Condor-Inblu: from the historic ‘Chips’ to the latest acquisitionsInterview with Silvia Fidanza, Head of Marketing and Communication at Inblu
The story of Condor Trade/Inblu has always been closely connected to comfort and a way of feeling ‘good’ and at ease – both at home and outdoors. The company first got its start thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of Virginio Fidanza who, initially with two partners and then on his own, looked to his long-time experience and skills acquired in the sector, in order to give life to a company specialised in the production of heels and soles. The timeframe of reference is the Eighties in Verolanuova in the province of Brescia, and the market of reference is that of the Soviet Union. With the change in scenarios, however, the production was skilfully converted into footwear for the home, and outdoor slippers and sandals, which were mainly produced using direct injection methods. The leading product that eventually emerges from this transformation will be the ‘Chips’ slipper, representing a bona fide ‘revolution’ for the footwear industry: direct injection onto the upper as a technology is much more efficient, rapid, and inexpensive than traditional bonding. With the Chips slipper, proposed in 5 different colours, Condor-Inblu sells millions of pairs around the globe and establishes a reputation for itself as a leader for this product type. Silvia Fidanza, Head of Marketing and Communication at Inblu, retraces the timeline of the company with us.
What do you remember from this time period?
“I remember that especially in the Middle East, ports were overflowing with our Chips! The demand was huge, insomuch that we had difficulty satisfying it, notwithstanding constant investments in order to increase our productive capacity”.
Starting in the Nineties, next to this iconic product, Condor starts proposing other items and above all begins an important process of outsourcing that will lead to its production facilities being transferred to the Ukraine (in ’92) and then to Poland and India. How soon did the idea of outsourcing end up with the complete and permanent transfer of all production facilities abroad?
“Very soon, my father realised that the production of an item destined for the mass market in Italy would not be sustainable for long, and so, our adventure abroad began and continues today. In the Ukraine, today, we produce sandals and slippers both mounted and stitched, while in Poland there are only injected items. The market of reference is that of Europe. The factory in India, instead, works exclusively for the domestic market and for Africa. The style bureaus, the development of the line of models and material purchasing logistics have instead remained in the Italian headquarters of Verolanuova”.
How much does the legacy of Inblu as a factory for soles and heels still influence the company today?
“We were not born ‘footwear manufacturers’ in the strictest sense of the word, we are and we were – both in the past and today – a company that capably knows how to work with polyurethane. Our core business is, and will remain, sandals and slippers for the home: certainly in the field of injection we are considered a reality par excellence throughout Europe”.
How is it possible to innovate and evolve in a segment like yours, where around 30% of your turnover is accounted for by slippers in the winter and by sandals and outdoor slippers in the summer?
“We follow the trends characterising footwear and apparel, even if, as a matter of fact, in our market segment, the latest fashion trends arrive a little more slowly.
Even the research onto materials is important for renewing the collections. Inblu would like to position itself as a ‘universal’ brand, which is enjoyed by women of a certain age for its comfortable footwear, but also by teenage girls who buy the trendiest sandals. It is important for us to maintain this across-the-board mentality and concept of ‘easy to wear’: footwear that is easy to wear, upbeat, young-spirited, and with a competitive price.
How does the ‘across-the-board’ concept influence the brand’s decisions?
“The Inblu brand covers around 60% of our turnover, with private label production covering the rest, and it is a brand mainly destined for the Italian and European markets. To this can be added India, which mostly sells Inblu branded items. In Italy, we have invested and will continue to invest in the image of the Inblu brand with communication campaigns taking place on ‘traditional’ media, but also through social networks in order to reach even the youngest consumers”.
In recent years, you have also made important acquisitions…
“Yes. Four years ago, we acquired – during the privatization process by the Polish Ministry of Economy – Befado, a historic company of children’s slippers that is very well-known and well-established in the domestic market. Moreover, in March 2017, we finalised the acquisition of a historic brand in the Northern-European market, with a strong and loyal customer base: the Germany company, Rohde”.
How do you maintain the individual identity of each brand in a policy of acquisitions like yours?
“Inblu, Befado and Rohde each have a strong brand identity and are well-positioned in specific geographical regions, insomuch that Rohde and Befado have their own style bureaus, while Inblu is followed by the Italian style office. For Inblu, we invest around 3 million euros annually in advertising in Italy, mainly on the TV and through the radio. Also for Rohde, we intend to invest in communication, but mainly in Germany, with middle-aged women as our target. Befado, instead, has great communication campaigns in Poland through the media, but also advertises directly with events and initiatives dedicated to mothers and children”.
Distribution and e-commerce: what are your choices?
“We sell directly also through our website and we have started working with the main online platforms. Online sales are an increasingly important service to offer the end customer. It is, however, a new sales channel that must be flanked by the traditional and physical reality of the store”.
And sector fairs: what role do they play today for your business?
“Expo Riva Schuh is attended by all the leading European purchasing groups, which in Riva del Garda do their first sample runs for the new season and in some cases even place their first orders. It is accordingly a very important fair. Micam is maybe the most international and important above all for the image of the brand and relations with customers”.