Vivarte, which remains a main player in the French shoe retail market along with the Eram Group, has decided to shut down or convert to other formats 16 of the 650+ mass-market stores that it operates under its low-priced Halle aux Chaussures banner. This will be on top of the 35 André stores that it had previously decided to close, reducing the banner's network to 212 locations.

On the other hand, Vivarte is telling us now through a spokesman that it has decided to convert 20 of its fashion stores, trading under names such as Kookaï, Naf Naf or La Halle Mode & Accessories, to its Minelli and Besson shoe retail formats. It will also open 20 new stores under these two banners and that of Merkal, its Spanish shoe retail chain.

The short-term target for Vivarte's footwear retail segment is to raise revenues by about 5 percent on a same-store basis in the current financial year, which will end in August 2016, while bringing its earnings before amortization (Ebitda) from shoe retailing back to the level of about €150 million achieved in 2013/14. It is too soon, however, to assess the possible impact of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.

As reported in our last issue, Vivarte is targeting Ebitda of €140 million for the whole group this year under the management of Richard Simonin, the “company doctor” appointed as chief executive a year ago by the new shareholders. This would imply higher margins from footwear retailing than from the group's fashion retail stores, where most of the reorganization process has taken place so far. For example, the number of apparel stores trading as La Halle is being cut down by 230 to 375.

The final figures for the financial year ended Aug. 31 show a turnover of €2,384 million for the group, excluding the stores due to be closed. Sales went down by 6.5 percent on a comparable store basis. Footwear sales represented close to 60 percent of the total turnover, and 70 percent of them came from its mass-market shoe retail chains: Besson, La Halle aux Chaussures and Merkal. The balance came from its branded footwear chains: André, Cosmoparis, Minelli, Pataugas and San Marina.

The group's Ebitda fell in the past year to €74 million from €170 million in 2013/14, although it tended to stabilize in the second half. Ebitda declined to €11 million from €32 million in the branded footwear segment and to €72 million from €110 million in the mass-market footwear segment, according the figures supplied to us by the group.

Officials of Vivarte feel it slightly outperformed the French shoe market in terms of sales in the branded shoe segment last year, declining by 6.5 percent on a same-store basis while city-center footwear stores saw their sales decline by 7.0 percent, with big drops in September and October 2014 and in March 2015. André, which had moved too much upscale under the previous management, under-performed. No statistics are available for the mass market, in which Vivarte's footwear retail sales dropped by 4.2 percent on a comparable store basis.

The management has already started to re-position André in a lower price segment, offering simpler products in line with its DNA and the competition.