USA: still one of the best markets for Italian productsWith Salina Ferretti from Assocalzaturifici and Maurizio Forte from the ICE Agency, we take an in-depth look at the American market
Notwithstanding it is still in the middle of what has been defined a “retail apocalypse”, the United States remains one of the most promising markets for Made in Italy footwear. Although it has fallen from 2nd to 4th place in the classification of top sector export destinations, it maintains intact all its business potential. Even the “Exporting the Dolce Vita” report issued by Confindustria points to the possibility of the ‘Stars & Stripes’ market becoming, in five years’ time, the first destination for “Beautiful and Well-made” footwear; that is to say a mid to high-end product belonging to the range of “accessible luxury”, which has already made Italians famous around the globe.
After all, “Made in Italy is increasingly at the top of the product pyramid in the USA – declares Maurizio Forte, Director of ICE New York and Coordinator of the ICE USA Field Offices – since it is always associated with creativity, innovation, quality, and tradition. Americans have a special preference for everything that is Italian, from fashion to food, culture, and our lifestyle. The ‘Made in Italy’ label represents an especially strong added value for footwear in particular. For buyers, Italian footwear represents exquisite manufacturing and a sophisticated style, advantages that are sure to guarantee the interest of consumers”.
What are the characteristics that American buyers look for in Made in Italy? “They are interested in brands with a strong personality and identity – explains Maurizio Forte – which stand out from classic proposals, while best satisfying the demands of a younger clientele. With a well-defined identity, high level of innovation in terms of design and an accessible price when compared to the most celebrated brands”.
Hastening to intercept this demand, Assocalzaturifici invited a delegation of qualified American buyers to the last edition of the MICAM, who in fact confirmed how “Made in Italy is the key to relaunching the market and overcoming the negative trend in United States retail, while MICAM is a showcase that is always rich in innovation, thanks to Italian collections, which are synonymous with elegance, innovation, and comfort”.
So, what’s it like working in the USA? Salina Ferretti, Assocalzaturifici Vice President responsible for overseeing North America’s markets, gives us an idea: “Although the current phase of the market is not yet offering exhilarating results for Made in Italy, many businesses operating in it are making headway, with large quantities: it’s not just high-end brands, but also those that are relatively unknown with a mid to high-end product, which have capably carved out an important role for themselves, thanks to a product that is spot-on for the American market. At the same time, they have capably interacted with this market, with a well-organized retail network, and the right kind of on-site contact, either an agent or distributor, to follow them”. This is more or less the same advice offered by Maurizio Forte: “To be successful in the USA market you must have a mid to long-term strategy, with a focus on the design and quality of the product. You must also adapt to the market in terms of taste, fit, sizes; and you must have a strong presence in social media, an attractive website with an e-commerce platform; while also guaranteeing on-time deliveries and an excellent post-sales service”. So, how does one start off in this market? “The ideal process for market entry – explains Maurizio Forte – should start with participation in one or more trade fair events, followed by the selection of an agent and the opening of a directly owned showroom or participation in a multibrand showroom. A permanent presence in the United States makes it easier to acquire a good reputation and reliability in the eyes of buyers”.
Assocalzaturifici supports Italian businesses interested in entering the United States market through both a workshop in New York, with its next edition to be held on 23 and 24 January 2018; as well as through a collective stand at FN Platform in Las Vegas, the main event dedicated to footwear on American soil, with the next edition scheduled from 12 to 14 February 2018 at the Las Vegas Convention Centre.
Finally, after six years of recovery following the 2008 economic crisis, 2016 saw a drop in exports (-5.4% in quantity and -4.8% in value), while the first five months of 2017 highlighted a 5% recovery in volume, next to a 6.8% loss in value during the same period in 2016. Overall, from January to May 2017, 6.9 million pairs (up 327 thousand) were sold, for a turnover of 376.65 million euros at an average lower price of 54.70 euros (-11.3%).
During the first five months of 2017, more than half of the shoes exported to the USA had a leather upper, and were men’s, women’s, children’s, or unisex walking shoes. The main segment is always represented by women’s, which accounts for 64.8% of all exports. While, among the regions that work the most with this market, the first in the classification is Tuscany, followed by Lombardy, Marches, and Veneto.