It is a double anniversary for Claudio Bonazza this year. In 1961 Claudio and his brother Ugo started the company known as Dina Meri (named for Claudio's wife Dina and her sister Meri) in Venice, Italy. And in 1981, Claudio officially moved into the U.S. market by setting up shop in Costa Mesa, Calif. So while 2001 is the company's 20th an­niversary in the states, it is also the company's 40th anniversary—in Italy. Also known as Venice Trading Company, Dina Meri consists of a 50,000-square-foot facility in Italy, a 45,000-square-foot facto­ry in California, and most recently a manufacturing facility in Mexico. That's pretty good for an Italian chemist who started out making and selling wigs.

It's your basic love story. Claudio was a chemist; Dina was a stylist. They opened a few salons; he began making products for her to use in her salon out of his garage. Then some­one became interested in distributing the products and they opened a lab. He soon began making and selling wigs—first in the salon and soon in depart­ment stores throughout Italy. This lasted for about two years before he began designing equipment for salons. Claudio spent time talking to his wife and other stylists and technicians to see what they needed. He made his products then, as he does now, from a plastic mold that can be reused over and over again. Thus, the beginning of what Dina Meri is today.

Claudio Bonazza is a chameleon of sorts. He changes with the times, he finds that great idea and he rides it as far as it will take him. Along with his wife Dina and their daughter, Monica, he spent some time in the 70s traveling to faraway places like Turkey, Iran, and India. Through­out his travels, he always kept his eyes open for items that he could buy and send back to Italy to sell.

In 1980, he came to the United States to attend the IBS Show in New York. It was there that he met a man who was selling beads for women's hair. (It was right around the time the Bo Derek movie "10" came out.) When he re­turned to Italy, he began producing and selling these beads. This turned out to be what we, in America, call a cash cow. Although the fad lasted only a few months, it was enough for Claudio to pay off his debts. But when the fasci­nation with hair beads died, he was left with liter­ally millions of beads. So he began making beaded hair accessories — these too sold like wild fire.

On vacation in Califor­nia in 1981, he decided that he would sell his products in the United States. He went to IBS New York for his second time—this time looking for reps for his carts and hair accessories (which he began manufacturing after the hair beads went out of style). He found an Italian rep in Texas and net­worked through him to find others. By 1983, he re­alized that he couldn't run both the Italian and Amer­ican companies from Italy. So Ugo stayed in Italy to run the Italian facility and Claudio went west—to Southern California.

The company now man­ufactures primarily salon equipment—including roll-abouts, manicure ta­bles, styling chairs, cabi­nets, and private label dis­plays and carts—but I wouldn't put it past Clau­dio to come up with a new craze any day now.

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