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NEW INTERNATIONAL HORIZONS FOR FOOTWEAR MACHINE PRODUCERS
There are those who suffer the crisis and those who, like the Italian footwear, leather goods and tannery machines and accessories industry, choose to transform it into an opportunity for creating a new mission based on exports.
The starting figures do not change in either case, but the perspectives do in a decisive way.
The economic report for the peak recession years for a sector such as that of footwear machines, which in the not-so-distant past controlled almost 50% of world production, came down like a sentence with no possibility of appeal: either you change direction or you're out of the market. Italy’s historically best tool machine production base has therefore chosen the first path, rolling up its sleeves and trusting primarily in offshoring for recovery.
“Internationalisation, sustained by a strict plan for the decentralisation of production,” explains Amilcare Baccini, director of Assomac, “has allowed a recovery in exports to emerge, with an increase of almost 70% in relation to the dire year of 2008. The oxygen provided by these exit strategies has also led the most accredited producers of subsidiary industry brands to opt for offshoring and has permitted the start of a global restructuring process, in a sector that had been brought to its knees by low-cost international competition.” As happens with every commercial challenge faced by a base of medium-small reference companies, there were those that were unable to cope. Nevertheless, as a counterpoint to these inevitable balance losses, the positioning of medium-scale exports was soon established, regaining ground in record times and sustained, in fact, by the entire range of offers in the sector. From leatherworking machines (up by 89.51%), to those for shoe manufacture and repair (up 65.59%) and specialised leather treatment equipment (up 110%), the trade balance trend for the first quarter of 2010, compared with the same period for the previous year, shows signs of wide recovery margins. The staggering rise in exports can hardly fail to bring a sigh of relief also to investors in the machine tool division.
“This is a sector evolution,” continues Baccini, “that involves all machine tool producers. The path towards internationalisation has been an obligatory process for all. The more structured companies have been able to respond better, the smaller ones less so, but overall the route has been marked out. Many of our producers have chosen to open up to markets such as China and Brazil, while others are seeking medium-small niches for quality products.” The domino effect of competition from giant producers, such as China and India, which aim at mass distribution (with 8 billion pairs of shoes produced annually by the former and 800 million by the latter), has led Italy to compensate for the size limit of many companies through chain agreements, and to turn in the direction of quality. The fall of trade barriers has contributed towards putting pressure on exports, whereas the crisis, for its part, has undermined confidence and obliged the sector to aim at new horizons. The necessity of “not feeling sorry for oneself” has nevertheless proved producers right, who even in front of the hard blow inflicted by the collapse of international markets have managed to reassess their roles and identify new areas of business.