Having the courage to build the best life for your family is something that Manuel Bernaschek has experience in. From humble beginnings, he has been willing to do what it took to create a rewarding and purposeful life for his family (wife Judy and daughter Aria). Through hard work and perseverance, he built himself up from a sales associate in a music store to the well-travelled purveyor of some of the most desired brands in the world.
At the music store, his entrepreneurial instinct was piqued when customers seeking pianos asked about the Italian-made Fazioli. After securing an investor to bring the brand to Vancouver, Bernaschek travelled to Italy to meet with the company’s founder, Paolo Fazioli, where his tenacity paid off and a deal was struck. He launched Showcase Pianos with his wife Judy, and they sold their first Fazioli within the month.
Not that sales came easily, though; it took hard work and diligence. Fast forward to today, with Westbank as a most desired client with a keen interest in Fazioli, Showcase Pianos is recognized as one of the top-selling Fazioli dealers in the world, which also sells its fair share of excellent European brands like Seiler, Grotrian, and C. Bechstein.
Some years ago, during a trip to Italy to visit the Fazioli factory, Manuel happened across a hotel window display showcasing neckties made by Stefano Ricci. He made it a point to repeatedly return to Stefano Ricci store each time he was in Italy to discuss the company and their pricey ties (400 euros). Eventually, he decided to seek out the Ricci family out to bring the ultra-luxury brand to its original and current location in downtown Vancouver’s Luxury Zone on West Georgia Street, across from the top-rated Shangri-La Hotel and next to the (now) Paradox Hotel.
Getting the Ricci’s approval took time as the family made him work for the opportunity to franchise their eclusive brand to the city. Eventually, they offered him the right to open a store if he agreed to carry the entire line. This meant not just ties, but fragrances, accessories (such as leather goods and cuff links) and home goods such as porcelain and crystal dinner services, silverware and luxury linens with every item in the store is made by hand in Italy, using the highest quality of materials, and then shipped to Canada. After a handshake deal with an investment partner went awry, Bernaschek opened his eagle head-adorned storefront with his new partners, the Ricci’s themselves.
Opening Stefano Ricci was the second strategic business move by Bernaschek in the luxury market. When asked about the reasoning behind taking such a significant risk on taking on the responsibility of a second luxury brand, Bernaschek reflected. “I thought it would help to have another equally exclusive and luxurious brand but at a lower price than a $150,000 piano. The Stefano Ricci brand is very exclusive and ultra-high quality. I see a great amount of crossover between the two businesses.” “People don’t mind paying a higher price for something that has some identifiable superiority to other products. In the case of both Fazioli and Stefano Ricci, it is immediately apparent that higher quality materials and workmanship were involved in their production.”
In his private office in the Stefano Ricci boutique, Bernaschek recalls the struggles. “It isn’t easy, you know. People think, look at him, the high roller. They don’t know how tough it is to make this work. They don’t always understand the life of an entrepreneur.”
IN HIS WORDS
“I don’t think I ever saw myself as an entrepreneur. I always viewed myself as a salesperson, and I enjoyed that quite a bit!
“My teen years were awkward (aren’t they for everyone, though!?), but there was one undertaking, now that I look back on it, that was embarrassing but I can definitely see how it foretold my sales savvy!
“In Junior High School, I started to think about what small amount of money your friends would give you without even thinking about it.
“It began like a social experiment. I wanted to see if people would give you their pennies, loose change, just by asking and how much would you end up with?
“So, I casually asked friends at school to give me their pennies, and they did. I would take them home and soon started to fill jars!
“People started to know me for that and would bring me jars of pennies from home, and others would just give me them without asking them for them because I started getting a reputation for collecting them.
“In the end, all the endless pennies I collected over the school year only amounted to around $80 – so I felt it was a lot of effort for a very little return. A good lesson to learn while still young.
“Growing up, my dad wasn’t like other dads who worked a job. He was a businessman and entrepreneur.
“He owned a Volvo dealership in Coquitlam and later an advanced driving school at the Westwood Racetrack. During those years, he was also involved with a company they called ‘The Spirit of Vancouver,’ which raised money to sponsor their chief driver from the driving school to enter The Molson Indy race when it was held in Vancouver.
“Even though the driver held many records at the Westwood racetrack, he didn’t win the Indy but did very well.
“As sponsors, we had stacks of ‘Paddock Passes,’ my dad gave my sister and me a stack each and told us to go out to the entrance and sell them to people coming to watch the Indy race.
“These passes get you into the area where all the drivers have their cars displayed to the public between races, but the pass itself doesn’t get you in the front door of the race.
“This was a fact that I forgot to disclose to one spectator. He gave me the money for the Paddock Pass and walked happily over to the front gate, where there was a disagreement with the ticket taker – and then the guest turned around and pointed at me. I knew I was in trouble! This incident reinforced in my mind that we must always be transparent and honest about what we sell.
“After high school, I chose to get into accounting because the logic of the numbers always made sense, and I enjoyed that.
“Once I graduated and got into actually working in accounting, I found it to be quite boring! On the hunt for a new job, I remember being offered two positions simultaneously.
“I had the opportunity to continue working as an accountant in a different company or choose to join a friend and start selling pianos. My friend Brad Gannon was doing very well at selling pianos; he had a natural talent for it, so I joined him.
“Years later, he got into selling real estate with his wife, and he continues to be a very good friend and to do very well on the North Shore.
“There is another dream I have that has yet to be realized – to bring an excellent Italian chocolate to Vancouver! Although I am not in the position to take on a new endeavour, it is always in the back of my mind.
“After I started selling pianos, I worked as a salesperson for this chocolate brand because I liked it so much. The Canadian importer for this brand was in Montreal; he would send me chocolate to sell and pay my commission in chocolate! LOL!
“Since launching Showcase Pianos and Stefano Ricci, my family’s lives have not changed very much. We live pretty simply, but we enjoy travelling as a family – so as the years have passed, we have been able to travel to more countries that we have never been to before.
“I will always remember our first year of operating Showcase Pianos, I had two primary goals. One was to get NUVO Magazine to write about Fazioli pianos, and the other was to get the Shangri-La Hotel to put a Fazioli piano in their lobby. I was able to accomplish both, but it took a tremendous amount of time and energy. I estimate that each took over 60 emails, phone calls, and personal visits.
“I am a firm believer in going for what you want. If you put in the work and are patient and diligent, doors will open, and success will come your way. Though, however you define success, is up to you.”
Images for this story provided by Manuel Bernaschek via photographer Lia Crowe.
- Helen Siwak is the founder of EcoLuxLuv Marketing & Communications Inc and publisher of Folio.YVR Luxury Lifestyle Magazine, PORTFOLIOY.YVR Business & Entrepreneurs Magazine, and digital women's lifestyle magazine EcoLuxLifestyle.co. She is a prolific content creator, consultant, and marketing and media strategist within the ecoluxury lifestyle niche. Post-pandemic, she has worked with many small to mid-sized plant-based/vegan brands to build their digital foundations and strategize content creation and business development. Helen is the west coast correspondent to Canada’s top-read industry magazine Retail-Insider, holds a vast freelance portfolio, and consults with many of the world’s luxury heritage brands. Always seeking new opportunities and challenges, you can email her at [email protected].
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