The group EXENA based in Civitanova Marche (Macerata), a market leader in technical footwear dedicated to professionals, guarantees the best performance in all conditions. Here’s the words of the sales manager Giacomo Bara, whom we interviewed at the headquarters.
Just over 20 years in business, already a market leader in safety footwear dedicated to professionals, to whom it guarantees total safety and performance for all types of working conditions. This is the success story of EXENA, a group based in Civitanova Marche (Macerata), made up of a balanced mix of high production quality, innovation and flexibility. The company is based on three fundamental values: carrying on R&D activities on every product; guaranteeing high quality and reliability through constant innovation and control of each stage of production, from design to construction; taking care of the customer service and adding flexibility and an excellent price/quality ratio.
EXENA was founded in 1998 by the will of four entrepreneurs from the Marche region, experts in the safety sector, who changed the way of thinking about safety footwear, adding an aesthetic vision to a service product.
“This team – explains the sales manager Giacomo Bara, whom we interviewed at the headquarters – was made up, among others, of my father and my uncle, the latter still managing the company. All together they run the business producing, since the ‘60s, sports shoes for major international brands including Puma, Adidas and Nike. In the Marche region, where an important sports district was located at the time, they made the uppers, while part of the products was finished in the district of Barletta, in the region Puglia.”
When did it all start?
When these productions were displaced from Italy to the Far East, the partners decided to switch the target into the safety and accident prevention sector, thus founding the new company. One of the first moves was the creation of a “service” branch in Romania, highly specialized in upper closing, which then became part of the group, destined to the production of uppers. Until 2007 our company worked exclusively on behalf of third parties, while the first EXENA brand collections date back to the following year, despite the difficulties of the economic crisis of 2008-2009, which slowed the development. From 2012 onwards, the growth was constant and this has led us to reach, at the end of 2019, 60% of our brand productions and the remaining 40% for those of customers.
2020 and the beginning of 2021 were characterized by a long lockdown period.
It was a difficult two-year period but the safety footwear market hang in there: the most difficult months were April and May, because the lockdown mainly concerned Italy, while abroad, where we register 60% of sales, kept on working. From the end of May to September there was a strong rebound, but we were ready for the massive requests because in the meantime we had worked at full capacity, supplying the warehouse also with regard to retail sales. The large distributors we work with, including foreign ones, have always collected their products. In the end, we closed 2020 well, while in the first quarter of this year we were even over budget.
The data shows that you have focused on an important market niche…
Yes, especially if we consider that currently two sectors in particular, construction and food, are going very well, while the metallurgical sector was stopped due to the lockdown, but then resumed at a good pace. As far as we are concerned, the real winning weapon is the service, and a warehouse of about 350 thousand pairs of shoes of all models that guarantees a very fast shipment: we are so efficient that we are now able to deliver the product within a week both in Italy and throughout Europe. This represents an essential advantage for our customers, who can optimize their warehouses, minimizing inventories.
How did you achieve such results?
We carried out a deep work of organization and logistics, two strategic components for the market. We had a new warehouse built, equipped with a mapping system, which decides where to place the shoes and how to collect them, optimizing the path and times in warehouse management; it also includes other variants and checks the stock timing. Moreover, we improved automation: according to Industry 4.0, we got a four-head cutting machine (It is an experimental model, just a dozen has been made) which has a production capacity of 700-800 pairs of shoes per day and which we use mainly for medium-high quality leathers.
Are there other projects to be implemented according to Industry 4.0?
We purchased a new injection machine, from the company Stemma, based in Cornuda. It is the top of the technology, it’s connected it to our management system, orders and programs are guided by the head office: currently we produce about 1,500 pairs of shoes per day, all with a two-tone polyurethane bottom. Still in the field of safety, we are dealing with the purchase of a machine for the production of PVC boots. We believe this sector is capable of guaranteeing significant growth at the market level, so we will keep on heavily investing in R&D activities. Overall, counting the various production sites, we produce about 10 thousand pairs of shoes per day.
Yours is among the few companies in the world that produce two types of shoes: the classic injected shoe and the assembled one, for the high-quality segment. How did this decision come about?
The applied sole line is running for several years in our site in Romania, then the market turned, also technologically speaking, towards direct injection. We boast several types of articles: for example, under our own and our customers’ brands, we run different lines of women’s footwear featuring glued soles, highly performing and stylistically outstanding. Choices come from different needs, such as greater flexibility in processes or purely technical reasons. We are also developing a project for an EVA shoe, whose sole will obviously be glued.
How do you deal with circular economy and attention to the environment?
At the fair in Düsseldorf, Germany, we have already launched the new Air green line: it is completely made with recycled materials, from the upper to the insole, from the linings to the laces. An important discussion in the future concerns the purchase of the new Industry 4.0 machinery, planned for this year and in 2022, as well as a policy of recovery of materials that will be processed in a specific warehouse.
What does your future development plan envisage?
Given the size reached, the goal is not to grow in the overall number of pairs, but to optimize and improve the business and service. The real goal of EXENA is to grow with its own brand productions, gradually replacing some outer brands considered less strategic. We have focused on some foreign countries with exclusive distributions, a policy that is rewarding us as sales are growing. In Italy, where we rely on a network of multi-firm and direct agents, we are ranked among all the major national distributors and at the same time we work to acquire greater market shares. Between the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022, the goal is to launch 2-3 new footwear lines, in order to keep on pursuing the path of innovation, which represents the mirror of a young, dynamic company that strongly believes in European productions, given that we do not import anything from the Far East. The “heart” of the company remains in Italy, where we buy all possible materials, disdaining the lower prices offered by China for other items as well. We are also investing huge resources in pattern making.
Giacomo Bara, sales manager