In November, Eno Polo was appointed the new president of Alpargatas USA Inc., the parent of Havaianas in the United States.
Before taking on the role, he spent 10 years at Nike and served as Alpargatas’ president of the EMEA region, where he turned Havaianas into the No. 1 sandal brand in Europe. He’s now been tasked with boosting its profile in the U.S.
Here, Polo shares his strategy for conquering this important market.
What experiences are you bringing to your new role?
“Having worked for Havaianas [in Europe] for nearly the past 10 years, I know the ins and outs of the brand. The most important thing is to work on the strengths. A lot of times, people just focus on fixing the weaknesses and don’t develop what we are actually very good at doing. Also, I have learned from the European markets that a clear brand positioning is essential. We become top-of-mind in the summer months, and then we disappear. In that few moments we have, we need to have consistent and clear brand positioning.”
What are your primary focuses in the coming months?
“The brand has stagnated the past few years in terms of growth. Usually that means there are foundational problems we need to resolve. Short-term goals are: mastering the fundamentals and making sure I have the right people in the right places; building stronger relationships with our customers, whether they be the key accounts or smaller independents that do big volumes; and partnering with our suppliers. We don’t have 10,000 employees, so we need the support of strong suppliers.”
What unique challenges does the U.S. market pose?
“The good news is, it’s one country. It’s very complex to work in Europe — you have the language barrier, and you don’t have too many accounts that cross borders, so you’re basically running each country as an individual. The beauty of the U.S. is, you could sell to a retailer like Nordstrom, and they cover the nation. But there are also so many different markets [here in the U.S.] — as different as the U.K. is to Italy, in a way, but at least they speak the same language and use the same currency.”
How will you manage those different regions?
“The plan is to open an office in the West Coast by the middle of next year. We’ll start with a West Coast-East Coast office structure and take it from there. We might also open an office in Florida. That’s the strategy that I had in Europe. I opened a regional European office in Madrid, but I had showrooms in London, Paris, Italy, Portugal and eventually even in Germany. This is a big country, and if you want to be close to your customers, sometimes you need to go and be there.”
Havaianas’ parent company gained new majority investors last year. Has that affected your strategy?
“We feel like these new investors, because they’re prepared to put all this money into the brand, they believe Havaianas can grow a lot more in the international section. To put things in perspective, we sell four times more in Europe than in the U.S., which makes absolutely no sense. There is a huge opportunity here. It’s a great thing [having these new investors]. The flip side is that I’m probably going to get a lot of pressure about the U.S. business. But that’s why I’m here.”