Allen Edmonds Banking On Greater Interest In Hand-Made American Goods
Long a favored brand among quality-minded Americans, several presidents among them, the Wisconsin-based shoemaker Allen Edmonds today announced plans to expand into China while keeping its manufacturing base planted firmly in the USA. Though the American Apparel & Footwear Association estimates that 99 percent of shoes sold in the United States are currently imported, with 88 percent of the total coming from China, the flow of American-made shoes going the other direction is virtually nil. But with wealthier Chinese consumers now putting a premium on craftsmanship and “low-key luxury,” Allen Edmonds is ready to show China what it’s been missing by spending so long fixated on larger European brands.
As the AFP notes today, Allen Edmonds, via a licensing agreement with Shanghai-based Talent Creations, plans to ply its wares in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau, with its first store in the region slated for Shanghai at the end of June 2012. From the article:
Conventional wisdom might suggest that the cheapest way to sell to the Chinese is to assemble the products in China, thereby minimizing labor and shipping costs. But Paul Grangaard, Allen Edmonds’ top executive, wouldn’t hear of it. He said a significant part of his company’s appeal is that its products are U.S.-made.
“We sometimes forget in this country what a strong reputation ‘Made in America’ has around the world,” said Grangaard, the president and CEO of the privately held firm. “If we started making shoes in China, we’d be just like any other company.”
Allen Edmonds shoes are handmade at the company headquarters in Port Washington, about 30 miles north of Milwaukee. Its 330 production workers crank out 2,000 pairs of shoes a day, and Grangaard predicted that if sales in Asia take off, the manufacturing staff could double in the next 10 years.
There’s room for his optimism. China has about 1.3 billion people — or, as Grangaard sees the market, 2.6 billion feet — and its expanding upper and middle classes can increasingly afford pricey shoes.
Entering a men’s footwear market as crowded as China’s clearly won’t be easy, but surging demand in its home market — where consumers are putting a premium on quality rather than price alone — has Allen Edmonds confident its hand-made shoes will put it on equal footing (pun intended) with market stalwarts like Ferragamo and Zegna. Allen Edmonds certainly has plenty going for it: nearly 90 years old (20 years older than Coach), famously hard-wearing, only one of two American high-end men’s shoemakers still producing domestically (along with Alden), and the choice of presidents and CEOs for decades. To further burnish the brand’s “All-American” image, each Allen Edmonds store in China will sell the brand’s business and casual lines, as well as its new even higher-end line, “The Independence Collection,” each model of which is named after a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
If all goes to plan, who knows, we could just see both Barack Obama and Hu Jintao wearing the same brand of shoes before too long.