Putting the Best Foot Forward: Sapatero Manila Takes Bigger Steps to Success
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By: Ejay Domingo
Sapatero Manila, an emerging business that boasts world-class quality shoes, had humble beginnings. When Raymond Villanueva established the enterprise in 2013, it was not quite an official business yet, with only a few side projects taken on.
“When Raymond founded Sapatero, it was just a passion project, a hobby,” said JR Jader, one of Raymond’s two partners and co-owners of the company, during an interview in one of their workshops in Brgy. Barangka, Marikina.
“He’s well traveled, so he gets to see a lot of foreign shoe brands... Being immersed in that shoe environment, nakita niya na kaya rin naman nating gawin ‘to,” said the 26-year-old shoe businessman who used to be a drummer in a band in his younger days.
From All Walks of Life
JR was Raymond’s first sales associate, as well as his first hire. He came in a year after Raymond established the business.
Another partner, Jerwin Lim, was actually a previous client, but eventually became the third partner and co-owner of the company.
The three partners came from all sorts of backgrounds: Raymond owns and runs a school in Circulo Verde in Quezon City, while Jerwin is a lawyer, by profession, and runs a printing press. JR, meanwhile, dabbled in various jobs, such as a distributor for sari-sari store supplies, before he started working full time for Sapatero.
What really brought the three together was their common passion and love for shoes. They found that they worked well together, in fact, and their partnership remains until today. They officially began their company, Katad Manufacturing, Inc., in 2015. Katad , an appropriate name for the venture, means leather in English.
“I really love shoes also, mahilig talaga ako sa sapatos,” said JR. “And then, eventually, since okay naman yung relationship namin… Even si Jerwin, yung third partner namin, client yun before, e. Tapos nagka-vibes lang talaga kaming tatlo, kaya eventually, we decided to form a partnership.”
That was when the business really began to take shape. They started to get a more stable base of clientele, mostly expats and Filipino executives who were not surprised nor found the cost of having made-to-measure shoes exorbitant. In fact, JR said, given the quality of the product, they found the pricing just right.
By word of mouth, one of the most effective means of advertising one’s products, and through social media, Sapatero attracted the interest of other clients, including young professionals and other shoe aficionados just like the three partners in the company, who would not mind shelling more pesos for quality, handcrafted shoes.
As demand rises, Sapatero opened a selling spot in Makati and then in Felipe and Sons in El Pueblo. Two more outlets were opened later on and another one is being planned in Pampanga, near Clark Air base, where Sapatero has a following as well.
Not a Walk in the Clouds
Being in the competitive shoe business is not a walk in the clouds, even if one is wearing the most comfortable pair of shoes. Along the way, there are difficulties that the fledgling business has encountered.
JR cited three main challenges that the business faced over the years.
First would be the price-sensitive market. The business started as a bespoke service, creating custom-made formal wear.
“The Filipinos are not used to those [high] prices,” JR said. “Nandun pa rin yung stigma na ‘Pinoy brand’ ka lang pero bakit ang mahal. Yun yung main challenge. Kahit gaano pa kaganda yung sapatos na ilapag mo sa harap nila, ‘Pinoy brand ka.’ Parang, for them, wala kang karapatang magpresyo ng mahigit sais mil.”
To address this, Sapatero created a more diverse product offering for their customers to choose from depending on their budget.
“Kina-categorize namin yung services namin according to the needs of our clients, their needs and wants,” JR said.
Thus, they came up with three general categories: ready-to-wear, made-to-order service, and bespoke service. Ready-to-wear is the cheapest of the three, going at P8,500-14,000, depending on the material. Made-to-order, which uses standard molds but allows customers to have a custom design, costs around P11,000-25,000. Bespoke, which necessitates thorough fitting and creating a unique mold for each client, goes at around P18,000-40,000. This way, clients have the freedom to choose the type of service and price range that suit them.
Workers willing to toil making shoes, especially from the younger generation, are another issue that Sapatero has to hurdle. Right now, most of the workers in the Marikina shoe industry and not just in Sapatero are older and are used to their old way of making shoes. They are not as open to using new technology unlike the younger workers.
“Medyo mahirap makahanap ng bata,” JR said.
Most of the shoemakers working in the industry are already old, even though the company wanted more new blood to train. To solve this, the company needed to be more thorough with their hiring process. What they look for are shoemakers who may not have much experience, but are open and willing to accept and learn new and innovative techniques in their craft.
Supplies, of course, are another challenge.
“It’s hard to get quality supplies from local sources na pasado sa world standard,” JR added.
Sapatero obtains supplies both locally and abroad, particularly from the UK and from a Japan-based supplier. They obtained imported quality supplies when they could, but at the moment, when the peso is at its weakest against the US dollar in nearly 13 years, falling to as low as P54 to $1 recently, importing becomes more expensive.
Because of this, they focused on local supplies, instead. JR said they could not afford to raise their prices, so the company “takes the hit.”
Despite the difficulties, Sapatero continues to thrive and expand. Soon they may even reach outside of the Metro with the possibility of a branch in Pampanga. Furthermore, JR spoke of the possibility of taking on subcontracting projects with other companies.
Sapatero may be young compared to other shoemakers in Marikina, but it is not afraid to take bigger steps on the way to a more successful business.
For more about Sapatero, please check out its Facebook page:
(Photo credits: Alfred Javier of MASIDO and Sapatero)
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