Leather Goods Brand Il Bisonte to Make Retail Push in Japan

MILAN — Backed by a new investor, which last year fully acquired the Florence-based leather goods house, Il Bisonte is setting in motion a retail expansion focused on Japan, the company’s most important market.

In 2019 Look Holdings Inc., the firm’s long-standing distributor and licensee in Japan, acquired Il Bisonte, which was founded in 1970, from private equity Palamon Capital Partners, which had controlled it since 2015.

“The acquisition has helped us establish a midterm industrial plan,” explained Il Bisonte’s chief executive officer Luigi Ceccon. Before the pandemic hit globally, the company had planned to unveil nine flagships in Japan by 2021, a strategy that has not been scuppered by the current uncertainties.

Ceccon noted that the country has shown resilience, and he plans to open nine monobrand shops in Japan, five this year and the other four in 2021, bringing the total to 51.

“Despite 2020 being an unprecedented year, revenues in Japan should be in line with last year,” said Ceccon. Outside Japan, business is less rosy, he offered, with Hong Kong “navigating” amid the global crisis and other key markets, such as South Korea, Taiwan and Australia, still feeling the impact of the COVID-19-related downturn in consumption.

The company also operates 10 units outside Japan, in key international cities such as Paris, New York, Milan and Rome, as well as in Hong Kong. Ceccon noted that “’operation Japan’ cannot be replicated elsewhere for the time being,” citing the volatile economy.

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Retail operations outside Japan are expected to be down 60 percent year-over-year, while wholesale, which is poised to represent 22 percent of the brand’s turnover in 2020, is expected to fall 30 percent.

With a single store in the U.S., Ceccon expects the company to bank on e-commerce in the country. In 2020 online sales will represent 2.6 percent of the overall business. There are plans, he said, to grow that as well as to increase Il Bisonte’s wholesale accounts in the North American country and elsewhere.

“Making a serious push in the U.S. requires the company to offer fresh and more contemporary products,” Ceccon said, acknowledging that the American market is less inclined to tap into heritage and hero styles.

The executive said the spring collection has already paved the way for that shift, although the brand does not want to neglect its DNA, one rooted in artisanal and sustainable craftsmanship.

“We produce within 18 miles from Florence, employing vegetable tanning processes, so in terms of social and environmental sustainability, we’re preserving our commitment,” Ceccon said.

In 2020 Il Bisonte’s revenues are poised to reach 62 million euros, down from 70 million euros in 2019.

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