What effects did the outbreak of the pandemic have on your business?
The immediate effects of the Covid-19 outbreak, with relative lockdowns and restrictions on internal movement, was first and foremost the cancellation of orders by retailers on goods about to be delivered and on those ordered for the coming seasons, resulting in footwear manufacturers losing an equivalent in revenue equal to the first six months of the year. As far as we are concerned, we did our best to be proactive by maintaining the delivery of orders placed for ready-to-wear from one end, while from the other end, we tried to limit our order cancellations for the new season to around 50%. This means that summer 2020, which was about to be delivered when the first lockdown went into effect in March, had a good part of it moved to 2021.
How did you manage the presentation of customer collections?
For us, the priority has always been that of maintaining direct contact with customers and not only through videocalls and online presentations. I believe that in-person fairs are fundamental for our business, and it is for this reason that I absolutely wanted to participate in Micam in September with a large stand, where I proposed the latest collections of our most important suppliers, followed by a series of online appointments and virtual presentations. We were the only ones in our field to make such a courageous decision, but in my opinion, it was needed in order to send the message to customers that what we are experiencing is only temporary and will soon end.
For this same reason, during the show dates of Expo Riva Schuh, from 16 to 19 January, we have organised the event ‘Expo Garda in UK’, a rendezvous with our buyers where we will present the new collections and seasonal re-stockings, to reinforce the message that we, as a company, are moving forward and as long as it continues to be possible, we will maintain the current calendar of presentations and orders.
What is the actual state of the market and how have the requirements and needs of your customers changed?
Without a doubt we are experiencing an extremely difficult moment. As far as our customers are concerned, which are above all large retail chains in the United Kingdom and United States, the general climate of uncertainty has led to a fear of exposing oneself to risk through hasty decisions or orders, also because warehouses are full of unsold goods. For this reason, the tendency is to postpone order placement on the new collections as much as possible, while working more with ready-made and requiring greater flexibility with fast delivery. From one end, this should favour the footwear manufacturers that work for us, which are made up by 60% small and medium-sized Italian companies, while from the other, the strong focus on prices sees purchasing choices oriented towards more economic products coming from China or the Far East.
What items/kinds of footwear have continued to remain in demand even during this period of crisis?
Most of the population is in smart working today with the impossibility of travelling or in any case of moving around freely. This means that people are not very motivated to buy a new dress or a new pair of shoes, because they spend most of their time at home. For this reason, the most in-demand items are slippers for the home and jogging shoes or sneakers.
In your opinion, how are American and English markets doing compared to European ones?
Up until September the French and German markets were doing relatively well, and it seemed a recovery was underway, and then, unfortunately, the second wave arrived, and everything once again came to a standstill. Great Britain, which is dealing not only with the Covid emergency but also Brexit, is at a complete halt and is working almost exclusively with e-commerce, just like the United States market is, and the last lockdown corresponding to the pre-Christmas period has seriously damaged business, with retailers losing around 80% of the turnover of previous years.
In your opinion, what kind of footwear will lead the way in the coming season?
Sustainable footwear, which seemed to be an extremely promising trend, unfortunately did not take off as expected and some of our customers who had decided to go down this road with determination, then had to reverse course, because the increase in costs was no longer supported by a parallel increase in demand by the end customer. The economic difficulties affecting many families and general air of uncertainty unfortunately have led to a preference for economic footwear and in this context China, which for some time now has no longer been subject to the pandemic and has once again begun regularly producing, is the protagonist.
In your opinion, how it is possible to overcome this difficult situation?
I believe that now more than ever before it’s important to stay strong and be prudent, while limiting expenses as much as possible in light of a progressive return to normality which, if everything goes well and the vaccine is distributed, should arrive towards the spring. In any case, the fact remains that companies will find themselves moving on the market with a budget reduced by around 30% and this will affect their choices for all of 2021. Many retail chains will also close their less strategic stores to limit costs and will consequently reduce the number of orders they place. Over the next 2 years, I believe the price of the product will be a key factor in purchasing policies because companies will need a larger profit margin to compensate for their losses in 2020.
What role do fairs play in this context?
As I said before, I believe that fairs, understood as in-person events, are a fundamental opportunity for meeting up, exchanging information, and cementing friendship and partnerships. However, it’s important to remember that companies underwent enormous losses in 2020 and this will affect their decisions regarding eventual participation in trade fairs. I believe that the organisers should keep this factor in mind, and try to meet their exhibitors halfway, at least for all of 2021, by reducing the costs of participation. Agreements should also be made with townships so that the costs of hotels, transportation, restaurants, etc. are reasonable. My impression is that companies and buyers would like to return as soon as possible to the physical edition of fairs, but favourable conditions must be created, so even those with limited budgets can participate.