CEO Summit: Execs Focus on China, Retail

The economy is ransacking corporate profits, but a few business executives are not afraid of what’s to come.

Foolish? Not really. Industry leaders, speaking on a panel that addressed footwear fundamentals at the CEO Summit, said they are focusing on long-range opportunities.

Bob Campbell, founder and CEO of BBC International, said he’s pressing ahead overseas.

“The international market has got to be a big part of your business today,” Campbell said. “The globe is getting much smaller.”

He said, for instance, that for every new license or brand BBC considers taking on, a global opening must exist. Currently, Campbell is in the process of expanding three brands internationally next year. Topping his list of countries is China.

Others agreed about mining the Chinese market. While that nation’s economic growth has stalled along with the rest of the world’s, China still has 1.3 billion people — all potential consumers. What’s more encouraging is that the majority of retail is mainly in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. That means firms have yet to dent the smaller regions.

For Joe Ouaknine, CEO of Titan Industries, China also is filled with ample sourcing opportunities. “A lot of factories we couldn’t get to [before because they were too busy] are now trying to do business with us,” said Ouaknine, who, in partnership with Campbell, is relaunching Charles Jourdan next month. “Yes, factories are closing, but there are good factories that are now available. It’s a time for opportunities. These can be good times.”

Panelists also stressed the importance of maintaining candid retail relationships.

“The key to being successful right now is to have transparency between our two businesses,” said Rick Graham, SVP of sales at Skechers, who joked about Chairman Robert Greenberg’s desire for rapid expansion into new categories. “The more transparent we are with each other, the better our business is.”

Dan Bazinet, CEO of Birkenstock USA, added, “Our relationships with independent stores are the most important relationships we have.”

He acknowledged his firm had mismanaged some of those relationships in the past, comparing Birkenstock’s actions to the Japanese worldview wabi-sabi. “It’s the art of imperfection, which we’ve mastered in the last five years,” Bazinet said. “Now we’re back on track to improving those relationships, managing inventory and doing what we can locally and nationally to support branding.”

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