Big management changes are taking place in all the 3 major French dress shoe companies operating in the Romans region these days - Charles Jourdan, Rogert Clergerie and Stéphane Kélian (see also the News Briefs in this issue). Like at Clergerie, the new strongman at Kélian, which was acquired one year ago by Groupe Smalto, comes from Salvatore Ferragamo.

At Kélian, the man is Didier Drouet. Based in Paris and reporting to Patrick Engel, who is also responsible for Jean-Louis Scherrer and other luxury brands of Smalto, he plans to boost the marketing and sales functions, which have been somewhat neglected recently. The 43-year-old executive worked for 7 years at L'Oréal and 7 more years at Cartier before joining Ferragamo, where he was lately in charge of all wholesale and retail activities on a global basis. He had previously run Ferragamo's European activities and its global network of concept stores.

Meanwhile, the works council of Kélian has approved the acquisition of its main production plant in the region of Romans by Daniel Bagault, a former banker who has acted as the company’s managing director over the last few months. If the deal is endorsed by a local court, the factory, which employs 200 people, will have an exclusive 2-year supply contract with Kélian.

To help turn around Kélian's plant, which has a productivity rate of just 68 percent at the moment, Bagault will seek production contracts with other companies. He wants to reduce costs by about 20 percent over the next two years and he has already made it clear to the employees that the failure of this plan would probably entail the closure of the factory.

At the time of Kélian’s takeover, Groupe Smalto intended to lift the productivity of the Kélian plant in France by issuing a shoe license for its own Scherrer brand, but this hasn’t yet materialized. Smalto still has to take a decision on the fate of Kélian’s second production plant in Romans, which specializes in leathergoods and employs about 20 people. This unit will not be included in Bagault’s acquisition.

Kélian, which has been losing money for some time, probably reached a small profit in 2003, largely thanks to the sell-off of inventories that it took over as part of the acquisition. However, Kélian’s sales continued to dwindle last year, down to about €33 million as compared to roughly €42 million the previous year, partly due to delivery problems. Sales were further cut by the closure of Kélian’s stores in Germany. They accounted for less than 3 percent of the company’s sales but generated lately annual losses of about €500,000.

Drouet is expected to supervise style functions as well within the Kélian group. The recruitment of Alain Tondowski, the young high-profile designer who made his debut as Kélian's new artistic director with its Spring/Summer 2004 range, has slightly lifted sales, particularly in the USA, but the company is hoping for a more convincing pick-up in the next season.