"The secret of getting ahead is getting started."

- Mark Twain

5 golden steps

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Starting a new venture is never easy, such is the case when starting a footwear business. It can be daunting communicating in a different language with factories located miles away from your business, therefore knowing what to expect and what is expected of you is crucial.

Here are the "5 Golden Steps" that are essential to take when starting a
shoe line:

  • shoe manufacturing Step 1 iconKnow your
    Product
  • shoe manufacturing Step 2 iconUnderstand
    Pricing
  • shoe manufacturing Step 3 iconDefine your
    Marketing
    Strategy
  • shoe manufacturing Step 4 iconBuild Trust
    with your
    Manufacturer
  • shoe manufacturing Step 5 iconKeep
    Momentum

Step1

Know Your Product

It is key to figure out the exact type of products you are aiming for, right from the start. Prepare sketches, 3D renderings, technical specifications, a materials list etc. These are tangible tools that help translate your ideas into reality while also maximizing good communication.

If you are not a designer yourself or have no experience with product design tools, it is recommended to hire a shoe designer with proven experience in footwear or ask your manufacturer for professional design services to help translate your ideas into feasible products ready to be manufactured.

Most manufacturers will be taken aback by vague specifications. Shoemaking requires technical precision, which saves the manufacturerʼs time as well as your own.

Shoe designer sketch

Step 2

Understand Pricing

Estimate your productsʼ price point based on your target market. Ask yourself the following questions: “Who do I want to sell to?”, “How much are my customers willing to spend on quality shoes?”. Once you have a range on the retail price, work backwards to calculate an approximate manufacturing cost you can sustain.

Production cost per pair varies depending on the order quantities. For small orders of 100-500 pairs per style, the unit price will be higher. Comparably, unit prices for larger volume orders will go down as the factory can spread their production setup and fixed costs. It is commonplace for new brands to start out with tight quantities, resulting in higher costs and lower margins. Once the business gets on track, larger orders will bring down production costs, while margins increase substantially.

Person working at desk with calculator

Step 3

Define your Marketing Strategy

Marketing a product requires a fairly big effort around advertising, social media, online marketing, bloggers interest, social media influencers, VIP endorsement etc. Are you ready to embark on this journey?

A solid marketing strategy has many aspects, including:

  • Ensuring you identify and understand your target audience
  • Developing the appropriate marketing communication plan and channels, for example it could be online (via your own website, social media, industry blogs, etc) or press, newspapers, magazines, VIP endorsement, celebrity sponsorship, etc.
  • Setting the budget for the marketing strategy

During the initial phases of the brand growth, it is likely you will be busy dealing with new designs, prototypes, manufacturing, production matters etc. You should consider whether you need someone else or a team to help with sales and marketing. If this is the case, it is important to budget it in your business plan.

Puzzle pieces coming together

Step 4

Build Trust with your Manufacturer

It is crucial to establish a long term relationship with your manufacturer. Build trust by being professional and frank about your project, your needs and preferences, and be patient as your manufacturer carefully elaborates on the product requirements, in order to provide feedback with the best methods and techniques to start production.

Value the feedback you receive from your manufacturing partner, who most likely has extensive experience in design & shoemaking and are able to provide constructive comments which you can benefit from.

Another simple yet underestimated and powerful way to build trust is to be prompt with payments for both initial services and orders. Initial services may include consulting, materials sourcing and testing, as well as time spent doing preliminary research in order to come up with the product most aligned with your requirements.

Language could also be a barrier so make sure the communication is clear.

If you are based in a different country, it is beneficial to gain insights of local culture to understand particular manners and ways of working that may be unusual elsewhere.

Did you know that factories and workshops in Italy are not operational for 2-3 weeks in the month of August and 2 weeks across the New Year? This is due to Italian public holidays, plus it is when traditionally employers give workers their annual leave. In other countries, employees vacation may be spread throughout the year, but in Italy they concentrate in August, plus Christmas to early January.
It is not uncommon for a manufacturing business to be shut over these times.

Furthermore, there are environmental and health related differences. For example, according to European Union procedures and laws, leather suppliers and tanneries must shut down for about a month each year to properly clean their tanks and dispose of chemicals. Other types of factories and workshops do the same depending on the industrial processes they adopt.

A way Italian businesses work around this is to plan timelines accordingly so the products are manufactured and shipped before August or Christmas. However, if your project is running throughout these periods of time, then it is normal to expect progress to be slower.

Handshake at shoe workshop with leather materials

STEP 5

Keep Momentum

So, you have found a manufacturer that meets your prerequisites and you have kickstarted your project with them – fantastic – now be sure to keep momentum within the partnership as it is equally important for a long-lasting, sustainable business.

As with other types of trades, recurring production orders in sizable volumes is the primary way to maintain a manufacturer’s business. So, after the sample making stage, it is essential to drive your brand, use all aspects of your business, including funding strategies, sales and marketing, advertising, reaching out to your customer base and presenting your collections at trade shows or to potential buyers. This maximizes exposure and ultimately leads to sales of your collection. Never rely solely on the product, no matter how superb the quality is, to speak for itself; this is a common misconception.

Achieving sales means your business is flourishing, which benefits your manufacturer too. Every order counts, hence your order is an important contributing aspect to the day-to-day running of the manufacturerʼs business, creating an ongoing, harmonious partnership.
Always keep in mind the key objective is to create a mutually beneficial partnership:

  • Transparent communication – both the positive comments and the bad news
  • Understand local working cultures and practices – respect the diversity of working styles
  • Consider alternative recommendations – manufacturers have the best knowledge of the industry
  • Pay your manufacturer promptly – an obvious yet paramount factor
  • Sustain your business – make recurring orders to keep momentum with your manufacturer

A win-win situation is the way to go, so remember to take the “5 Golden Steps”, and good luck!

Italian artisans and shoemakers discussing samples

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