The big Italian company, which specializes in children’s shoes, is rolling out a new store franchising program intended to put more emphasis on the Melania brand name and to showcase some of its new brands. It opened two franchised stores under its own name in the last few weeks in Zagreb and in the Italian resort of Montecatini Terme. Two others will follow in May in Belgrade and in Alghero, on the island of Sardinia. Dubai and other locations are on the company’s radar screen.

Melania already has two stores under its own name at Civitanova Marche and in Tirana, the capital of Albania, but only the one at Civitanova, close to its own headquarters, is owned by the company. The Albanian one is a franchise and was previously called Felù. The new Melania Company Store project replaces in fact a former store development program that the company had been pursuing under a different banner, Félù, that it had inherited through the acquisition of Dribbling, a competitor in the Marche region of Italy.

Based on a layout developed by an American architect that includes a children’s playground and an interactive area with a touch screen, the typical Melania store is designed to focus on the company’s own Melania and MKids brands for at least 50 percent of its revenues. Like the three former Felù stores, which are no longer in operation, it also offers the higher-end brands previously licensed by Dribbling, such as Roberto Cavalli Angels and Fiorucci, as well as a new house brand, Jm’A, and Melania’s new line of shoes co-branded with Disney Consumer Products.

This new limited-edition line, which is starting off with the fall/winter 2009-10 collection, sees the Melania name next to those of major Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Winnie the Pooh. Based on the concept of accessible luxury, the rather fancy styles are made of leather, but retail for only about €40 a pair at retail.

Manufactured in Romania, the collection is doing very well, but the company is now planning to offer styles from this and other collections that will carry the “made in Italy” label, like those of Roberto Cavalli and other expensive models. The goal is to put this label on 70 percent of Melania’s shoes.

The company has hired a new brand director with international experience, Fabiano Verdecchia, who comes from the fashion, entertainment and public relations fields. Melania is sponsoring a weekly Italian television program for children revolving around the Sanremo song festival this month and next. It plans to invest €1.5 million in a new advertising campaign during the next back-to-school period to support the development of its various branded lines.

Started up by the Gironacci family in 1966, Melania has been working mainly under contract for big clients until recently, reaching a volume of more than 5 million pairs, but its strategy has changed completely in the last few years under the management of Umberto Gironacci, who belongs to the second generation. Private label now represents only about 10 percent of its annual volume of around 3 million pairs. Annual revenues are reported to be around €20 million.