous examples of Berettas custom capability were on show waiting to entice new owners. Thank goodness I didn’t have a bigger limit on my credit card as this could have swiftly turned into a very expensive (but even more fantastic) trip!
Exiting the Premium Showroom, you step into an area that plays host to DT11 metal fabrication, stock and forend finishing and a very special glass walled room, where the temperature and humidity are controlled, filled with an assortment of both stock blanks as well as finished stocks and forends awaiting final fitting. The blanks were “graded” and the picture below of a small selection of mid-grade blanks does not do their beauty justice:
If I had been asked before I embarked on this visit if I was in the market for another gun I would have laughed. Having seen the current DT range being produced at each and every stage of the process, my perspective has been changed. I now feel enlightened as to the workmanship invested in each DT along with the sheer volume of skill, determination and experience from each pair of hands and every set of eyes that are involved in the process. Completely agog, Daniele dragged me away, to allow us to continue the tour.
Beretta operate an initiative whereby they take on apprentice engravers and teach them the art of emblazoning their shotguns with scroll work, game scenes and anything else that the customers imagination demands. The apprentices are schooled on the various techniques by Master Engraver Luca, and the process takes up to four years to be deemed “ready” to be capable of engraving Premium guns for customers.
The level of skill that each member of staff demonstrates is breath taking; I was literally mesmerized watching an SO side plate panel being engraved with a scene depicting multiple Sea Eagles hunting. Engraving, or more exactly what constitutes tasteful engraving, is a very individual concern, so it is no surprise that there are some more flamboyant options on offer such as the one depicted below:
Keen to make the most of my time, Daniele cracked the whip and we jumped back in the Maserati (I wish!) and were back at the main office in minutes. A brief exchange of keys permitted us entrance to the private museum, situated on the first floor of the villa. If I had an entire week to spend in the museum it still would be insufficient to fully appreciate the guns on display. Handguns, punt guns, shotguns and semi-automatic guns were all on display, all of them owned by the Beretta family or donated by aficionados of the brand. One of the most interest facts that Daniele divulged was that the cabinets used to display the guns in the museum were originally utilised at Beretta trade shows for the same purpose!
Unbelievably it was still before lunch, so we elected to call back to the office, drop of the Premium Catalogue that Claudio has kindly given me, and begin to make our way towards the canteen for some sustenance. With so many employees on site, it would be impractical for everyone to vacate the premises for lunch, so we headed to the on-site canteen. I am by no means a fussy eater, but the quality of food was as good as the ability of the staff to understand my very broken Italian; excellent! The opportunity to indulge in another coffee after lunch was not wasted and it provided an opportunity to chat with Daniele’s colleagues Luisa and Chiara, both of whom thoroughly impressed me with their knowledge of the industry and their products.
The walk back to the office afforded me another opportunity to absorb and appreciate the enormity of Berettas facility. The sheer scale of the operation is matched by the company’s’ combined understanding of the evolving market place and how best to meet its continually changing demands. The final portion of my time at Beretta was spent talking shop with Paolo Buffoli, the Head of Marketing and Communications. After only a short time, it was easy to appreciate exactly why Paolo’s staff are so motivated and their work ethos so effective.
I feel incredibly honoured to have been invited to get an insight of how things are done the Beretta way. It was a truly enjoyable experience throughout, enhanced enormously by the people that I met. Their shared passion for the brand is the essence of Beretta to me and I am indebted to Daniele and Paolo for making the trip possible.