No business like .... (Part 2)

Dec 02, 2017

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 P3,000.00 to P3,500.00 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 twenty pairs/ month. By the third year, they were already hitting sixty pairs and by the fourth year that number is now up to eighty pairs/ month - not bad for a 5-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 P1,000.00 - P1,500.00 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 8 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.

For comments & inquiries (email) sunshine.television@yahoo.com

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About the Author

Ray Butch Gamboa graduated from the College of Arts and Letters of the University of Sto. Tomas. It was a course that should have been preparatory to a law degree, but the call of broadcasting aborted his plans.

At the age of 16, while still a student, Butch tried his hand at disc jockeying, landing a job at Mareco Broadcasting Network's AM stations DZBM and DZLM. From there, Butch moved on with his illustrious career as a popular disc jockey, riding the airwaves of Bob Stewart's middle-of-the-road music at DZXX, and ending his disc jockeying career at ABS-CBN's DZYL and DZQL.

From there, he stayed on with ABS-CBN, covering live the proceedings at the Manila Stock Exchange and eventually entered into the world of television sales as an account manager for the premier channel of ABS-CBN Channel 2.

In the early 70's, at the outbreak of Martial Law, Butch was one of the thousands of professionals who woke up jobless when then President Marcos declared the new status of the nation. With the closure of ABS-CBN, Butch ventured into different fields outside of broadcast. He tried his hand and with ease and success at export (Costume jewelry), real estate (brokerage), and restaurants (fast food).

In 1987, after the revolution, with the broadcast industry back to its free state, and with its irresistible call ringing in his ears, Butch made his inevitable comeback and pioneered in a local motoring show, producing Motoring Today on Channel 4 and co-hosting with local motor sports' living legend Pocholo Ramirez.

After 4 years, he ventured into another pioneering format by producing and hosting Business & Leisure, which was originally aired on ABS-CBN's Channel 2. The format eventually espoused similar ones in other different channels. But the clones in due course faded away leaving the original staying on airing on Channel 4 and eventually on Shop TV on Sky Cable's Channel 13.

The following year, the pioneering spirit in Butch spurred him to produce another TV show, Race Weekend, also on Channel 4, covering circuit racing at the Subic International Raceway after the motor sport's hiatus of 17 years. But when similar shows with duplicated formats sprouted, he decided to give way and ended the program after a year, although still enjoying unparalleled viewership.

In 1998, when the local automotive industry was in a slump, Butch contributed his share to help the ailing industry by producing another popular motoring-related show, this time exclusive to the automobile and its industry—Auto Focus, which became a vehicle for local automotive assemblers and importers to showcase their products and dwell on the industry's latest technological developments.

In 2003, Butch teamed up with his brother, Rey Gamboa who was a former Shell executive and presently one Philippine Star's business columnist to co-produce and co-host the TV show Breaking Barriers on Channel 13. It is a talk show that features guests who are in the news and in the middle of controversies. The program ventures to draw deeper insights into current issues to learn how they impact to our daily lives.

Today, Motoring Today on its 28th year of service to the general motoring public still enjoys its unprecedented loyal vierwership nationwide while Auto Focus, after 16 years has firmly established its niche viewership among automobile enthusiasts and on the other hand Business & Leisure is on its 24th year dishing out current business issues and lifestyle features.

Today, aside from writing weekly columns for the Philippine Star (Motoring Today on Wednesdays and Business & Leisure on Saturdays) and executive producer / host of weekly TV shows (Motoring Today, airs Sundays on Solar Sports Channel 70, Business & Leisure, airs Tuesdays on Shop TV, Sky Cable Channel 13 and Auto Focus airs Thursdays on Shop TV, Sky Cable Channel 13, Ray Butch Gamboa is currently the Chairman and CEO of Sunshine Television Production and Marketing Services Corp., President of Gamcor Management and Development Corp., Chairman of Asia-Pacific Realty Corporation, President and Chairman of Socio-Communication Foundation for Asia and Founding Chairman of the Society of Phil. Motoring Journalists (SPMJ)