MANILA, Philippines – Italian winemaker turned shoe innovator Mario Moretti Polegato, the man behind the Geox Group, has told his experience in Nevada countless times already, but the story never gets old.
Polegato, in Nevada in the early 1990s to attend conference on behalf of the family’s wine business, had just walked around the Nevada desert. Using a Swiss Army knife, he carved holes into the soles of his trainers to give his tired feet some comfort.
When he returned to Italy, Polegato pursued his idea of reinventing shoes, and spent a year or so to research and work on the patent for this. He developed the Italian brand known for its “breathable shoes” line. Over the years, his ingenuity turned into a business succcess story.
After much experimentation and passing the market testing phase for a line of children’s footwear, Polegato came up with the perforated rubber sole that incorporates a special breathable and waterproof membrane, which lets the feet “breathe” but prevents water from seeping into footwear.
The founder and chairman of the Geox Group, is in the Philippines for the Forbes Global CEO Conference 2015, said that no one wanted his technology. “So I decided to start my own shoe production.”
The company initially consisted of 5 people whom he convinced to handle the production and marketing of his “modified shoes.”
To date, Polegato said the Geox technology “is patented and unique in more than 100 countries worldwide, including the Philippines.”
“Everybody likes Italian shoes. We combined the technology with Italian style. And we created a formidable idea with Geox,” he added. The name stands for “earth” (Greek, geo, connecting it to his Nevada desert “light bulb” experience) and “x” for turning his idea into practical technology.
Polegato said that based on the results of a brand awareness survey, 60% of the world’s population knows Geox, making it perhaps the second best known Italian brand in the world, next to Ferrari. The brand also has Amphibiox, a line of leather shoes that stays dry.
“People now like to travel. And with this kind of innovation, there’s no more necessity to bring more shoes (for different types of weather),” he said.
From rubber to leather shoes for men, women, and children, the Geox Group also expanded its line to include apparel and sportswear, incorporating the same breathable technology.
Polegato said Geox Group is a unique footwear company that invests in technology. “Two percent of our turnover is invested in R&D (research and development). That’s the key to our success,” he said.
The Italian innovator is one of the speakers at the Forbes Global CEO Conference 2015 Tuesday, October 13, for the panel discussion on “Building a Winning Brand.”
“I consider myself an innovator. They (fellow global CEOs) want to talk to me to understand my secret,” Polegato said.
He added: “In the global economy, the key to success is innovation. And I represent not just an idea. I represent the necessity to drive an idea.”
Polegato, who also teaches and lectures in various colleges and universities worldwide on the topic of entrepreneurship, said many businessmen or business groups want to accelerate innovation “but there is a necessity to explain what innovation means.”
“A good idea is part of innovation. (For example) I didn’t invent shoes; I modified shoes,” he said.
Polegato also stressed an important reminder: “You need to patent your idea. Because if you don’t, everybody will copy you.” He said a lot of people do not know about the patent law.
“Very few Italian inventors become entrepreneurs and create a global brand because they don’t (really) know the patent law,” he said. He cited how Italian espresso became associated with American Starbucks or pizza with US’ Pizza Hut.
“You have the possibility to create. Innovation is creation, patent, and collaboration,” he explained. He said colleges or universities are willing to partner with an entrepreneur to test and realize a business idea.
Polegato also added that it is important to focus more on innovation. “It’s important that you’re smart. Being smart in the business is being unique. Geox’s success represent a real answer to customer’s need,” he said.
The Milan Stock Exchange-listed company (Polegato has 71% controlling shares) has restructured in the past two years, and is now focused on customizing products for markets where it has a presence, like Russia and Canada.
From 5 employees, the company now has 30,000 employees, operates in 120 countries worldwide, including the Philippines, and has 1,200 stores located in major streets like New York, London, Sydney, and in China; and major shopping malls.
The Geox Group commands a middle- to high-range price (average $100 to $400 or P4,598.40 to P18,396.75).
Polegato said that as of last year, Geox sold 7 million pairs of shoes in Italy, which has a population of 56 million. “Every 1 in 10 people (in Italy) wears Geox. We want to repeat our success in the Philippines,” he said.
To date, the Geox Group, which has been present in the country for a decade now, has 17 stores in the Philippines, and targeting to close the year with 20 stores. The brand is available in major shopping malls in Metro Manila and other big cities in the country.
“In the future, we want to open more stores in the Philippines, maybe not in Metro Manila, but in other cities,” he said.
“(Majority of) immigrant Filipino in the US, Europe know Geox. And they promoted Geox (to their families) when they come back here. Our technology us perfect for your country because your climate is humid, hot,” Polegato added.
Polegato described the Asia-Pacific as an interesting market for Geox Group. “In Hong Kong where we’re based (in the region), we have more than 20 stores. We’re one of the popular brands in Hong Kong. In the future, we want to develop more stores in all cities in China,” he said.
Italy and the rest of Europe still command a good market share for the brand.
With a bigger company now, Polegato’s role is more to represent Geox Group in the global arena. “And (ensure) the continuity to stimulate innovation because I believe that Geox has the real possibility to become No. 1 in the world,” Polegato said. – Rappler.com
$1 = P45.99
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