Assoprov – Association of Footwear Sales Promoters was founded in 1985 with the aim of promoting the spread of Italian footwear worldwide. Today, it operates on a global scale, generating value from the collaboration between all stakeholders in the footwear world. After more than 30 years of activity, Assoprov has more than 60 members, located throughout Italy and in Europe and continues to work by organising the group’s participation in trade fairs, sector events and encouraging the training and growth of members.
Speaking to its president, Lino Mattiozzi, it is clear how the footwear sector is doing, how it actually has already changed, how it is necessary to get out of this desperate crisis phase to go back to meet customers in person again.
“The mood is not the best at the moment. We are living on hope rather than on revenues. We hope that the pandemic will finally end leaving us free to think about business again. Above all, we are confident that mass vaccination produces positive effects as happened in other foreign countries.
If this happens, the hope is that retailers will regain momentum so as to raise cash and restart the purchase flow.
All companies, throughout Italy, as well as their customers, are in great difficulty. Some are closing down, also in consideration of the fact that even before the pandemic we were facing tough times. Due to the collapse of the Russian market and the slowdown of other trade markets, the competition of foreign countries that have eroded market shares, we already lacked fair winds and following seas before.
Now the situation is further worsening, as for almost all production sectors.
There is concern, there is tension, there is even hopelessness”.

Did anyone manage to stay afloat better than others?
“As in all situations there are exceptions. In particular, those who work for big brands which manage to cushion the blow as their backs are covered, are save.
So far we have buffered as much as possible by working with the Internet and using the video calling tool. I would like to stress, though, that I don’t think it is a good way to sell shoes. You need to meet customers to sell shoes, as they need to touch the models. Often they are accompanied by those who can also wear the shoes to test their fit. These are essential steps”.

Is there a country you perceive could start earlier?
“The situation must be constantly monitored. A couple of months ago it seemed that India was in a better position than others, that the pandemic was behind us and that everyone was back at work, but we now know that the situation was by no means so good.
In Europe, countries are all on the same level for good or worse. It is difficult to understand who will be able to kick off first and with more momentum. Perhaps the only exception is England, which actually already restarted at the beginning of May”.

What are the steps you are taking with regard to your product?
“All the articles were hit by the crisis. The elegant shoe is undoubtedly the one that has suffered the most from the repercussions of the lockdown. Lacking almost all the opportunities to use this type of shoe, sales have practically stopped. Just as the mid-season shoe seems to have been expelled from the market. Sneakers are once again those models that seem to win easily. Shop windows will keep them in the foreground and go straight from winter boots to sandals.
It would be important for us that in June and July the stores were able to sell several sandals, so as to be stimulated to return to the fair for new orders.
As far as production is concerned, in the last year many companies have given up on proposing novelties samples, and have simply taken up and updated what they already had available. An understandable attitude, which has thrown the model-makers category into a deep crisis”.

How much do you believe sales have dropped in 2020?
“I think a reasonable estimate hovers around 60%. After all, just think about what and how many shoes and for how long each one of us has been wearing this past year”.

How can an association like Assoprov take action?
“It is important that everyone infuses a good dose of optimism into one’s business. We must ensure that relationships with our customers are reconnected and give them hope, reassuring them that we are still by their side.
I believe that to do all this, the best sign could be our strong participation in the next edition of Expo Riva Schuh in July. We could launch an important restart message there”.

What support forms are desirable for your category, which is largely made of sales representatives and agents?
“Up to now, aids for sales agents freelancers have been derisory. We are a category of intermediaries between production and marketing. Those who rely on us do so for various reasons (because they do not have a commercial structure, because they recognise the value of our contacts and our experience …) and expect us to give as much visibility as possible to their collections. Fairs therefore represent a very important moment for us to focus on. In this sense, I found the benefits provided by SIMEST very interesting and I believe we should take advantage of them as much as possible as soon as they reopen the call. What is certain is that, compared to the damage of these months, this financial supports remain trifles”.

Do you consider online business only a good way to mitigate this crisis or a valid tool for the future?
“Earlier I said that I am convinced that shoes must be sold in person, they must be touched, and therefore fairs and visits remain central to our work. This does not mean that digital is not a more than valid tool to be permanently placed side by side with the traditional way of working.
The Swapcard digital platform, which Expo Riva Schuh made available to exhibitors in January, worked for me. I have collected contacts that I did not know before and that I am developing. Furthermore, the way of structuring the collections has changed: every one or two months customers ask you for news, which implies a quick information exchange that only technology can support.
We sales representatives are somewhat particular animals: if there are 1000 kilometres to be covered, we jump into the car and drive off. But the world has really changed over the last year, so we too have to review our habits, our lifestyle and marketing media”.