1. How has Bally performed so far in 2018 and what are your expectations for the rest of the year?
The actions undertaken by the management team are already delivering tangible and robust results
• In 2017, Bally experienced significant momentum in the top-line and profitability as a result of the brandʼs repositioning, refocused product collection and enhanced distribution network.
• The strategic decisions taken are delivering solid performance in 2018 across all regions with exceptional growth registered in Americas, Japan and global e- commerce.
• We have also had a successful SS19 Wholesale campaign, with double digit growth and have either entered or continued our partnerships with the most influential wholesale fashion doors in the world. The results in Wholesale are encouraging, having third parties endorse your offer is a great catalyser.
• We see this positive momentum continuing in 2018, opening the possibility to further benefit from operating leverage and expand EBITDA margin. Bally is poised to continue its successful journey.
2. This year Bally was acquired by Chinese conglomerate Shandong Ruyi Group. What does this mean for your company?
The partnership among SaKndong Ruyi Group, JAB & Ballyʼs management team comes at a time of strong, continuous growth for Bally. This acquisition represents the successful marriage of West and East with Bally representing the best the Western world has to offer – universal recognition for quality, craftsmanship, heritage and design; and the Shandong Ruyi Group, the biggest textile player in China and a leader in technology and innovation. This is a truly exciting and fascinating enterprise that will bring more than one surprise.
Yafu Qiu, chairman of Shandong Ruyi group, noted: “Bally is one of the most important luxury shoe and leather accessories Brands with a heritage going back more than a century. Ballyʼs history and its products greatly complement our existing strength in ready-to-wear apparel. We are extremely excited to begin this new journey of Bally alongside JAB and the Bally Management Team. This is an important milestone for Shandong Ruyi group in our enterprise to become a global leader in the Fashion apparel sector. We look forward to supporting Bally in achieving its continued growth and enhancing its brand globally.”
Shandong Ruyi group intends to maintain the DNA and unique identity of Bally, with its head office and main factory based in Caslano (CH). With most of its production happening in Europe, Bally will continue with its know-how from 167 years making shoes with styles spanning from sneakers, to street and formal…. Bally is the only brand delivering Swiss quality for men shoes. In fact, these are handmade in our factory in Caslano.
3. How would you define the DNA of Bally as a luxury brand?
Bally is anchored in an exceptional heritage of shoemaking, branching out into accessories and ready to wear but maintaining the same attention to detail and passion for style and excellence across all product categories. Bally is an architect of leather.
Established in Switzerland in 1851, the brandʼs expertise covered the ultrapractical – with the production of the first designer sneaker in the 1930s – to Olympian team shoes and mountaineering boots that took Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay to the summit of Mount Everest in 1953. We champion exploration, discovery and innovation with unique designs driven by a strong retro sportswear aesthetic.
4. How do you see the evolution of your company in the mid to long term? What are your main objectives?
When I joined the company I stated that Bally was a billion-dollar company. Now, more than ever, I feel that we are at the turning point. With our reviewed brand positioning, our clear strategy, the passion and knowledge from our teams and the support of the Shandong Ruyi group we are set for success.
The key to our strategy is to offer an understated high quality product that reflects Ballyʼs sharpened brand DNA. The pillars of our strategy are leather accessories which is the fastest growing segment (5 percentage points higher than the total market) and we are set to win in that category.
We are seeing a casualization of styles and the growth of the need for self expression, we have complete legitimacy to offer such style. Ballyʼs history as the go to brand in the hip-hop world in the 80ʼs and 90ʼs perfectly serves this market and we are building on it through genuine collaborations that are appearing organically. For example, Slick Rick has just celebrated the 30th anniversary of “The Great Adventures of Slick Rick” at Ballyʼs flagship in LA. The album is considered one of the most influential hip-hop records of all time; in it, he made reference to how well he felt because wearing Bally. Guests at the Rodeo event included Snoop Dogg, LL Cool J and John Singleton who payed their respects to Slick Rick.
Target the growing customer segments: the millennials with a balanced gender approach. Millennials have entered the luxury market with passion, they represent almost a third of the market and they have specific needs. For them, luxury is not about showing off but about self expression. We benefit from a Chinese clientele in love with Bally.
Chinese represent the largest and fastest growing nationality for luxury consumption with a 35% market share. With an increase in urbanization and a 9% yearly growth of the upper middle class, their share can only increase. Not only they consume domestically but also when traveling. In 2000, 30 million Chinese travelled, in 2015, 120 million and it is expected that by 2030, 240 million Chinese will travel and hence consume abroad.
A balanced footprint worldwide marked by:
- synchronized presence made of flagship stores in the key fashion cities in the world
- retail stores in selected cities
- a rich presence in travel retail
- the hottest multi brand partners and to complete it all
- a proprietary e-commerce platform ensuring that we are a truly omnichannel company serving the customer where he is / wants to be served particularly targeting younger generations
- We have a single view of both stock and client, this supports operations and generates insights.
5. You recently opened a grand new showroom in Milan. Tell us more.
Ballyʼs home remains firmly rooted in Switzerland where we have our HQ, our production plant, our Archive and Shoe Museum and remains our biggest market in EMEA.
We looked long and hard before closing our London office and settling on a Milanese landmark for Ballyʼs new Italian home. We worked with local architectural firm Storage Associati to bring the Bally story to life while preserving the history within the walls of this landmark, which in 1908 stood as the Kursaal theatre before it was transformed into a cinema from 1925 until its closure in 1989. The project originated with the magnificent entrance and immense proportion of the space – cast concrete, grey resin, Bally red marble and brass. Adorned with custom designed furniture mixed with pieces by Jean Prouvé providing a link to Ballyʼs modernist legacy.
2,400 square metres of showroom and office space over four levels in the heart of Milanʼs fashion district, house our design, merchandising, visual merchandising and marketing and communications teams. This really helps with our ability to work with speed and agility. As we know, speed is of essence in todayʼs luxury world.
6. Increasingly in the past years, footwear has become the most profitable product category for many top luxury fashion brands. What are the key ingredients for success, nowadays, when it comes to footwear?
With regards to how to be successful in footwear, honestly speaking it is quite a simple equation: authenticity and innovation. Bally has been making shoes since 1851, that definitely gives us unparalleled knowhow! We have been making sneakers since the 30ʼs. One of our signature dress shoes that is still today one of our best sellers is the Scribe, invented in 1951 and still handmade today in our factory in Caslano, Switzerland, by our artisan team.
To make a successful shoe, the materials used must be of the very best quality, our leather experts search the world for the finest leathers. The style is of the outmost importance, our customers are looking for something that reflects their personal sense of taste and style and signposts them as being discerning and standing out from the crowd. Obviously the comfort of the fit is crucial, shoes are wearable pieces of design, and as such they must always be beautiful, functional and comfortable.
When these three elements combine it provides a guarantee to the customer of the excellence of the product they are choosing.
Last year marked the birth of a new icon, the Bally babouche. Both our Bell du Jour and our Lottie were a success in terms of sales and market appreciation. It is a flat shoe of the softest leather that a woman can seamlessly wear to the office or to meet friends as it can be dressed up or down.
The current consumer passion for sneakers and retro footwear particularly fits Bally: we have lots of inspiration for this in our Archive! Our curated offer perfectly serves our customers providing updated and original versions of our heritage sneakers.
7. Which do you regard as todayʼs most important disruptors in the luxury industry?
In broad strokes, the emergence and increasing dominance of the e-commerce and the omnichanel retail model together with the maturing sophistication of the ubiquitous Chinese consumer are changing the playing field.
In terms of brands, I like what other players are also doing by investing in collaborations. Bally is a pioneer in this field. The brand has recurrently enrolled the greatest artistic minds. It has collaborated with architects such as acclaimed modernist architect Robert Mallet-Stevens through most recently, David Chipperfield Architects; world known graphic designers such as Hervé Morvan, Meandher and Villemot; fashion designers such as Robert Piguet, Roger Vivier, Pierre Cardin… they all worked for Bally.
Today our collaboration with Swizz Beatz is a clear example of the passion there is for the brand. When Swizz contacted me on Instagram after he had bought several sneakers and a few dress shoes and loved them, he proposed we do something together. The conversation we had was so genuine, passionate and inspiring that when we met, a collaboration made all the sense. We had to build a beautiful story together. The first capsule with artworks from Ricardo Cavolo has been a success . I am sure customers will love the upcoming collaboration to be launched this October in Tokyo, innovation is everything. Stay tuned!
8. Bally has been scaling down on ready-to-wear. Tell us more.
Bally introduced RTW in 1976. We are a shoemaking company that registers noticeable sales in accessories. We define RTW as the accessory to the accessory. It is true that our RTW is a crucial element in telling the story of each collection offering a total look and style and it consistently gathers impressive editorials.
We put tremendous effort into developing our RTW with our in-house expert design team that takes very seriously our position as the leather architect.
9. What is your strategy towards millennials?
Millennials love craftsmanship and authenticity. Bally offers just that with our 167 years of shoemaking experience. Our heritage allows us to go back and look into our Archives to find inspiration. Last year we presented at Pitti Uomo our retro sneakers collection, a selection of sneakers from the 60ʼs, 70ʼs and 80ʼs that we have replicated and are now selling very well. We have legitimacy in all we make and our product narrative engages our audience.
Our Omni-channel capability addresses this digital native generation. Bally offers a balanced footprint serving the customer wherever he is. Our iPad sales, store fulfilment, pick up in store, return in store, find in store and shared Customer Service across channels (online, offline, social networks) make for a smooth sales process.
10. Which are today the most effective communications channels for your brand?
Last year we decided to push on digital. Historically, Bally has been a pioneer in communication. From the production of advertising posters with the greatest creative minds, through the creation of postcards, creative packaging, advertising film for the cinema… Did you know Bally featured the great Charlie Chaplin in an ad for the movie theatres back in the 20ʼs?
Today, we are seeing great performance resulting from our digital marketing strategy. We are working on the social media side – it is the fastest and most immediate channel and allows us to tell the story of Bally as it happens, where it happens. It reduces the distance between the brand and our customers and allows us to engage with them in an informal, immediate and captivating manner. As the e-commerce capabilities of social media are further developed, this truly marks a revolution in the luxury market. We will have new content in the fall that will surely drive engagement and followership. Cannot provide further details just yet!
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