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LUXURY FEMALE FOOTWEAR: ACTING IN CONSORTIUM IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS FOR THE RIVIERA DEL BRENTA DISTRICT
The recent history of the Riviera Del Brenta shoe district, located in Veneto between the provinces of Padua and Venice, demonstrates the importance of innovating production strategies by acting as a consortium rather than relying on individual initiatives, while remaining aware of the same time of each company’s limits. Gianpiero Menegazzo, director of Acrib, the trade association of shoe producers in the Riviera del Brenta area, explains the apparent paradox: “in 2006 we produced almost 22 million pairs of shoes, but this represents only a tiny part of the global volume of production, which is around 14 billion pairs”.
The approach towards foreign markets, therefore, must start from these premises: however important it may be for the Italian economy (11.5% of Italian shoes are made between Padua and Venice), on a global scale the luxury female footwear industry of Riviera del Brenta has only a marginal weight. “It is only by acting as a consortium and approaching foreign markets together – explains Mr Menegazzo – we can hope to be more successful in our export promotion strategy. One of Acrib’s associate, an Italian firm that holds seven licences for one of the most famous fashion designers and would be big enough to stand alone in the US, has chosen to participate in our showroom in New York with the other firms from the district. Why? Simple – says Acrib’s director – together we are all bigger and stronger”. As well as NY’s showroom, launched in 1998, another has been opened in Beijing in 2003, demonstrating the Association’s willingness to establish a collective presence in two strategic markets.
The first organisation to work on export promotion was the Consortium of the shoemaking masters of the Brenta area, set up in 1976. One of its many tasks is to organise marketing initiative in Italy and especially abroad. The consortium is a fundamental institution for an industrial district that derives almost 90% of its 1,750 million euros of global turnover (2006 figures) from sales outside Italy. Shoes from the Riviera del Brenta valley account for 52.3% of the shoe industry’s turnover in the Veneto region and for 14.8% on a national level. Considering the entire production network around the area – which as well as shoemakers includes accessory and model makers and retailing firms) the district contributes with 48.1% to the Veneto industry and 12.9% to the national one. “Our strong point is having set up a comprehensive production network of companies in a territorially concentrated area”.
In terms of figures, 2007 has been extremely positive. “Final statistics will only be available in March, but provisional indicators allow us to say that this last year was the best we had in the last 25 years, with a two-figure increase in output and almost 10% growth in earnings”. This exceptional performance was not borne out of coincidence. “Just in the last year – Mr Menegazzo underlines – we concluded a complex process of repositioning of our industries from the medium-high to the luxury sector of the market”. The strategy was pursued from the 90s, when the purchasing power of the traditional customer base of the shoemakers from the Brenta valley, began to decline: thus the main target market of the district entered into an irreversible crisis. “We were at the crossroads – remembers Mr Menegazzo – maintain our market share and move our production in countries with lower unit costs or keep our plants in Italy but targeting a different segment of the market”.
The second option prevailed. The shoemakers from Riviera del Brenta moved away from the production of ‘no-brand’ products and developed new distribution and production deals particularly with the major labels in fashion, which in some cases have bought local firms outright or provided capital in joint partnerships. Yet even those local entrepreneurs who have kept full ownership of their company have started to produce for famous designer, and there are very few who are still selling products through their own brand. Others – the smallest firms – have started to work in the name of other companies. The process of restructuring was not easy for a sector where there are only a few big players and very many small enterprises (746 in total as of 31st December 2006, 63.8% of all footwear firms in Veneto and 9.9% of those in the whole of Italy) with 17 employees each on average. On the whole, the district gives work to around 12.500 people.
The transformation process of the Riviera del Brenta shoe factories has only just starter. The industrial policy for the next years is to group together ‘third party’ firms to make shoes in the ”affordable luxury” sector of the market, just below designer labels. The idea is that those firms that today do not have the resources to produce on their own might be tempted by it. In this way it might be possible to match supply and demand in one of the highest corners of the market – though obviously non the top one – offering competitively priced goods thanks to new distribution and retailing initiatives.