Cortina, the Belgian footwear company, is leveraging off its experience dating back to the 1950s in handling the logistics for the shoes it produces. It is now actively marketing these services to third parties under a new brand, Synogix, and with an eye on becoming a logistics partner for internationally minded, mid-sized brands.

“Over the last year, we have set up a commercial plan of attack,” said Sébastien Van Houte, business development manager at Synogix. That plan envisions Synogix initially marketing its services to companies in Benelux, the Nordic countries, Germany, France and the U.K., where Brexit is seen providing new opportunities for logistics companies in the EU. Brands from North America, Canada and Australia are also keen on finding European logistics parties and could be potential new clients, noted Van Houte.

“In terms of strategy, we will never be the largest logistics partner in the world. If a brand is looking for a company with 1,000 branches throughout the world, that’s not us. We are aiming for medium-sized brands that have a huge potential internationally and are looking for a partner, where the owner of the brand sits down with the owner of the logistics company and they develop a strategy to grow together,” he said. “Because we have our own brands in the group, we understand the needs of the brand owners we service and maybe even more importantly, we understand the requirements of their B2B and B2C customers.”

While providing logistics services for footwear will continue to be key for Synogix, the group also increasingly plans to market its services to companies in areas like fashion. Indeed, Cortina’s brand Patrick already produces sportwear alongside shoes.

Expanding its logistics business would seem to be a natural move for Cortina. For the last two decades, the company has provided its logistics services to third parties, with which it typically already had business ties, and which approached Cortina for assistance in logistics. Cortina initially worked for distributors for brands including Le Coq Sportif and Dr. Martens, while current clients include Shoes for Crews, a work and safety shoe brand that needed a hand with logistics in China.

Synogix boasts some 100,000 square meters in warehouses in Belgium and China in which it processes about 25 million pairs of shoes a year. Van Houte said the presence of Synogix in both Belgium and China could help tap into demand from European brands that are looking for a logistics partner to serve them both on the European mainland and Asia. “There’s one logistics system and one point of contact,” he said.

While it does not own a transport business, Synogix can handle shipping requirements for its customers, and says its economies of scale allows it to get a better deal for smaller clients.

The logistics needs of brands, including those in Cortina’s portfolio, have evolved over time. The market today is characterized by the need to process either large or very small orders, the latter from B2C but also increasingly from B2B customers.

Van Houte said that Synogix is able to handle both large and small, pick-and-pack orders in the same warehouse, serving the omnichannel needs of brands thanks to its investments in automation. He added that this flexibility has proved useful during the Covid-19 pandemic, as store closures imposed during lockdowns lead to “lots of headaches” for many brands amid a sharp rise in B2C shipping needs and a sharp drop in B2B orders, which in any case are typically larger than B2C orders.

As is the case with other EU companies, shipping goods to the U.K. has become more complicated for Cortina since Jan. 1, with some of the big transport companies suspending shipments to the country amid a big rise in customs and other documentation requirements. Ironically, the closure of British stores due to the lockdown may have served to smooth the situation. “If shops were open, it would have been a disaster for everyone,” said Nick Braeckman, operations director at Synogix and Cortina. “Our U.K. retailers are asking for shoes, although now it’s a limited amount typically for their online sales. In a few months, I imagine deliveries will get bigger.”

Synogix has been approached by a number of British brands looking for partners in the EU in the wake of Brexit, said Braeckman.

“We haven’t signed contracts with U.K. customers yet but are discussing several solutions with them, the main one would be to split stock into a part for the U.K. and a part for the EU” that would be sent directly to the Synogix warehouse in Belgium. Even without Brexit, opening a European hub would have made sense for British companies looking to ease logistics and speed up product delivery and return handling to European customers, said Braeckman, “but we see now that demand is increasing significantly.”