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Firm Footing(HKTDC Fashion - Footwear, Vol 01,2006)

Forum Footwear Co

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Forum Footwear Co produces a wide range of footwear suitable for indoor and outdoor activities

Quality manufacturing and attentive service combined with close attention to costs have helped a five-year-old newcomer to the footwear industry build market share rapidly.

"We are currently producing in excess of one million pairs of shoes per year and confidently expect that figure to grow," says Forum Footwear Co manager Eddie Leung.

"Although we are quite a young company, we are building customer loyalty as we are very flexible and can accommodate new styles and designs very quickly."

He says Forum has made "significant" investment in equipment that enables the company to produce a wide range of footwear suitable for indoor and outdoor activities.

"We are particularly strong in women's shoes, including dress shoes, casual shoes, boots and sandals made from real and synthetic leather," Leung claims, adding that in addition to OEM orders Forum manufactures and exports footwear that carries the Forum and Koparer brand names.

Forum also enjoys strong interest in its men's footwear and has seen equally steady growth in demand for handmade men's and women's leather footwear, particularly in Europe.

Europe is an important market for Forum, which exports a combination of low- and high-cut hikers in UK sizes 0-12 to various countries, including Sweden and Germany.

Other key export sectors include Israel, Australia, the US and the Philippines. "We also see good opportunities for developing business in Eastern Europe and extending our business in South America," Leung adds.

Leung believes the current emphasis on healthier lifestyles also means that there is a strong demand for casual sports shoes and comfortable walking shoes in most of its main markets.

"Import duties are higher on leather goods in the US, so we help our clients reduce costs by using a combination of real leather and synthetic leather if requested," he adds.

All Forum's numerous styles are manufactured at a 10,000-square-metre factory employing 500 workers in Jinjiang City in Fujian Province on the Chinese mainland.

The company, which also employs 15 design and customer service staff in Hong Kong, requires a minimum order of 1,000 pairs per style per colour delivered 45 days after order confirmation.

Forum's prices fall in the mid-market range with a low-cut hiker costing US$5.80 and high-cut versions selling for US$5.80-12.80; all prices FOB the mainland.

"Our prices may be middle-market, but we provide high quality products and good customer service," Leung insists, pointing out that Forum uses cow and buffalo leather for its trailwear uppers. "We also use microfibre and some waterproof materials."

Materials are sourced from the mainland and Taiwan, and "several million dollars" of regular clients' favourite leather and nappa is constantly held in stock to speed order delivery.

Forum's customer service also includes providing product advice and market trends to buyers in wide-ranging markets to help them make an informed product choice.

The company produces, on average, about 100 new and variations on designs each month. "Sometimes, customers like the look of one of our designs and work with us to adapt it slightly to meet their own requirements," says Leung.

However, adapting styles to different markets is not simply a matter of sheer repetition. "In Europe, the emphasis is very much on quality and classic styling," explains Leung, adding that in the South American market cost is usually a driving factor.

Leung stresses the importance of constantly coming up with new ideas and delivering them quickly, noting that Forum conducts market research by attending trade fairs and exhibitions and works closely with customers who have the inside track of the market in their particular area. "Product enquiries and customer designs are always welcome," Leung adds.

WRITTEN BY CHRIS DAVIS

Forum Footwear Co

Unit 1, 11/F,
Siu Wai Industrial Centre,
29-33 Wing Hong St,
Lai Chi Kok, Kowloon,
Hong Kong
Tel: 852-2312-7777
Fax: 852-2536-9999
Email:
forum88@netvigator.com