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«We started out as a straightforward sports brand and, even when we decided to launch a less technical and more lifestyle range, we were particularly successful in the men's segment. But over the years our women's range, which we didn't conceive of as a complement to the men's range but rather as its own independent collection, has become increasingly credible among our female consumers. This is borne out by the numbers: 40% of our sales on the Italian market, our most important in economic terms, come from the women’s line».
Stefano Colombo is the youthful sales and marketing director of Colmar, a brand owned by Manifattura Mario Colombo which, founded in Monza almost a century ago (in 1923), began life as a manufacturer of hats and gaiters before expanding to make special products for the first skiers and mountaineers in the 1930s. The relationship between Manifattura and sports enthusiasts grew stronger after the Second World War with Colmar, most notably, becoming an iconic skiwear brand.
From skiing to lifestyle
In the last decade the company, still owned by the Colombo family, has undergone a genuine evolution, transforming Colmar into a lifestyle brand and launching the Colmar Originals label: «On one hand this project has helped us to overcome seasonality and dress our customers all year round» – continues Colombo – and on the other it has enabled us to increase our customer base both in Italy and abroad.»
If Colmar’s business activities - total revenues of €108 million in 2018 - are mainly concentrated in the domestic market, which accounts for around 65%, Originals was an immediate success also at international level: «The international market has been and remains a key driver of growth. And one of our current aims is to rebalance the business model more towards the foreign market. In many cases there is little brand awareness, so this is our starting point.»
Colmar’s two main international markets currently are Germany and France: «The latter is more developed from a retail perspective: we have five franchise stores and are also ready to open a branded store in Paris, the first directly-managed store in the country.»
The sales network is one of the assets that the company is examining most closely, with an eye on efficiency: «Over the last year we have streamlined the wholesale network, reducing the number of multi-brand retailers by around 10%. We are now present in 900 stores in Italy and around 2500 across the world. This is a necessary operation from a strategic perspective.»
In parallel, Colmar has developed a network of 16 branded stores consisting of directly-managed boutiques (like the store in Piazza Gae Aulenti, Milan) and franchise shops, like the first one opened in the French Alps. These are also joined by corners and shops-in-shops: «We are expanding our branded network in a gradual and “sustainable” way, in line with the modest growth strategy that characterises this particular period. In ten years we have trebled the company’s net sales; now we are deliberately growing by €1-2 million a year.»
This expansion also regards online sales: «They represent 5% of our turnover – explains Colombo, – and we make them all directly via our online shop. We don’t work with virtual multi-brand stores out of respect for our multi-brand customers. However, they may make online sales via their own platforms or marketplaces.»
Focus on sustainability
One of the challenges that Colmar has undertaken is sustainability: «It is a very complex challenge that we can’t ignore: consumers are increasingly interested in the issue and the supply chain is also transforming on the basis of this growing focus on the environment and people», explains the sales director. As Stefano Colombo outlines, the company is taking small steps forward: «A real change can’t be rushed. Our board is very sensitive to the issue and wanted to begin with a series of concrete changes: from the sorting of waste in the company to the selection of certified suppliers. Luckily, the costs are falling compared with the past and it is easier to offer customers sustainable products at prices that aren’t exorbitant.»