Having become the largest shoe retailer in Lithuania under its own Danija banner, Danbalt International opened the first five shops in Riga, the capital of Latvia, during the last year and is now experimenting with two new store formats – Este for high-end elegant footwear and Zazza for affordable young fashion. Two pilot shops were opened in new shopping centers in Riga and Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, and others will follow if the test is successful.

Thanks largely to heavy TV advertising and to a spate of recent new store openings, triggered in part by the strong development of shopping centers in these two Baltic states that joined the European Union last May, Danbalt’s turnover increased sharply this year to an undisclosed level. By the end of December, the company will operate a total of 31 fully owned Danjia stores as well as 14 franchised Vero Moda clothing shops, similar to those of Hannes & Mauritz, in the two countries. Many new openings are planned under these two banners for 2005. No decision has yet been made about entering another Baltic country, Estonia, whose retail environment continues to gravitate largely around that of neighboring Finland.

Danija, which means Denmark in Lithuanian, is a chain of shoe shops established by Danbalt rather quietly in 1993, after the country freed itself from Russian domination. Catering mainly to well-to-do customers, who are thus being turned away from the still thriving open-air markets, the Danjia shops are all located in the larger cities. They sell mostly their own medium-high-priced brand of footwear, sourced from some large Italian factories and from others in China and Vietnam.

Danbalt has a staff of about 250 people. It’s a Danish-Baltic joint venture formed in 1993 by an experienced Danish entrepreneur, Ingolf Herold Halle, and two young Lithuanian businessmen who had just graduated then from university. Halle’s family owned Krone, a former Danish manufacturer of wooden clogs that become very prominent in the USA during the 1970s. In the ‘70s he became one of the first shoe industry executives who imported and distributed Chinese footwear in Denmark. He distributed the KangaROOS brand successfully in the Scandinavia during the ‘80s, but sold that business about ten years ago to Viking, which is now a property of Hevea. Danbalt sold KangaROOS shoes in Lithuania during the first few years of its existence.