20/07/2004 - 22:00

Awards win strengthens brand

20/07/2004 - 22:00

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The winner of last year’s national Telstra small business of the year award, local footwear developer and manufacturer Footwear Industries, believes that success has had a valuable effect on its business.

Awards win strengthens brand

The winner of last year’s national Telstra small business of the year award, local footwear developer and manufacturer Footwear Industries, believes that success has had a valuable effect on its business.

So much so that the owners attribute some of the 50 per cent sales increase over the past year to the exposure achieved from State and national award wins.

Exports have also doubled and now make up about 10 per cent of the company’s sales.

But Footwear Industries’ directors also point to a 43 per cent sales increase in the previous year.

“I’m not saying Telstra is the only reason but it has definitely helped,” said Ross Fitzgerald, one of the Malaga-based business’s six directors.

Another director, Don Holmes said the real value of the awards, particularly the national award, had been the nation-wide exposure.

“We are a Western Australian business and to win the WA award was a very positive thing, but to also win the Australian one really put our name on the bill,” he said.

Locally, Footwear Industries claims about 70 per cent of the safety footwear market. But while WA is a significant player with its large resources industry, overall it comprises only 11 per cent of the Australian safety footwear market.

Of that market, Footwear Industries claims between 8 and 10 per cent, highlighting Mr Holmes’ point about the value of the national award.

“While in WA our sales are very good, over in the east is where we fall short, but that’s improving,” Mr Fitzgerald said. “With Telstra, what our name received over in the east has made a big impact.”

The main competition also comes from eastern States firms such as Tasmania-based Blundstone Footwear and Victoria’s Oliver Footwear.

To capitalise on its growing profile, Footwear Industries will run an advertising campaign in rural areas of the eastern States from next month.

Other initiatives include a plan to advertise at Sydney’s Telstra stadium for next month’s second Bledisloe Cup rugby union match. Back in WA, the company acquired the naming rights to WA football club Swan Districts’ home ground for its Steel Blue brand.

The Swans’ connection to Footwear Industries is quite strong, with Mr Holmes, Mr Fitzgerald and another director, Peter Carter all having played for the club.

Sport in general plays a big part in the company’s marketing with its broad-based appeal cutting across the worker/management divide.

The company’s marketing budget, which has been dramatically bolstered in recent years, now also pays for former Eagles player Glen Jakovich and former Australian cricketer Dennis Lillee to feature in local and international advertisements.

While local demand comes mostly from mining and related industries, Footwear Industries is targeting the large eastern States manufacturing industries.

“It’s a much bigger market, but they tend to go for cheap boots,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

“It’s a lot harder to get into but obviously this is one of the reasons we are doing this [Bledisloe Cup advertising]. What you are trying to do is get companies to change their thinking. To not supply their workers with the cheapest product you want them to up-sell to your Steel Blue.

“They will probably find it more expensive initially but it is an occupational health and safety issue, you know, you just don’t have any injuries and that is what we try and push.”

The idea to make safety boots that are safe yet also comfortable started it all for Footwear Industries almost nine years ago. Two of the current directors were working for another safety boot manufacturer at the time, but decided the then owner was on the wrong track.

After an initial investment of $1.2 million, the business has carved out a significant niche for itself developing and manufacturing what Footwear Industries claims to be the world’s most comfortable safety boot.

Mr Holmes said the company had actually changed perceptions of the safety boot.

“Everyone used to think get the cheap boot because it’s going to get wrecked working,” he said.

“We basically shifted the market so people no longer think: ‘Even though I spend eight to 15 hours a day in these boots, I’ll get the cheaper ones, whereas I can pay bit extra and when I come home I don’t feeling like I have been run over by a truck’.”

Three products — Steel Blue, Howler and Krusher — have been developed locally and Footwear Industries’ operations have been expanded across Australia. The company sells product into 10 different countries and has a licensed manufacturing operation in Indonesia.

This year more than 500,000 pairs of shoes at a retail price ranging from $130 to $200 were sold. Significantly that is almost 50 per cent higher than Footwear Industries’ main competitor’s pricing.

In fact the success of the design now has the owners looking at ways to further improve the product.

Currently a new plastic safety boot, claimed to be stronger and lighter than steel, is in the final stages of testing

The High Impact Polymer Alloy (HIPA) range is designed for the security industry.

So far it has passed Australian, US and European testing and if the product works well there are plans to introduce it into the rest of the range.

But the successes of the past three years have come after some testing times, and those behind Footwear Industries warned of the dangers of complacency during their acceptance speech at last year’s Telstra awards.

“Our philosophy, which we emphasise at all times, is don’t feel comfortable  … we don’t ever think we’ve made it, and sit back,” Mr Fitzgerald said. “We have just reached a goal and we are now working hard at the next level for Footwear Industries.”

Importantly, the owners say they use setbacks, such as a recent delay in the release of the HIPA range, as impetus to keep driving the business.

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