German outdoor shoe specialist Lowa has a lot to celebrate this year: in addition to the company's 100th anniversary -- which will be celebrated at an Alpine location at the end of August with several thousand consumers -- the heritage company can also present excellent financial results and a positive outlook.
A hundred years is a long time for a company, and not everything has always been rosy. Lowa has experienced many crises and has been close to bankruptcy, for example when the company was sold in 1992 to the Italian Tecnica Group, whose ski brands include Nordica and the famous Moonboots. Since then, Lowa has given up its own ski boot production and focuses exclusively on mountain boots.
Steady growth for more than 30 years
”For the last 30 years, we have had almost continuous growth,” said executive director Alexander Nicolai, who has been steering the company's fortunes alongside Lowa veteran and partner Werner Riethmann since 2019. “In 2000, we cracked the million mark for number of pairs of shoes sold for the first time, and since 2021 we have been at over three million pairs,” added Nicolai. For the anniversary year, he expects Lowa to sell around 3.5 million pairs of shoes.
This growth is also reflected in the sales figures: the Lowa Group including its subsidiaries in Austria and Switzerland had another record year in 2022, generating sales of 235.7 million euros. In 2021, it was 229.3 million euros and an increase in turnover of 23 percent. In 2023, Nicolai wants to reach a turnover of around 265 million euros, so the next record is already in sight.
Challenge ahead: expanding capacity
The outdoor boom has spurred on growth that has been going strong for years and was recently fuelled by the pandemic. Although Lowa's sales initially slumped, they then rose all the faster. In particular, the multifunctional footwear segment, on which Lowa focused early on, developed very well.
However, the current growth is based less on demand than on the company's own production capacities because the turnover and the number of shoes produced could have been even higher. “We could have taken even more orders, but at the moment we have reached capacity.” This has become apparent in recent years, which is why the company, which still partly produces its mountain boots at its headquarters in Jetzendorf, has repeatedly invested in expanding its capacity. In 2019, for example, the takeover of its long-standing Italian production partner Riko Sport included a production plant in Slovakia, and the optimisation of the processes there through the purchase of new machines.
Tapping into new segments and younger target groups
With the outdoor boom, the target group has changed. “Outdoor has become broader since the pandemic,” said Nicolai, “and these new consumers are looking for different products today. Young outdoor newcomers in particular are used to the comfort of sneakers and have a hard time with the traditionally sturdy mountain shoes." The company also wants to move forward in terms of design, which is why it has also increased the number of its staff members in the design department.
Lowa is also venturing into a new segment: trail running. “Trail running is the fastest growing category in the market,” stated Nicolai. “Here we've applied all the features we've learned from mountain sports and incorporated them into a new product that appeals to a new, younger target group.” The focus markets for this are the DACH region, the USA and selected dealers who fit this target group.
However, these measures do not mean that Lowa has forgotten its roots. True Lowa classics, such as the 'Renegade’ shoe, which has been produced for decades and which alone accounts for about 25 to 30 percent of pairs sold, will of course remain part of the range. “Leather shoes are stable,” according to Nicolai, “but growth comes from new, lighter models.”
New generation launches in Austria and Switzerland
The anniversary year is also a turning point in terms of human resources at Lowa, at least this is true for the branches in Austria and Switzerland, whose long-standing managing directors are retiring. At the Swiss Lowa Schuhe AG in Matten near Interlaken, Christian Zingg succeeds René Urfer, who managed the branch in Switzerland for 22 years.
Something similar is happening in Austria: there, Alexander Würtinger is now taking over the management of Lowa Sportschuhe GmbH from his father Günter Würtinger, who ran the company in St. Martin im Innkreis in Upper Austria for almost 40 years.
Sustainability strategy to be presented in autumn
What goals is Lowa pursuing in terms of sustainability? After all, Lowa produces exclusively in Germany and Europe, which are good prerequisites for responsible production. Durability has always been a focus for Lowa shoes. When we visited the factory in Jetzendorf, we could see about a hundred pairs of shoes that consumers had sent in for repair. Many of them obviously had many years of use behind them. Lowa has been offering the option of having shoes repaired for many years and is observing an increasing demand here. In 2022, the company repaired about 18,000 shoes. Lowa neither does nor wants to make money on this, “we do it at cost price,” explainedd Nicolai. After all, a new insole costs 100 euros, and both insole and laces are replaced. There's probably not much more room for improvement.
The cooperation with Hohenstein and the Fair Wear Foundation is also new: In April 2023, the Lowa model Lady Light Gtx became the first shoe ever to be certified with the Oeko-Tex Leather Standard by the Hohenstein Institute. Lowa has also been a member of the Fair Wear Foundation since 2023. “Sustainability has always played an important role for us,” said Nicolai, “but now, for the first time, we will incorporate our goals into a sustainability strategy.” This will be presented later this year.
This article was originally published on http://FashionUnited.de . Edited and translated by Simone Preuss.