No business like… (Part 2)


Last week, we started this short series on the shoe business using custom-made Black Wing Shoes as the ideal business model for the Marikina shoe industry where Black Wing Shoes is doing business.

Buddy Tan is the owner and general manager of Black Wing Shoes and this young businessman is intent on reviving the shoe industry in Marikina. As I mentioned last week, there are now emerging shoemaking hubs in Montalban and San Mateo where some skilled shoemakers are starting out. This is a positive development as it only shows that the artisanal skill has not been completely lost in this generation. Ideally, quality control should still be centered in Marikina but there will now be three shoe-making hubs instead of just one.

Each and every client has his own quirk, Buddy says, and every pair of shoes emanating from Black Wing Shoes come out with a perfect fit because a client’s feet are carefully measured. Some of his clients have bunions, others have extra wide feet or collapsed arches. These are only some of the design and functional challenges that weigh in when the shoes are crafted because the shoes are built carefully around these imperfections. For now, his biggest challenge in this field is to solve the problem of the right shoes for diabetics who need softer, more flexible materials.

Custom-made shoes are more financially rewarding more especially in foreign markets where artisanal skill is more appreciated and valued. In the Philippines, Buddy laments, our “tawad” culture is one of the reasons why custom-made shoes do not command the price they deserve, but Black Wing Shoes has helped dispel that. The price range is anywhere from P4,250 to P6,000 or even higher if warranted. Buddy’s studies showed that there is no mid-range pricing here so he is targeting the middle-price market of Italian-made Aldo Shoes, many of which, though fashionable, are not even made from genuine leather. It is either high-end prices or low-cost, mass-produced China-made shoes, so he positioned his target market in the mid-range. Back in 2014, their shoes cost between P3,000 to P3,500 but because everything has gone up, they had to make price adjustments as well.

In the first year of Black Wing, they were making about 20 pairs/ month. By the third year, they were already hitting 60 pairs and by the fourth year that number is now up to 80 pairs/ month – not bad for a five-year business plan that the owner originally planned for Black Wing Shoes. They do not carry inventories as they only make shoes on order, so the compact size of their small factory suffices. Clients bring in the designs they want for replication, and this works well for Buddy Tan. For mass producers of any product, this number may not look interesting enough, but for the business model that Buddy has developed, this is already ideal. One must remember that we are talking of custom-made shoes with a staff of only eight skilled craftsmen and one assistant who takes care of all phoned-in or e-mailed inquiries. They have a compact work area and because they do not carry any inventory, they do not need a showroom. And because they do not have all these overhead costs to contend with, they can afford to price their products more reasonable and pay their lean and mean staff, himself included, very decent salaries with benefits to boot. Maintaining a showroom could mean added costs of P1,000-P1,500 for every pair of shoes, Buddy said. The owner believes that paying artisans well for their craft will professionalize the industry, and everything starts from there.

In their store, clients know that there is someone knowledgeable that they can talk to, not just some store clerks whose job is merely to get the right size and accept payments for their merchandise. Personal touch really matters, Buddy learned, and their clients message them for their every concern. Everything is down to a system – no walk-ins are accepted because they have a tight schedule to follow, so everything is strictly by appointment only. An assistant monitors all inquiries and appointments booked through their Facebook and Instagram accounts. The waiting list is quite long so that it takes two to three weeks just to get an appointment slot. Once one gets an appointed day and time, actual measurements are carefully taken and, because of the production queue, it takes six weeks before the actual shoes are ready for fitting. The advantage of keeping an appointment system is the client has the full attention he deserves and does not have to share his time with anyone else. He can raise all his concerns and they will be addressed, says Buddy – it’s all about what the customers want.

The challenge now for Black Wing Shoes is expansion. Although their capacity now can only realistically accommodate the 80 pairs per month, Buddy knows that they will have to make room for growth. The production time, he now realizes, is too long and he plans to bring this down to four weeks. Very soon, Black Wing Shoes will be offering full-service bespoke services as his entry point to the international market. He is also serious about the embarking on a training program for skilled shoemakers. This artisanal skill used to be handed down through generations among the Marikina old timers, but today’s generations would rather work in call centers. It takes somewhere between eight to 10 years before one can be called a skilled shoemaker, so his apprenticeship program is towards this direction because he wants to improve the base line of the quality of Marikina-made shoes. A big chunk of his clients’ base is from the more discerning LGBT community who know exactly what they want. Another big chunk is for those who want special shoes made for their wedding.

The good news is, many foreign buyers have shown interest in their products, and their planned bespoke service is key here. Things are indeed looking up for Black Wing Shoes and the Marikina shoe industry.

Mabuhay!!! Be proud to be a Filipino.

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