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Brain Pollock | Jordan CEO retires after 45 years | footwear industry
July 2014

Brian Pollock looks back on

45 years in the shoe industry

During the almost half a century Brian Pollock spent in the footwear industry, he experienced the transformation from manufacturing to importing

After a lifetime in the footwear industry, Brian Pollock has seen it all. Sourcing, sales, brand building, manufacturing, management … you name it, during his 45 years in the industry, he’s been part of it.

He has experienced the changes in the industry from robust manufacturing, to import-dominated brand building and now, once again, a growing return to niche manufacturing.

When he turns 65 in August this year, Pollock will have to take compulsory retirement.

To ease the transition, former Finance and HR Director Noel Whitehead will officially take over from him as CEO of Jordan from 1st July. After that, Pollock will still be around to share his knowledge and experience, especially during the proposed merger with Bolton Footwear.

If this is approved by the Competition Commission, his career would have come full circle.

As a fresh-faced youngster, just out of Saasveld Forestry College, Pollock’s first job was at the Searles Timbers sawmill — part of the Searles Group.

But, within two weeks, Alan Searle spotted his potential and made him his understudy in the group’s Watson Shoes buying department, where he taught the youngster everything he needed to know about sourcing leathers and footwear components.

Good old days

Pollock fondly remembers those days. He was a keen runner, who represented Border in cross-country and qualified for a silver medal in his first four Comrades marathon, and therefore happily ran the 40-odd kilometers between his home in George to work in Great Brak. Sometimes he would add a detour to Knysna or Mossel Bay, just for an extra workout.

After more than ten years sourcing for Watsons, he was given the responsibility to run the Patrick boot brand and which dominated the boot market for a number of years.

In 1989 Conshu bought Jordan Shoes, and the Sportshoe factory in Maitland. Jordan manufactured boots for brands like adidas, Nike, Puma, etc. “Rob Jordan offered me a position to head up their sports division,” Pollock explains why he moved after more than twenty years at Watson.

Apart from making shoes for the big brands, Jordan also manufactured their own sports brand, Olympic. Shortly after Pollock joined, Jordan & Co also got the license to distribute Asics, and later brands like Bronx and Anton Fabi also became part of his division.

Eventually all brand managers reported to him. In 2007, Pollock was appointed joint MD with Rob Jordan — and took over from him as MD in 2008 when Jordan retired.

“We really had some very good times,” Pollock reminisces. “It was such a good industry to be involved in … but now it is a lot tougher.”

His first year or two as MD were enjoyable, he says, “but the past few years had been stressful, to say the least.”

The history of the company can be told through some historical footwear displays. In a glass case in the foyer are examples of the footwear they manufactured for some of the top international brands. In the staff canteen stands a huge, table-sized, metal cast shoe shipped to the Jordan & Co head office by their Chinese supplier in recognition of their twenty years of support.

“The good old days with big volumes in the factory are over,” he says. “All chains and brands now have their own offices in China. The shoe manufacturing industry today is comprised of a small group of die-hards, but it is making a comeback.”

There are a lot of opportunities with import replacements — especially as manufacturing in China is fraught with problems. “Minimum orders are 800 - 1000 pairs per style, leading to over stocking.”

When manufacturing locally, chains can change their styling at short notice without much disruption — provided that the styles are made in the same core colours of the leathers that were originally ordered in bulk. This results in them receiving a lot of support from local retail chains. “It is a win-win situation for us and them,” says Pollock. “When ordering from China you pay upfront. The long lead times make it very difficult “

Local factories also benefitted, to a dregree, from currency fluctuations — with the Rand jumping from 8.50/$ to 11.50/$ and then down to 10.70/$, playing havoc with the costing of imports.

Another plus is that “Puma is back in a big way, with production at 700 to 1000 pairs per day. They could easily accommodate these orders because they have a history of making sports footwear for international brands. “There used to be the days when we had commitments for 3 000-4 000 pairs per day from international sports brands.”

Own brands

While the loss of Asics is leaving a hole, “we’ll adjust and adapt,” he says. They will now be focusing much more on their other brands.

In its heyday, Olympic was one of the foremost local sports brands, worn by ultra distance runners like Bruce Fordyce, Springbok rugby players like Morne du Plessis and Peter Whipp, Springbok squash players like Gunner Way and thousands of other South African athletes. It is also one of the top selling cycling shoes in South Africa. “It is a very good technical shoe,” says Pollock, “and provides excellent value for money.”

Their brands carried them and allowed them to retain staff and grow annual turnover when the exodus to China decimated much of the local footwear industry.

Bronx remains strong in the fashion shoe category, says Pollock, who was temporarily acting as Bronx brand manager as well. At the time of going to press they were in the process of finding a new Bronx brand manager.

“Ladies Bronx is very strong in winter boots, but the ladies sandal market is very price competitive with most sales in entry-level flats. We therefore sell more in winter,” he says.

Anton Fabi, Renegade and Jordan’s lifestyle shoes are also doing very well, he says.

Jordan Shoes to become part of major SA footwear company

Jordan Shoes will become part of a major new footwear company if an agreement between KAP Manufacturing, Beier Safety Footwear and Bolton Footwear is approved by the SA Competition Authorities.

They recently announced that two significant South African footwear groups will be formed after the conclusion of multi-party negotiations between Jordan Shoes owner KAP Manufacturing and the other two footwear companies.

One group will focus on lifestyle fashion and comfort footwear and will consist of local manufacturers and distributors Jordan Shoes, as well as Bolton Footwear’s Watson Shoes and Barker Footwear.

The group’s brands will include Anton Fabi, Bronx, Jordan, Renegade and Olympic from the Jordan stable, as well as Barker, Crockett & Jones, Grasshoppers, Dr. Hart, Franco Gemelli, GH Bass & Co, Paulo Falcone, Step-on-Airs and Watson from Bolton Footwear.

The other group will manufacture safety footwear for the South African and export market and will be formed by joining Bagshaw Footwear, Beier Safety Footwear, United Fram Footwear and Wayne Plastics. This will bring the Jordan safety brands Bronx, Frams, and Wayne together with Beier’s Bova and Sisi and Bolton’s Fuel, Lemaitre, Ndlovu, Inyati and Shu!

Under the agreement KAP Manufacturing will sell the four businesses in their footwear division as follows:

• Jordan Shoes will be bought by Bolton Footwear.

• United Fram Footwear and Wayne Plastics will become part of the new Safety Footwear company formed by merging Beier Safety Footwear and Bolton’s Bagshaw Footwear Division.

• Mossop-Western Leathers will be jointly acquired by the new Safety Footwear company, Bolton Footwear and SKN Corporation — a member of the Rahman Group of India, an international player in the safety footwear and tanning industries.

The management structures and the name of the new Safety Footwear company will only be announced after approval from the Competition Commission.

Industry survival

This agreement will contribute significantly to the survival of the South African footwear industry, which has been under threat from imports for many years, the companies said in a joint statement. It will also contribute to the sustainability and growth of local footwear manufacturing and the industry as a whole, they say.

“The shareholders in these groups are committed to the South African footwear manufacturing industry,” the statement continues. “The consolidation of resources will put these businesses in a stronger position to maximise the productivity improvement benefits offered by the Department of Trade and Industry under the Clothing & Textile Competitiveness Improvement Programme.

“This will contribute to achieving the objectives of the Industrial Policy Action Plan through significantly increased export activity and further job creation expansion.

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