Retailers Stay Cautious at Expo Riva Schuh

RIVA DEL GARDA, Italy — The mood among Italian vendors and retailers was mixed at the most recent edition of Expo Riva Schuh, held here earlier this month.

While some players were hopeful that the economy is starting to brighten, most buyers and exhibitors were still cautious about business in the near term.

“Retailers are quite frightened at the moment,” said Luca De Pietri, buyer and owner of De Pietri Srl, based in Vezzano, Italy. “Some are facing liquidity problems.” De Pietri, who sells to roughly 250 small- and medium-sized retailers, in some cases is seeing a 40 percent drop in orders.

Paulo Gonçalves, buyer and CEO of Portugal-based retailer Egoista, said his firm is cutting inventories by about 30 percent compared with last year, given the poor economy.

But on the bright side, Gonçalves, whose firm operates 11 retail stores in Portugal, noted that the poor economy has lowered real-estate prices and that finding spaces to rent in shopping malls is easier. “If you have the capacity to invest now, you should,” he said, adding that he thinks the crisis will be over by 2010.

A senior buyer for Bata in Spain, who asked not to be named, was more positive and was increasing orders for spring ’10 by 15 percent compared with the previous year. “We’re optimistic,” he said. “Those who [have sound strategies] will survive the crisis.”

Giordano Gironacci, CEO of Italian manufacturer Melania, was also cautiously optimistic. “The market certainly isn’t growing. However, our good customers are ordering on the same level as last year.”

Others were decidedly more positive. “The trend is slightly decreasing in volume, but the number of customers [at Riva] is the same,” said François Leguerinel, export manager for France’s Groupe Royer. “We’re not hit as hard as we thought.”

Groupe Royer, which own brands Kickers, Mod8 and Charles Jourdan and licenses Hello Kitty, Vuarnet, Naf Naf and Disney, among others, has adopted an aggressive strategy, including making acquisitions and expanding its retail base by signing agreements with Zara operator Inditex and European retail giant C&A.

With weaker players dropping out of the market, the stronger ones are investing in their products and retail chains.

Gianluca Chessa, sales manager of Italian producer Edilsport SpA, said his company is acquiring new licenses. In Riva he presented a new line of Carrera-branded sports-casual shoes for men. “The shoe sector, especially in Italy, has already been through a major restructuring,” Chessa said. “Those who are left will be ready to take off when the economy improves.”

Alessandro Borrelli, buying director for the women’s department at Canadian firm Browns, had a simple strategy for the recession: “You have to keep exciting customers with new products. If you do that, you can survive.”

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