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“The brand isn’t going away”: Munro Footwear Group talks Ziera acquisition

When iconic local shoe brand Ziera went into voluntary administration earlier this year, Munro Footwear Group spotted an opportunity to get into the growing orthotic-friendly shoe market.

The family-owned company behind Diana Ferrari, Midas, Mountfords and other footwear brands acquired the Ziera and Kumfs brands last month for an undisclosed sum and told Inside Retail it will continue selling Ziera shoes on a wholesale basis as well as through its own retail stores and online.

“We thought it was such an incredible opportunity. The shoes are literally world class,” Bill Munro, MFG’s chief product officer, told Inside Retail.

MFG operates close to 300 stores across Australia under the Diana Ferrari, Midas, Mountfords, Mathers, Williams and other banners, and it’s one of the largest wholesalers to independent shoe stores in Australia. Its brands include Django and Juliette, I Love Billy, Colorado, Diana Ferrari, Mollini, Gamins, Top End, Silent D and Supersoft by Diana Ferrari brands.

But while some of its brands, such as Mountfords, offer a range of “comfort” shoes, it didn’t have a strong offer in the growing market for stylish orthotic-friendly and podiatrist-designed footwear currently dominated by online brands, such as Frankie4 and Bared.

Munro said these players have done a “great job” over the past few years, but now the $300 million company is looking to grab a bigger share of the market for itself.

The Ziera acquisition gives MFG access to the lasts and construction expertise that the brand, which was founded by two podiatrists, has developed over the past 70 years. At the same time, Munro said the company will bring its “aesthetic” strength to the brand.

“We think the brand could do with some revitalisation,” he said. “We deal with the best in Australian colours and materials. We’ll be bringing in new concepts that haven’t hit the market yet.”

The first priority, however, is communicating to Ziera’s existing customers that the brand isn’t going away.

“The biggest thing for us is getting hold of the database, which we’re expecting to get back from the administrators at the end of December or early January, and communicating to customers that the brand isn’t going away. They’ll still be able to buy Ziera shoes,” Munro said.

This is why MFG has kept the acquisition, which occurred on November 18, relatively quiet. Because the company didn’t buy the whole business, its hands have been tied while administrators liquidate stock and close Ziera’s network of 43 retail stores across Australia and New Zealand.

On the subject of stores, Munro said it didn’t make sense for MFG to take them on, since it already operates an extensive physical store network and some of Ziera’s stores were in the same locations as its own sites.

Instead, MFG plans to continue selling Ziera shoes on a wholesale basis to the brand’s existing retail partners, as well as through its own retail stores and online.

“We’re potentially looking at ranging [Ziera] in Mountford, which is more mature, so Ziera fits nicely in that network,” he said.

Munro said it was “too early” to tell whether MFG would hire any of Ziera’s 250 staff.

“We’re still assessing that…we’ll know in the next few weeks,” he said.

While Ziera cited falling in-store sales as a key reason, among broader economic factors, including the US-China trade war and weak New Zealand dollar, for its decision to enter voluntary administration, Munro said MFG saw an increase in both comparable and overall sales in FY19.

“Retail is not easy. I don’t think there’s any secret about that. But if you focus on your customer and everything you can to service them, you’re in pretty good shape,” he said.

“In terms of our retail sales, they’ve been solid over the past 12-18 months. Online is continuing to accelerate, but bricks-and-mortar has also been pretty good. We can’t complain.”

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