It is entirely possible that, for Aldo BRUÈ, making shoes for Russians was his destiny. Way back in 1984 he was invited to the USSR, along with other representatives of the Italian footwear business. There was talk of opening a shoe-making factory in the suburbs of Moscow. BRUÈ turned down the opportunity at the time considering himself not ready for the particularities of the Soviet market.
It was only ten years later, in the mid-nineties, that his shoes began to be sold in Russia, and not through any initiative on his side. At the DDC exhibition in Germany, his first Russian client placed a large order. For few more years he worked with his new partners still indirectly, through Germany and Switzerland. And Aldo BRUÈ himself didn't know where his shoes were being sold.
“In 1998 I came to Moscow and began to look for shops which were selling my shoes,” relates Aldo. “And I found them...on stalls in the Luzhniki (it's a sports stadium next to which there was a huge market in the 1990's) and at VDNKh! There they were selling shoes, clothes and linen... And all the brands were mixed together: Armani and Aldo Bruè and others which I didn't know... It served as a good lesson to me. Before signing any contract to supply footwear, we began to insist on photographs of the sales premises. And we started to deal only with good shops.
”By the way, Aldo BRUÈ 's very first Russian partners – Mercury, No One, Salita, Carlo Pazolini, “Microdin”, ”Crocus”, “Podium” and “Cleopatra” – still work with him today. They survived the troubled times, and then the crisis, and became the largest retail chains in the country. But the dozen large retail chains bring Bruè shoes only 40% of their sales. The other 60% come through small shops and businesses. And their number is more than 120.
The dozen large retail chains bring Aldo Bruè shoes only 40% of their sales. The other 60% come through small shops and businesses.
The next step in developing trade in Russia was to open a representative office. The crisis of 2008 served as a spur to this. “After the crisis we lost a lot of customers,” admits Aldo BRUÈ.
“We opened in 2008,” says the director of Aldo Bruè's representative office in Russia and the CIS Svetlana Khlynina. “Since then, we go on business trips all the time to various cities in Russia and the CIS to find out about demand, customers preferences, and we try to understand what is missing in our model range...”
Opening a representative office allowed the Italian to do business more successfully. He considers it a mistake that, for a long time, he relied only on small distributors. And now, as we have already said, it is precisely Russia which provides Aldo BRUÈ with his main source of income, as it is here that more than half of his shoes are sold. And only after Russia is Germany, through which his first Russian customer arrived. In third place are the US, and then the Arab countries, and a very small number of his shoes make it to China and South Africa... Incidentally, Italy does not feature in this list at all. There is, of course, a shop in Milan but for Italians, admits Aldo BRUÈ, his shoes are very expensive.
Each season Russians buy about 30,000 pairs of these luxury-brand shoes. That comes to 60,000 a year. Svetlana Khlynina says that the person who loves quality and comfort rarely changes Aldo Bruè for another brand. And Aldo himself remembers how in 2001 someone brought him a newspaper which mentioned that even Vladimir Putin wears Aldo Bruè shoes. It was very gratifying for him to read that.
Olga Kirpishchikova, Director of Research, MA MarketMasters:– Over the last 3 to 5 years Russians bought shoes annually to the value of 15 to 25 billion dollars. In 2010 the size of the Russian footwear market was 17.2 billion dollars (figures for 2011 are not yet available, but are displaying a tendency towards growth). The share of imports is almost 70%. According to The Federal Customs Service, in 2010: 2,452,169,001 pairs of various footwear were imported into Russia from abroad to the value of 3,797 million dollars. Analysing these figures, it is not difficult to calculate the profit for trading companies.Almost a quarter of the total footwear market volume – 24% – is accounted for by Moscow. The high-end footwear segment, aimed at consumers with an income exceeding 90,000 rubles (3,000 USD) per month for one family member comprises, in the capital, 14%. These Muscovites pay 20,000 rubles (670 USD) and more, each time, for a pair of classic shoes.Incidentally, Italian producers account for only 6% of shoes imported into Russia. Leaders in terms of supply are the Chinese: their shoes are cheaper. The average male Muscovite is prepared to part with 3,000-6,000 rubles (100-200 USD) for shoes, 4,000-8,000 rubles (140-280 USD) for winter boots. Women from Moscow usually pay from 3,000 to 7,000 rubles (100-240 USD) for one pair of shoes and 4,500-9,000 rubles (150-300 USD) for boots.
The secret of such success is relatively simple: it lies in the individual approach to creating shoes for each region. It is necessary to take into consideration climate, styling and people's physical peculiarities.
“Russian customers have a very high instep, so there is always a problem with the boottree. Many of our clients complained that shoes from any producer made their feet hurt,” reveals BRUÈ. “And so we began to think about how to remedy the situation. And we designed a special boot-tree. Now, in Europe we sell shoes with one boot-tree, in America with another, in Russia with a third one... It is impossible to sell footwear in another region without a specially designed boot-tree.
”Russian customers' main requirements regarding footwear are their quality and comfort. “With shoes and boots it is essential for them to be comfortable!” says BRUÈ. Therefore, at the end of every season, Aldo is always interested in his clients' opinions on what could be improved in his shoes. He does this in a simple way. He personally travels around the large cities and speaks to his customers. And not only in Russia but also in Ukraine and Kazakhstan. His credo is the closest possible communication with his partners and clients. It is impossible to foresee everything straight away. For example, the material used for lining the collection of winter footwear for Russia was always fur, something which allowed Aldo BRUÈ, in due course, to enter the German market. It would seem that where else could you sell fur-lined footwear, if not in Russia? But it just so happened (and who in Europe would believe this?) that Moscow experienced a very mild winter. That season the company's sales drastically reduced as customers felt too hot wearing fur-lined footwear. The next year a mild winter was predicted again, and so, for the new collection, the fur was replaced with wool. At once, sales grew... Different transformations in footwear occur practically every year.
In Europe we sell shoes with one boottree, in Russia with another. It is hard to sell shoes in another region without a specially designed boottree.
Shoe design also changes constantly. Usually shoe models for big cities are made in the European style with an alteration depending on the season's fashion trends. In the regions there is a great demand for shoes with some national color. And, of course, it all depends on where the town is. Russia is very big: there is the South, the North and demands differ all over...
“As a rule, fashions in the regions arrive two seasons later,” says Aldo. “People need to adapt, look through magazines, travel to other cities. Only after some time comes the recognition: yes, that's now in fashion...”
Of course, one can’t deny the fact that in the regions large shops, to a great extent, create the market themselves. For example, now, in Ukraine there are 10-15 large shoe-shop chains left. The small ones simply could not cope with the competition and closed down. Aldo does not rule out the same situation repeating itself soon, even in Russia. But it would, in his opinion, affect only small towns. In Russia's capital, Moscow, international standards apply.
“In Russia goods either sell or they don't sell. Here, there is no middle ground,” says Aldo BRUÈ. “It was simple before: you brought them, they bought them. Now it's completely different. It is well worth taking part in Russian exhibitions and then working out from the results whether the goods will succeed or not. Therefore, the best advice for any foreign entrepreneur is: take part in exhibitions. To understand which product you can sell in Russia, a little market research is necessary. You must establish what potential customers in your field consider fashionable. Then, start off trading with small companies. Gradually you will find bigger partners.
Take part in exhibitions. To understand which product you can sell in Russia, a little market research is necessary.
In general, according to BRUÈ, doing business in Russia is not particularly difficult. “Russians and Italians have a similar mentality,” asserts Aldo. Establishing cooperation in Germany, for example, was, he admits, a lot harder.
One partner suggested to BRUÈ having his shoes made in China and then sending them to Russia. It's cheaper, he said. Aldo BRUÈ's reply was a decisive 'no' and he now no longer works with that partner. Aldo is against such “economising”. What is more, Russians wouldn't be able to understand it either. They value his luxury footwear precisely for its Italian style and quality.