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Decline in Poland's Shoe Sector Blamed on Cheap China Imports

With another domestic footwear manufacturer closing, Polish businesses see the cause as a surfeit of China-origin shoes.

Photo: Endangered species: The now lesser-seen Polish cobbler. (Shutterstock.com)
Endangered species: The now lesser-seen Polish cobbler.
Photo: Endangered species: The now lesser-seen Polish cobbler. (Shutterstock.com)
Endangered species: The now lesser-seen Polish cobbler.

An oversupply of cheap, imported Chinese shoes is being blamed for prompting something of a crisis in Poland's footwear industry. The latest concerns were triggered by the demise of Bena, a supplier of high-quality children's shoes that shut its doors at the end of last month after 20 years of trading. At the time, a statement from the company cited its "inability to remain financially viable in the face of a sustained flood of highly competitive Chinese goods onto the market" as the reason for its closure.

According to sources within the country's footwear sector, although many local consumers profess a distinct preference for Polish products, the sizable price differential often all but obliges them to purchase far cheaper China-sourced alternatives. This has seen many of the country's smaller manufacturers falter as they simply cannot compete on price terms with the vast number of significantly lower-priced Chinese shoes that are currently swamping the market. At the same time, the problem is seen as having been exacerbated by the cut-price policies adopted by many of the supermarkets and malls that stock such imports.

Problems, too, have been caused by the many local wholesalers that have taken to placing smaller and smaller orders with domestic manufacturers, prompting concerns that seasonal production runs will not sell out prior to new styles and designs being introduced. Overall, many believe it is a combination of these factors that has driven many of the smaller local footwear manufacturers out of business in recent years. So pressing has the problem proved to be that only the country's largest footwear manufacturers – notably Bartek, a central-Poland based maker of children's shoes – have weathered the storm, and then only because they have robust exports sales to fall back on.

Despite the disappearance of many domestic footwear manufacturers, a fair number of their associated brands have maintained a presence on the high street. This new lease of life granted them is largely down to a number of the country's major chain-store operators – including CCC, Poland's largest retailer – acquiring the rights to these discontinued brands and either switching production to one of the few remaining domestic footwear manufacturers or, more usually, outsourcing production to third-party operations in China.

Established in 1999 and owned by Dariusz Miłek, Poland's fourth-richest man, CCC is the country's largest footwear retailer, with a market share of about 20%. It operates 1,160 outlets, with its network stretching across several European countries, including Germany, Russia, Austria and Hungary.

In total, the chain employs more than 12,000 people and sells nearly 40 million pairs of shoes a year. About 50% of its footwear range is manufactured locally, with the remainder largely imported from China.

Anna Dowgiallo, Warsaw Consultant

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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