Listen to the audio version of the article
It is an ambitious project of growth and international expansion, with the doubling of the turnover and of the flagship Cult brand in three years, the one signed by the Zeis Excelsa group, a historic brand of the Fermo footwear district, with 75 years of experience in transforming leather, soles and uppers in shoes much loved by young people, sneakers above all. But it is also a bitter lesson for Made in Italy and for European manufacturing: the relaunch plan that the Pizzuti family has been carrying out since 2018 – the year of the application for a blank composition, approved two years later by the Court – and which has already allowed the Montegranaro company to close 2022 with a +60% in turnover and 2023 with a +25% to 25 million euros, it is working because Italian production has been dismantled and production in Portugal has also been reduced to a minimum, after having closed its own factories in Eastern Europe.
The bet is on an entirely outsourced supply chain, mainly in China and Turkey, with creative design, prototyping and quality control in the hands of the team concentrated in the new Milan offices and highly efficient logistics management thanks to 10 thousand square meters of warehouse in the Marche (and a new B2B project that allows restocking by size managed independently by Cult brand customers). While on the market Zeis Excelsa is making itself noticed through the opening of shops and diversification in the total look, on the model of Armani and Guess, thanks to licensing agreements, the latter with the Leather Company, for bags and accessories, and with Asso for children’s fashion.
The three-year objectives
«We are aiming for a turnover of 30 million euros in 2024 to reach 50 million in 2026, upon completion of the restructuring plan», anticipates general director Massimiliano Rossi. Growth driven 50% by the Cult brand, which is already worth half of the business today and will go from the current 15 million euros to 30. «We have opened 20 Cult corners in the last two years and we will open another ten in the next six months – specifies the director -. On December 1st we inaugurated the first single-brand store inside the Rome Termini station and we will soon also arrive in the stations of Naples and Milan”. Areas with a lot of comings and goings and a fashionable clientele who don’t spend crazy amounts of money on clothes, like the artists of the X-Factor talent show: the winner Serafine, at the coronation two days ago, wore Cult shoes.
Growth will not be limited to domestic borders: the objective of the Pizzuti family, at the helm since 1948 and now in its third generation (20% of the capital has been in the hands of investment funds since 2012, now Neuberger Berman) is to bring in foreign turnover from 20 to 50% in three years, starting from Germany, France and Benelux, thanks to distribution agreements. Today Cult is already present in Spain, Greece, Turkey and former USSR countries, «but interesting prospects are also opening up in Russia, after the American brands decided to exit the market, spaces were freed up that we can occupy», he points out the dg.
Il made in Italy
The rise of Zeit Excelsa is therefore a story that goes against the grain with respect to the dominant thought of reshoring and short supply chains. «Our shoes cost from 120 to 220 euros, there are no margins to produce them in the district and even in Portugal the costs have increased by 30% in three years. Not to mention the labor: having an upper sewn cost 2 euros before Covid, today 6 euros”, specifies the CEO of the group, which in addition to Cult owns the brands Docksteps, OXS, Sonora, Virtus Palestre, and in 2011 had reached almost reach 140 million euros in turnover with the Bikkembergs brand (later sold to the Chinese) with around a hundred stores. «We have overcome the problems of delocalisation, i.e. long times between sending the raw materials and the return of the finished product and the deterioration in quality, in addition to the transport costs, leaving all the risks with the producers, there are around twenty of them who produce for us around the world. We have 37 direct employees between the Corso Porta Nuova offices in Milan and Montegranaro and around forty people in the shops. Our advantage is that we can anticipate and predict orders – explains Rossi – because a brand like Cult is made up of 50% continuous items and restocking is very high. It is easy to make predictions based on the average trend of each customer and in any case the shoes not sold can be re-proposed the following season”.