European Firms Face Evolving Chinese Market

SHANGHAI — European exhibitors attending The Micam Shanghai here last week were still learning how to navigate China’s highly complex and segmented market.

Manuele Venturucci, managing director of Calzaturificio Gabriele, said that though the fair is valuable, a China strategy must involve more than just turning up at Micam twice a year. “The mentality in China is totally different,” Venturucci said. “You show the collection, and if they like the product, you [have to] arrange other appointments and carry on beyond the show.”

Marco Butteri, a sales representative for Gianfranco Butteri, said his firm has learned a lot in its three trips to Micam in Shanghai, though it hasn’t been enough to completely demystify the market. “The strategy is still not clear — how we should work in China, how to find the retail shops or distributors,” he said. “Of course, there is a desire here for Italian shoes, but it can be difficult for [retailers in China] to understand how to sell products like ours.”

One company that is helping small- and medium-sized Italian footwear manufacturers to reach Chinese consumers is Italian Fashion Galleria, a multibrand, multichannel platform exclusively selling Italian-made footwear, leather goods and accessories.

Edwin Png, GM of Goddess Group — owner of IFG — said he is bullish about the potential for European-made products in China, where customers are looking for quality at any price. “When you are talking about traditional, classic footwear with high-quality workmanship and design, you are talking about Italian shoes,” he said. “We are going to open another four or five stores around China this year.”

Png said he placed a large order at the show for handmade Italian shoes. “The price is on the high end, but we need to carry these kinds of brands. It’s what our customers are demanding,” he said.

Fabio Aromatici, GM of The Micam and Assocalzaturifici, said he noticed more diversity in the types of retailers attending the show this time around.

“What we’ve found compared with six months ago is a blossoming of so many e-commerce operators,” he said. “The Alibabas and those guys were here before, but the number of smaller, niche, high-level footwear sellers was a nice surprise for us.”

Of the roughly 200 exhibitors at the show — representing Italy, Brazil, France, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and the U.K. — 65 percent were returnees from previous editions.

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