First published in Fairfax Unlimited 16 September 2013
According to a 2012 survey by department store Target, Australian women own on average 25 pairs of shoes. More than half admit to owning pairs they’ve never worn and 60 per cent are happy to go online and buy-without-the-try.
Since Australia’s trade tariffs on shoes dropped from a whopping 45 per cent in 1990 to 5 per cent today, the footwear gates have opened and the market has literally been flooded with imports. In 2011, 69.5 per cent of shoes were from China, compared with the second largest importer, Italy, which brought in 6.1 per cent.
Last financial year, the Australian footwear industry had revenues of $AU3 billion, with four major groups generating around 21.5 per cent of that total (IbisWorld 2013). It’s a fragmented market that includes many different categories and smaller sellers. Somewhere in that crazy and super competitive mix is New Zealand brand Ziera Shoes. It is competing in a tough market.
Ziera has been in Australia since 1995. In 2010 the company underwent a major rebrand from their former name, Kumfs. The purpose of the rebrand was to step away from grandma and make a play for the daughter. That’s no small feat (feet?) in any industry – it’s a major perception shift. The words fashion and comfort are a rare pairing, but fashion and orthotics is a giant leap of Neil Armstrong proportions.
However, it’s not entirely implausible. Birkenstock and Dr. Martens certainly didn’t start out as style icons. Even the very popular Spanish label Camper is known as both trend and comfort. Credit must go to managing director and third generation owner Andrew Robertson for wanting to grow his family business and build a greater brand.
In 2010, Robertson’s plans were to triple sales to more than $NZ200 million by 2015. In interviews at the time, he commented that the best way to do this was to broaden the target market and develop more fashion-forward products.
In the marketing world rebranding is considered a big no-no, especially with an established brand. The risk with rebranding, as Robertson acknowledged at the time, is that in trying to win a new customer base you can completely disenfranchise your existing customer. Kumfs had high brand awareness in a niche market with fewer competitors. As a speciality shoe they could command a premium and translate that into higher margins.
By rebranding as Ziera Shoes and launching a completely new advertising strategy and in-store look, the company has gone head-to-head with a multitude of other brands, many of which have been well established in the fashion category for years.
Can Ziera gain a significant foothold in this broader market? Hiring former Camper designer Laura Boulton is a positive sign, especially if Ziera commits hard to a complete on-trend aesthetic. Otherwise, it’s another step away from the older, loyal customer base.
International players that also sell footwear, like Zara, H&M, Uniqlo, Novo and Aldo are coming thick and fast into Australia, and they have a lot more money to throw down and supply chains that churn out this month’s hottest shoe in record time.
The younger Australian shoe buyer is spoilt for choice and even more frivolous with her loyalties. Perhaps the older market was the safer choice after all.