Bata strolling into China

25 April 2004

Thomas G Bata, third-generation scion of the family behind the world's oldest footwear company, recently strolled into his Bangkok offices for the first time in ten years on his way to cracking open the Chinese market. Bata flew to Guangzhou to open an 'innovation' (design) centre to develop casual footwear. The firm, now headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland, will open outlets in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen in August. Bata, 56, was 12 when he first visited Bangkok with his father, Thomas J Bata. Bangkok is one of the oldest Bata operations in Asia, along with India, where the company set up operations 75 years ago. 'Many years ago, we saw that the only way to sell shoes is to make shoes', Bata said. 'But now, although we still make shoes, we put more effort into design and distribution.' The firm's innovation centres in Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand specialise in sandal design. 'China is now open and it's a challenging market', Bata said, explaining that the company had flown their Chinese managers to overseas operations for training over the past year. 'We plan to open at least 20 stores in China this year', he said. With more than 20 manufacturers there producing footwear exclusively for Bata, China has until now focused on exporting shoes to Europe and north America. Bata will also debut in Russia and Poland this year. In Zlin, Czechoslovakia, in 1894, Thomas Bata launched an empire that now reaches more than 45 countries. There are now 4,500 Bata stores, 1,000 of which in south-east Asia. A million pairs of Bata shoes are sold every day, the grandson said. 'Our Bata group has 110 years of history and 74 years in Thailand', he said, recounting the worldwide restructuring two years ago into four groups: European, north American, south American and international (including Asia and Australia). Source: Daily The Nation

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