Confirming press reports, Geox says it is interested in acquiring Stiefelkönig, Austria’s second-largest footwear retailer, which is a leading franchisee of the brand. Stiefelkönig has 17 Geox shops in franchise in Austria, four in Germany and one in Croatia. The first one was opened in 2002.

The now cash-rich Italian company is also keen to significantly boost its distribution network, aiming for larger stores that can also accommodate its apparel ranges.

Stiefelkönig is one of the assets that Bawag, a financially troubled Austrian bank, is expected to sell sometime this year to clean up its investment portfolio of non-banking assets. No sale process has yet formally started, but Bawag has already received expressions of interest for the retailer from several potential candidates, including Geox.

The Stiefelkönig retail group, which is said to be faring better than before, claims a market share of 13 percent in the Austrian shoe market, coming behind the Leder & Schuh group (Humanic, etc.), and has a presence in other neighboring countries. It runs a total of 184 stores. Of these, 15 are in Slovenia, giving it a 10 percent market share in that country. It also operates eight stores in Croatia, two in Slovakia, four in Germany. The 155 others are in Austria, trading under different banners.

Stiefelkönig closed 2007 with sales of over €140 million. Geox’ results for 2007 will be announced next Wednesday, during the MICAM show in Milan. In the first nine months of 2007, Geox booked €26.7 million in sales in Austria, where it had one directly-operated store and 25 franchises as of Sept. 30. Globally, the company had 669 stores at the end of the third quarter, and 135 of them were DOS.