Shoe company eyes expansion in growth areas of Malaysia

THE husband and wife team behind Penang-based Opera Shoes Malaysia have come a long way and are working on bigger things for the company with an aggressive expansion plan.

Opera, a specialist in making footwear for women, plans to open shops in Sabah and Sarawak and in new growth areas such as Kedah, Perlis, Johor Baru, and the east coast as part of its business expansion plans for the next couple of years.

Opera director Kenneth Tiow says about RM2mil to RM2.5mil will be allocated for the expansion exercise, which involves opening at least five more new shops.

The initial capital outlay for each store is estimated to range from RM400,000 to RM500,000.

“Although the economy of the country has softened, we believe that with our pricing and our innovative designs, we can still enlarge our market share among the middle-income segment in new growth areas.

“This is also our strategy to compete with overseas brand names,” Tiow added.

The business they are in is certainly a competitive one as there are a large number of shoe shops in shopping malls and urban areas that cater to every market segment.

Additionally, more and more retailers are buying in bulk from China, which enables them to keep the prices of their products low.

According to Tiow, the market is likely to soften especially after the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax next April.

“But we believe that the Opera brand name already has a strong following and if we were to expand in new markets, we will be able to enlarge our market presence in the country,” he said.

The company’s name, Opera, came aboutbecause the company wanted a name that brought together the theatricality and pomp of opera and a woman’s desire to dress her best.

The designs of Opera shoes are inspired by European creations, but are priced affordably from RM50 to RM200 per pair.

“The designs are suitable for casual, clubbing and formal wear. My wife, Emily Wong, designs the shoes,” Tiow said.

According to Tiow, Opera comes out with 80 to 100 new designs every two months.

“This is necessary as consumers are always looking for fresh and innovative designs and the latest fashion trend in the market,” he says.

Tiow says the company aims for 10% to 15% growth this year over the RM10mil in sales achieved last year. He is confident that its new outlets will help the company achieve its growth target.

“We have set up a shop in the Aman Jaya shopping mall in Sungai Petani, Kedah in July and we have recently set up another one in the Perda City shopping mall in Seberang Prai.

“These stores will help us increase our sales this year,” Tiow added.

According to Tiow, the sales during the Ramadan period were slow, but this was just a blip.

“We expect a strong rise in sales of about 30% in the second half of this year compared to the first half, due to the coming festive season in the final quarter of the year.

“Our sales numbers for the final quarter of the year are usually 20% to 40% better than the first and second quarter of the year,” Tiow added.

Opera shoes, made from canvassed cotton and synthetic materials, are outsourced to its local and overseas partners for manufacturing.

“Raw material prices have gone up 10% compared to a year ago. But we still maintain a very competitive price as it is not possible to pass the cost to the customers if we want to remain competitive in the market, even though there is a margin erosion of about 5% due to the higher cost of doing business,” he said.

Presently, Opera has 13 shops in the country, of which four are in Kuala Lumpur, seven in Penang, one in Malacca, and one in Kedah.

Established in 2007, Opera sells more than 20,000 pair of shoes a month.

“We first started out in 2000 with the shops under the name Moon, which were focused on selling low-end shoes.

“In 2002, we started the Blumyer retail stores that sell shoes for the low- and medium-end market. In 2006, we realised that to move ahead there was a need to have our own brand name to cater to the middle to high-end market,” he said.

“Presently, Opera has 350,000 to 400,000 customers across the country,” he said.

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