Travel in the Shoe World
In the shoe business you will have a chance to travel the world. As a shoe designer or Footwear Product line manager you can visit with customers and factories around the world! During my footwear career I have been lucky enough to work as a Shoe Designer, Shoe Developer, Footwear Product Line Manager, Development manager and Business manager. I have worked all around the USA in California, Vermont, Texas, Florida, Canada, Nevada etc…. you get the idea. There are shoe companies in almost all of the 50 states and in every country in the world.
World wide travel? Yes if you want to! Now there are positions in the shoemaking world that are desk bound with no travel, but from my personal experience the travel is what can make it an interesting and rewarding career. If you enjoy traveling then a career in footwear can be great for you!
Market travel: Having work for “International Companies” that sell product world wide it important to get out and see what is happening in the areas you sell. I personally have visited Australia, Germany, Canada, England, Japan to meet with distributors, retailers and salesmen. It’s a great chance to see and hear first hand what is happening in your markets. The retail dealers in Australia may have a very different system than say the dealers in Germany or Japan.
You can also pick the brains of your distributors, retailers and salesmen. You will get lots of great ideas from listening to their opinions. You may find out your competitors are doing something you had not seen or maybe there is a market for a very different product? or a crazy new trend.
Product design Inspiration: Maybe the rarest of trips in the shoe world, but it does happen. Usually the design manager and staff will travel together to trend leading city. If your design office is located in Southern California it’s useful to send your designers off to New york or London so then can see what is happening!
Sales support: Usually a road trip with a sales rep during a selling tour but often this can be international travel to a major foreign market. Watching your midwest sales rep sell into a sporting goods store will be a very different experience compared to riding along with your Australian salesmen sell into Sydney’s biggest surf retailer. You will learn sales techniques, see how different stores in different territories are merchandised. Maybe build a personal relationship with your international salesmen and customers. Definitely will allow you to improve your salesmen and customer product knowledge. I have found once they know you are the designer or Product manager they can’t to tell you their new product ideas.
Face time with customers. Of course face time with your customers is a great thing. Seeing how they make their purchase decisions is key to how you present your product. A good sales rep will know the buyers style can can modify his presentation to maximize sales results.
Industry Trade shows / Industrial shows / Material shows / Sports shows:
Working a trade shoe booth of a week can be a mind numbing experience, soul crushing footsore experience but it can also be hilarious fun, insightful and inspiring!
With your eyes and ear open, note pad in hand an industry trade show is a perfect place for you to see what is happen in your industry. It’s a chance to see your competitors merchandise up close and even a chance to introduce yourself. Todays competitor could be tomorrows employer or new employee for you!
Industrial shows can be a very useful for a designer. Seeing new manufacturing techniques not shoe specific can give you many ideas for your next project. Material shows tend to be smaller, but again it’s a great place to see what’s new fast.
The NE shoe material show is put on in Massachusetts for the East coast brands while the NW shoe material show is put on in Portland for Nike and the west coast shoe brands.
Visiting your supply factories is critical for your professional growth. As a Designer it’s important, as a Product Manager it’s critical as a Developer it just part of your job. I recommend you beg borrow or steal to get a chance to see what happens in the assembly factory.
You will see the Facility. The most basic observations can tell you much about the care being taken for your products. Is the shoe factory clean? Is it organized? Is there product on the floor, stacked neatly or piled in heaps. What is the condition of the equipment? Is the the factory cold and damp or moldy?
What equipment is there? Is there a new or old machine that you can use for a new process or design. Visit the sub contractor. Some parts are made outside of the factory, take a drive. See how that sub assembly is really made. You may not be able to spy around a Nike contracted shoe factory but you can visit the some of the same suppliers.
Many shoe factories do build product for related or competing brands, so you may see something being made for one of your competitors. Many factories will take on smaller brands to fill production space and to cultivate new customers. No ones knows what brands will be the next Nike or Under Armor. A large factory complete may have 10 shoes brands running at once.
Walk the shoe assembly line from beginning to end. You will see the good and the bad. DO IT. It’s key that you do. If they see that you care, they will make the effort.
Personal relationships with factory staff:
If the factory people know you and like you they will be happy to work hard for you. If you take care to be nice and get to know the staff it will pay off. A basket of fruit or small gifts for the sample makers will pay off the crew will make the extra effort for you. If you are jerk….don’t expect the same results.
You can see first hand the techniques they use and equipment they have.
See what is going on inside the factories. May factories are shared by brands you can see what is really a hot seller.
It’s key to get out and meet with the people you do business with particularly when doing work in a foreign country. Once you understand how they think or their level of language skills it will make your work easier.
Some how by magic the stalled projects come to life if they know you are coming to visit!
You just don’t know who you will meet or what you will see….