Gucci eyes luxury tableware market with Richard Ginori rescue

MILAN (Reuters) - Italian luxury house Gucci is banking on reviving centuries-old porcelain maker Richard Ginori to play catch-up with rivals in the global luxury houseware market.

Ginori, which went bust in January, will be re-equipped by Gucci which has offered to pay 13 million euros ($17 million) for the company, founded nearly 280 years ago, with the aim of reinvigorating the name and boosting it on overseas markets.

"This is only the beginning of the story. Richard Ginori is the Ferrari of porcelain goods, it is a luxury brand," said Gucci Chief Executive Patrizio di Marco at the presentation of the deal on Tuesday.

"Richard Ginori is like a giant hurt by years of wrong strategies. It needed to be saved."

Gucci, best known for its high luxury clothes and bags, has fallen behind in the upscale tableware sector where Versace and Giorgio Armani diversified decades ago to grab a bigger share of the global luxury goods market.

Global sales of luxury tableware are expected to increase only 2 percent in 2013, the lowest growth among the various luxury goods segments, according to a consensus by Italy's trade association Altagamma.

But di Marco was upbeat.

"The tableware market has changed and there is a lot to innovate," di Marco said.

Gucci, owned by French group PPR <PRTP.PA>, plans to keep 230 out of 308 jobs at Ginori's main plant near Florence.

But di Marco said he did not see producing under licence for other brands as a core activity for the company, which also makes tableware for Missoni.

Di Marco said he expected Gucci and Richard Ginori to work together again after the two brands created chinaware in delicate floral motifs in the early 1980s.

Richard Ginori, which went bankrupt after a previous offer by a consortium led by American tabletop maker Lenox Corp fell through, had net debt of 14.9 million euros at the end of 2011 and booked revenues of 44 million euros that year.

The company, which has worked with designers such as Gio Ponti and Giugiaro, was first rescued in 2007 by Italian investor Roberto Villa, who restructured the company and brought it back to the stock market in 2009.

But the credit squeeze during the financial crisis weighed on its relaunch.

The deal is expected to complete on May 22.

(Reporting by Antonella Ciancio; Editing by David Cowell)