Waking up to the women’s shoe craze
Winning rights to international trademarks
JORDAN & CO MAY BE South Africa’s largest and oldest existing supplier of footwear, having made shoes for over 107 years, but it’s only now taking advantage of the fact that women are crazy about shoes.
The company has always manufactured men’s footwear – running shoes, work shoes, formal shoes, industrial shoes, and police and army boots – and very successfully. It’s built up a sizeable market share in this target market in South Africa and the other SACU countries of Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, and Lesotho, but men’s shoes represent only about 40% of all the footwear sold every year across the region.
Yes, unsurprisingly it’s the women’s market that accounts for approximately 60% of the total local footwear market of about 165m pairs of shoes. According to MD Rob Jordan, the company has now geared up to import and supply women’s shoes – in all their forms – to retailers around the region, and he expects this area to be a substantial source of growth for the company into the future.
“Women do buy more shoes than men – it’s a well-known fact,” says Jordan. “It was certainly time for us to target this fastgrowing market, since there wasn’t a lot of room for more growth in market share on the men’s side.”
The move into women’s shoes certainly isn’t the first major strategic shift by Jordan & Co. When Rob Jordan took over the mantle of MD from his brother Ted in 1989, he realised that the shoe business that his grandfather Alfred had started 90 years before needed to adapt quickly to a South African market hungry for global products.
“It was a radical shift in direction. We moved away from strictly local footwear manufacture and became more receptive to what the evolving customer base really wanted, which was international brands,” says Jordan.
To secure a foothold in the larger retail chains, the company launched young fashion brand Bronx, and it bought the rights to produce running shoe label Asics. It also managed to secure the licences to produce Adidas, Nike (which is still does) and Puma, while successfully landing Government tenders for the supply of athletic and other more formal shoes to the military and police every year.
And when its manufacturing volumes for Nike and Adidas fell away as competition from Chinese manufacturers grew in the mid-Nineties, the company realised it needed to fill the void with alternate brands. It achieved this by importing ranges of its own brands from China and India, as well as winning rights to international trademarks such as Tommy Hilfiger, Sperry, Phat Farm, and Keds.
“China now produces about 80% of the world’s foot- wear,” Jordan points out. “As an industry, we simply cannot compete with low-cost production of this nature. Chinese workers, for instance, often work seven days a week, and the average pay amounts to about $40 (about R300) a month. Compare that to their SA counterparts who are averaging over R800 a week for a 40-hour week and you start getting the picture.”
Jordan says one of the company’s big differentiators over other importers is its attention to quality control, not only at its Elsies River four-storey factory, but also in China, where the company, through its Chinese partners, has people on- theground whose sole job it is to monitor the entire manufacturing and supply processes.
“We do compete well, even against China, in terms of quality and speed of delivery. And we believe it’s very important to retain local technology and expertise to ensure supply lines, as well as for ease of meeting client needs when specifications change,” he stresses.
What this has meant for Jordan & Co, as it has for SA’s entire textile
industry, is a dramatic reduction in the staff complement. “At its peak in 1989 the factory employed 1 700 people, producing about 8 000 pairs of shoes a day. We’re now producing about 2 500 pairs of shoes daily and importing the balance, with a staff complement of around 600.”
Yet now, with a leaner, more efficient and cost-effective structure and a range of popular footwear brands for both men and women in its arsenal, the company is growing its bottom line faster than at any point in the last few years. Results have also been boosted by the strong consumer spending cycle, still under way in SA. The initial results of the expansion into women’s shoes have been very positive, with many products, including imported leather bags, purses and wallets now making an appearance at retailers such as Woolworths. As for the future, Jordan is optimistic: “Even though women’s shoes is a new market for us, we’re ready to tackle it. After all, we have over a century of success in the footwear market and now we’ll be targeting people who really do love shoes.”
Original factory at Wellington.
We do compete well. Rob Jordan