Mood Mixed at Expo Riva Schuh

RIVA DEL GARDA, Italy — Vendors and buyers issued somewhat contrasting prospects for the footwear industry at the 71st edition of Expo Riva Schuh, held here from Jan. 17-20.

While many exhibitors had a “not as bad as we feared” attitude and reported orders either stable or slightly lower than a year ago, some buyers said that in the current global recession they were reducing orders by double-digit amounts. In general, exhibitors and buyers said they expect tough economic times to continue through 2009 and at least into 2010.

Shimon Fedida, a buyer from Israel, said his orders are likely to be some 25 percent lower than a year ago “because of the economic situation and because of the high prices.”

Jorge Vicente, a buyer for Spanish retailer Caché, said business at home is “difficult because of the economic situation.” He said he was buying less and seeking better prices.

But not all retailers are cutting back on orders. Betina Claus, a buyer for Danish retailer Shoe-D-Vision, said she was likely to keep order quantities in line with last year and explained that her strategy this year was to focus on “safer, not so fancy” styles. In uncertain times, consumers become more conservative, she said, acknowledging that overall business is down.

A buyer for a large French retailer, who asked not to be named, said her focus was not on reducing orders but on working with alternative materials. “We’re cutting back on leather uppers,” the buyer said, adding that she was working with her Chinese suppliers to “get nice synthetic materials.” Price is a problem with Italian suppliers. “I wish I could buy everything from Italy,” said the buyer, “but to sell ballerinas at $15 and make margins, I need to work with China.”

Some buyers — who said they didn’t see many novelties at the show — noted that recent cold weather in Europe gave a needed boost to retail sales, helping shift product and reduce store stocks.

Christian Bahr, export manager for German manufacturer Marc Shoes, said that to combat the recession, producers need to “concentrate on their strengths,” make more efforts in on-time delivery and provide solutions for customers. “[Vendors shouldn’t] just sit and wait until the economy gets better,” Bahr said.

Some companies are looking at the recession as a way to expand. Mike Sheehan, managing director of Alt-Berg, a maker of high-end boots with plants in the U.K. and Italy, said he was looking for potential partners to help his company develop a new line of mid-market boots. Sheehan said the biggest problem for his company was not the recession but recent weakness in the pound.

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