Nike Loses Top Spot to Brazilian Sneakers

Updated on
  • Vulcabras Azaleia’s Olympikus brand is best-seller in Brazil
  • Company looks to ‘grandma’ shoe brand for future growth

Olympikus is back on top. 

The shoemaker toppled Nike Inc. as the best-seller in Brazil this year, reclaiming its crown after being in second place since 2011. And it didn’t even have to go on sale to do it.

The Brazilian brand triumphed after parent company Vulcabras Azaleia SA went through a three-year restructuring, sped up production and joined the Novo Mercado segment of the BM&FBovespa stock exchange. The firm, which recently implemented a 45-day turnaround from order to delivery, gives retailers no excess inventory to set out on sale racks.

“Our competitive advantage is to be quick,” said Chief Executive Officer Pedro Bartelle in an interview in Sao Paulo. “Each month, retailers need only replace exactly the colors and quantities they need.”

Shares of Vulcabras rose 0.5 percent to 7.84 reais at 12:46 p.m. in Sao Paulo.

Brazil’s success in luring the World Cup and Olympic Games backfired on Olympikus. Its sneakers, which average about 200 reais ($60), lost footing when foreign brands aggressively barged into the country to take advantage. Now that the sporting world has moved on, the shine is off the more expensive Nike and Adidas imports.

While labor costs in Brazil are three times what they are in Asia -- meaning Vulcabras can’t compete abroad -- the lead time and relatively lower costs of doing business in tariff-happy Brazil give Olympikus a boost.

The company is poised for even more growth after reporting strong revenue and profit in the third quarter, its 41-year-old former race car driving chief executive said. Olympikus still has room to increase sales around Latin America, and Vulcabras is also betting on bringing back a popular old-school casual shoe brand for women with attractive pricing and comfortable, sneaker-like soles.

Grandma Shoes

While Olympikus represents 80 percent of Vulcabras sales, the greatest growth potential lies with the Azaleia brand, according to Bartelle. The traditional women’s shoe brand -- which usually elicits a “my grandma wears those”-type reaction -- was acquired by Vulcabras ten years ago.

Bartelle sees “gigantic” upside for Azaleia, which was once the country’s top-selling footwear brand. It’s sold at stores throughout the country and at branded locations in Colombia, Peru and Argentina. Planned changes for the segment include ramping up the number of seasons from two a year to almost monthly. That means fresh, fashionable shoes are constantly rotating through stores.

“We’re launching new collections eight times a year, aligned with the frenetic rhythm of fashion in Brazil today,” Bartelle said. “We’re trying to show that Azaleia’s been reinvented, is more modern and is rejuvenated.”

BTG Pactual initiated coverage recently with a buy rating and a price target of 14 reais, about 80 percent higher than the last closing price.

“It has successfully repositioned its sports footwear products (becoming market leader), enabling mid-to-lower income groups to buy cutting-edge fashionable products at reasonable prices vis-à-vis top international brands,” BTG analysts led by Fabio Monteiro wrote in a Dec. 4 note.

Shares of Vulcabras have more than tripled this year, outperforming a 21 percent gain in Brazil’s benchmark index.

Shoes are a family business. Grendene SA, founded by Bartelle’s father and his twin brother, took control of Vulcabras in 1988. Bartelle’s father is now the chairman of Vulcabras, and his branch of the family still owns about 70 percent of the company.

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