1 Aug 2003
Casually Creative(HKTDC Fashion - Footwear, Vol 02,2003)
Vol 2, 2003
Pioneer Exports Ltd
Pioneer Exports Ltd produces more than 2,000 styles of beach, casual and homewear sandals
When it comes to casual footwear, variety is the spice of life - a phrase that could have been coined specifically for relative newcomer to the industry, Pioneer Exports Ltd.
After just two years in the business, the company already produces more than 2,000 styles of beach, casual and homewear sandals, ranging from the simple but ever popular "flip-flop" to glamorous beaded and sequinned sandals for the increasingly fashion conscious casual footwear market.
The recipe for the company's rapid success in an industry known for its stiff competition is "flexibility and the ability to select the most appropriate manufacturer for the job", says company director and 12-year veteran of the casual footwear business Kenny Mahtani.
Pioneer uses a few specially selected factories in Guangdong and Fujian provinces on the Chinese mainland for production but imports its own EVA raw material from Japan, Korea and Taiwan.
"Our factories then turn this into EVA sheets which is used for the soles of our slippers and sandals, thus guaranteeing that our products maintain their reputation for quality and durability," Mahtani explains.
"By doing this, we can combine the advantages of lower production costs on the mainland with the ensured quality of the EVA we use, enabling our customers to benefit from both."
This reputation for quality is helping Pioneer to successfully embrace the European market, after initially focusing on the Latin American market when it began operations in 2001. "Chile was our first market entry," recalls Mahtani. "However, we grew quickly to service all markets throughout Latin America."
Most recently, he adds, Pioneer's key target has become Europe as there is much scope for its type of products. "Buyers there are willing to pay the required price for quality, durable products for which our company is renowned," Mahtani says. "Indeed, Spain has become one of our biggest markets, followed by Italy, Belgium and Greece."
But despite the company's foray into Europe, it has no plans to forego its Latin American connections. "We will continue to focus on this market because, even though the margins are much smaller, the order quantities are huge."
The strategy of straddling both markets is one that is enabling the company to produce year-round, rather than the more limited production for the industry's summer seasonal focus.
"Latin America accounts for some 60% of our business, with Europe taking the remainder," notes Mahtani. "That way, we have markets that stretch throughout the year. Also, we have to stay ahead of fashion trends for the European market which is very useful expertise for our South American business."
However, adapting styles to other markets is not simply a case of blind repetition. "In Europe, the emphasis is very much on quality and packaging," explains Mahtani.
Also, he notes, consumers like fancier colours and special effects, such as beading and sequins. "The ethnic look is still in vogue and florals are always popular."
However in Latin America the preference is generally more conservative. "So we concentrate on styles that our customers know will sell well," Mahtani says. "Colours tend to be rather sombre with the emphasis on classic black, navy and reds."
The uniting factor for all markets is that the basic EVA sole, PVC upper, "flip-flop" continues to be the company's most popular item. "It has a continual life, but with changes in colours and prints - stripes are particularly popular right now."
Pioneer's FOB Hong Kong prices range from US$0.50 for a pair of basic beach sandals to US$2.50 per pair for decorative uppers on a leather sole. Competitive prices such as these ensure that business looks brisk in both Pioneer's key markets, with Mahtani anticipating growth of 20% over the next two years.
"Our Latin American and European markets are growing very well and there is plenty of potential," says Mahtani. "In addition, we will also be looking at the US."
WRITTEN BY SANDRA JENNER
Pioneer Exports Ltd
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