Perspective: Scaling and Impact

Black Wing Shoes started out as a personal experiment. I had originally wanted, like any other traditional business, to create a workshop which has a ready market by making mass production goods. Before this endeavor though, I’ve had some experience in marketing and managing custom IT services which helped in shaping Black Wing into what it is today. So I set out to make to make a traditional production line producing footwear but eventually ended up in the custom shoe service market.

The concept of Black Wing is a very fluid concept. It goes where it needs to go while operating within its limitations. Of course there is continuous development on expanding those limitations in order to scale business operations and its impact on the industry. When it started evolving from the traditional production line, it catered to the requirement of the business to be able to handle fitting issues of clients better. Everything was trial and error but instead of being rigid and strict about the brand and it’s operations, we studied each mistake and took note of how we can prevent them and improve the service. The end result is a very personalized and specialized service which is designed as a feasible microbusiness model for the micro and small scale shoe manufacturers in Marikina. I will eventually talk about the business model as a future blog entry.

I will discuss the issues and concerns as well as opportunities that we have encountered throughout our journey towards our goal of becoming one of the premiere shoe brands in the Philippines and to be able to become a global brand.

The Scaling Issue

Since the business and operations model evolved to cater to be needs of our clients, it is technically a custom business model tailored to the needs of a market where the major players have scaled down operations due to the same problems and concerns that we are working to overcome now.

Let me first state the parameters of the current state of Black Wing’s business model. It is designed to be a micro scale business model for the mom and pop workshops in Marikina to emulate. Given that the production rate will be really low, the products have to be priced accordingly to be fair to the craftsmen and the workshop owners. The wages also have to scale; craftsmen in Marikina are often getting piece rate compensation which is designed to keep the workers poor and tired. In order to uplift the industry, wages have to scale similar to that found in most corporate structures in order to uplift the lives of the craftsmen as well as entice the younger generation to learn the craft and excel in it. This presents an issue because there is also a limit to the wages earned by the craftsmen not unless we elevate the craft to the level of high end luxury goods. There is also the issue of skill level. We adhere to a quality level which is a bit higher than the local standard. This presents a problem since even veteran shoemakers have a tendency to let basic defects slide which can lead to the degradation of overall quality over time. My clients always tell me that I have a good problem; while this is a true, it also reflection on how the level of workmanship in Marikina has degraded over time which needs to be addressed.

The main problem is how to scale the business properly while keeping the core values intact. In a time where return-of-investments and fast growth is at the top of the list of all successful businesses, this is the reverse since there is no shortcut and fast growth to a heritage industry which is trying to recreate the glory days by going through the process of small brand building, organic marketing, and a small-team oriented operational model. It is easy to take advantage of the surge in demand and brand recognition, but scaling quality to maintain the base standard that we have set for ourselves prevents us from capitalizing on the opportunity to get quick gains and profiting from it.

As with any expanding business, we have a choice of either sacrificing some of our core values in order to serve the demand or stifle growth in favor of finding a more sustainable solution to the scaling problem that our workshop is facing at the moment.

Creating Impact

Any effort creates an impression, an impact with all those involved in it. The same is true with any business, it creates an impact not only with the lives of the workers but also with the clients it serves and the industry it operates in. The impact of your effort is a good measure on the success which is somewhat quantifiable although not as accurate as financial performance indicators. The goal of any industry oriented business is to create an impact on the industry that it is operating in. While some stumble upon this accidentally, most businesses have to plan it and slowly develop it into an influencer. Black Wing was eventually developed to create several dents in the status quo in order to create lasting impact on the industry which can hopefully develop it further. Here are several of our goals for the next two years.

The first is escalation. We wanted to prove that Marikina shoemaking can still be relevant and fit for the modern upscale market. For the price point of our products, we are creating a higher value for the client in terms of styling, fit, and comfort as compared to other foreign and local brands. By doing this, our goal is not to drag the market down but to pull the micro scale operations up. We wanted to prove that local shoemakers can produce quality footwear while having a price that is fair to the workshop, it’s  craftsmen, and the client. By having stylish and quality products in the market, other smaller workshops will be enticed to follow suit as they will see that the business model is more efficient in creating rewards and opportunities. The Black Wing model shows that micro scale operations is economically viable and can compete with foreign brands which have enjoyed dominance in the industry over the years.

The second is fairness. Black Wing proves that giving craftsmen daily wages is sustainable. The Marikina shoe industry has operated either under the price rate system or a contractual system. Bigger brands with some in-house production have a core team but the rest of their workforce are either contractual or piece rate. Majority of the small and micro scale manufacturers hire on a piece rate basis which, while mitigates risk well and scales with demand, is designed to keep the craftsmen poor and tired, limiting their opportunity for upward mobility. Job security is one of the most basic rights that a worker has to enjoy in order to excel in their job. Without this, there is no “malasakit“, or care, for the job which is vital in producing quality craft goods. This impacts the lives of the craftsmen by improving working conditions and greatly giving them security.

Third is professionalization. There was a time when society deemed it so that you need an educational degree in order to have a better chance in life. While this is true for certain sectors, we have a majority of youth who have become unaware that there is another career path available which does not require money in order to attain education. We want to professionalize shoemaking in the same way that the more “educated” professions are professionalized. This is in order to keep heritage industries such as weaving and shoemaking relevant to the youth and not just a part of a future museum exhibit about  the traditional Marikina footwear industry. I will talk about this further in future entries.

Finally, we want to create a revival of the industry by going back to it’s roots. One of the goals of Black Wing to impact the industry is to reset it for the micro scale producers so that they would be able to get back into making quality shoes again. Mass consumerism has ruined the industry as it created unfair practices and methods which ultimately led to the downfall of the industry. While still making money for a certain few certain groups, the industry ultimately suffered as no development was taken to create a sustained effort in order to grow the industry. Instead, it was milked to the point that the craftsmen were not able to pass down their proper skills to a new generation but rather promoted a human production line where it became menial labor neglecting the skill and attention required to make proper shoes. We have machines for that kind of work. By succeeding as a brand, Black Wing hopes to become a case study for those wanting to recreate the days where Marikina made shoes were highly praised not only because it was made in Marikina, but because it can hold itself high alongside shoes made by other artisans from all over the world.

Fledgling Wings

In order to keep our core values intact, we have to take baby steps and plan each move carefully. The scaling issue has proven itself to be a major problem since the original design of the business model was intended for micro scale manufacturers only. While I have actually formulated a possible growth strategy, it is still difficult as we still need to first pilot test the professionalization and education of the craft to the point where we can sustain efforts in order to achieve growth. It is in this part of the growth of the brand where we have to vigilantly maintain our quality standards, set rules for all parties to mitigate and control expectations, keep the core values intact even if the craftsmen of the industry involved are being passive about their current state, and inch along slowly as we create a roadmap for other micro brands to study in the future.

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