My feet and I are begging Ziera to pull through

  • Opinion
  • October 4, 2019
  • Sarah Dunn
My feet and I are begging Ziera to pull through

New Zealand heritage footwear retailer Ziera has gone into voluntary receivership. NZ Retail and The Register editor and associate publisher Sarah Dunn considers its place in the market and what needs to happen for it to return to form.

A few months ago, some Gen Z colleagues and I were discussing the viability of various heritage New Zealand retailers. One young woman remarked that she couldn’t believe Ziera was still in operation – she felt the product was wildly out of step with what modern consumers want.

The exact words were something like “I don’t know anyone who’d wear shoes like that.”

At the time, I was surprised Ziera’s brand perception was so negative – I wear “shoes like that” most days! - but as it turns out, she wasn’t totally off base. Ziera entered voluntary receivership last week citing a perfect storm of domestic and international pressures.

Ziera is a vertically-integrated manufacturer and retailer. It was late to the party with ecommerce, launching its first shoppable website less than three years ago, and its bricks and mortar stores are experiencing falling sales, rising rents and rising staff costs.

Its wholesale base overseas is dominated by independent retailers, which have themselves been gradually eroded by the increasing dominance of larger retailers. Tariffs resulting from the US-China trade war have made selling into the US less profitable, plus it’s been affected by supply chain issues. 

A weak New Zealand dollar have increased the cost of manufacturing while, in an unfortunate currency double-dip, weakness in the Australian dollar means Ziera is also getting poor sales margins.

Just about the only factor not cited in the administrator’s report is product.

What women want

It’s true that Ziera hasn’t quite shaken off the matronly legacy of its former brand identity, Kumfs, which it left behind in 2010. When I received the news that Ziera was in administration, the first thing I did was text my mother, who has bought her shoes almost exclusively from Ziera stores for as long as I can remember. 

She’s most likely shopping the receiver’s sale as you’re reading this, and while it hasn’t put me off the brand, I suspect many other Millennial and younger shoppers also associate Ziera with their Baby Boomer parents. 

Not only were my Gen Z colleagues unimpressed with the majority of Ziera’s styles, they expressed confusion at its price point. Apparently younger consumers now prefer to shop ‘high-low’ with a fast turnover – they’ll go for lower-priced, on-trend fast fashion shoes or mid-market sports shoes such as Nikes, and if they’re looking to spend a little extra, fashion-forward designer labels like Mi Piaci or Beau Coops will capture their spend.

Within that buying structure, there’s not much room for a long-lasting shoe in a conservative style. Gen Z shoppers seem to consider Ziera’s product overengineered for their purposes.

Silver dollars

However, there’s two macro trends on Ziera’s side – the continued market dominance of Baby Boomers, and the younger generations’ move away from uncomfortable shoes at work.

We’re all aware by now that the generation primarily targeted by Ziera, Baby Boomers, retains immense spending power. Nielsen data from 2015 revealed that these shoppers then accounted for 50 percent of FMCG sales in New Zealand, 80 percent of leisure spending and 41 percent of all new car purchases. Between 2015 and 2025, the percentage of people aged over 50 years old in New Zealand is expected grow from 38 percent to 43 percent of the total population.

Statistics New Zealand senior demographer Kim Dunstan told NZ Retail that an aging population is broadly good news for retail sales - personal income and household income tends to peak when people are in their 40s and 50s, costs fall as children leave home, and a wealth of experience translates into higher salaries.

While Ziera will need to win over Millennials and Gen Z shoppers sooner or later, it’s likely it can carry on without them quite happily for at least another 10 years. 

Heels hurt

While younger shoppers’ purchasing patterns don’t fit with Ziera’s pricing structure, their changing apparel tastes are, from a very zoomed-out perspective, a different story.

As offices become more and more casual, wearing painful heels to work every day is becoming less common. The rise of fashion sneakers like the Balenciaga Triple S means sports shoes can now be worn in most circumstances where heels were formerly appropriate, and as I look around the newsroom, not one ICG Media staffer is wearing heels over 2cm today.

According to research carried out by Mintel in 2018, US shoppers aged 18-34 are the most likely age group to purchase shoes because they are comfortable (37 percent).

In my opinion, this is only as it should be. For the vast majority of wearers, high heels hurt, and I think it’s madness that women were ever expected to regularly volunteer to wear shoes that cause physical pain. Life is too short to suffer five days a week.

Ziera’s main point of difference is its orthopaedic comfort, and it’s been basing its marketing on work shoes that won’t hurt for years now. As the next generation of female office workers jettisons pumps for sneakers, perhaps it can convince them to put on the odd ballet flat or sandal instead. 

From my perspective, it looks as if Ziera has a few perception issues to work through, but it’s by no means down and out. I’ll happily walk past a shelf of orthotic-friendly velcro-strapped numbers that make twentysomething shoppers shiver if I can find a pair of boots that are more or less on trend somewhere in-store, and I have a feeling that my mother and her Baby Boomer friends will be readying their credit cards in Ziera’s support. 

For the sake of comfortable, durable, work-appropriate footwear, I’m crossing my fingers and toes for Ziera.

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