As its most loyal customers are getting older, Ara Shoes is trying to gain new ones by lowering the age of its target group from more than 40 years to 30 years and more. It is doing so by developing more fashionable styles and by placing more emphasis on its own brand, which continues to stand for comfort and fit.

In the German-speaking countries, the program is supported by a new marketing package launched last February by Hans-Hermann Deters, the former Reebok executive who joined the top management of Ara Shoes in the middle of 2011 to take care of sales and marketing. The program consists of numerous aids to the sell-out and a newsletter, simply called a!, that informs its dealers four times a year about new styles as well as new trends in fashion and consumption.

While they continue to feature removable soles and other comfort features, the styles are getting fresher and younger. Many are also available with Gore-Tex. After the recent warm spell, the company has reduced the number of boots in its winter line and added more all-year-round models. Women still represent about 90 percent of the clientele, but Ara is also repositioning its men's collection, adding more casual models and new lifestyle models to its more formal proposal for the urban businessman.

At the same time, Ara is expanding its EDI and NOS programs to a greater number of retailers and discussing special products with major clients. It is adding new fixtures to its Ara concept stores and shop-in-shops, whose number reached the magical level of 500 a few months ago.

Its partner in China operates 30 Ara stores now, and it is going to add eight more over the balance of this year. In the U.S., Ara will be starting up a new warehouse in Kentucky to give better support to independent retailers, which are now mostly located in the New York area.

Meanwhile, Ara is ramping up the production of its new factory in Ethiopia, which started up last year with a line of mocassins previously made at the company's plant in Portugal. It is now working at a daily rate of 2,000 pairs. The management is targeting a return on the investment in 2013.

The Ara group is profitable. As previously reported, it reached a turnover of €550 million in 2011, up from €500 million in the previous year, including also its Jenny and Lloyd brands, but not its stake in Legero, the Austrian manufacturer of Superfit shoes. The biggest driver was Salamander, on which we reported in the March 23 issue.