Founders sold 80,000 pairs last year in 15 countries
Stylish plastic shoes from Biion Footwear Inc. have caught the eye of distributors in 14 foreign markets. The company sold 80,000 pairs last year. Pictured are Rick Buchanan, left, president and CEO of Biion, which is based in Collingwood, Ont. With him is Sam Bennett, an angel investor who helped co-found the brand.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail
The shoes, which reinvent the classic Oxford brogue in flexible ethylene-vinyl acetate (known as EVA), are manufactured by a Taiwanese company with factories in China, Vietnam and Thailand.
The company’s creatively coloured golf shoe was a big sensation at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando last year. “That show was overwhelming,” says Mr. Buchanan, who had conceived the idea of the shoes a year before. “We got minimum orders on all 36 colours.”
Now Mr. Buchanan has the enviable task of wanting to make sure the company does not expand too fast. “It’s growing very quickly, and globally, which is good for us, but there are some hurdles to get over with growing so fast,” he says.
A couple of the company’s early foreign efforts – specifically those in Spain and Turkey – didn’t go so well, which taught Mr. Buchanan the importance of finding the right partners before jumping in.
The shoes can be washed easily. Biion is also branching out into the boating and fashion markets, positioning the shoes as versatile enough to be worn from morning to night.
Before starting Biion, Mr. Buchanan was a consultant in the fashion business, and he knows well how unpredictable the business can be, having seen good products come and go. “I know of a bunch of fantastic brands that were out-of-the-gate fantastic,” he says. “But they’re not around any more.”
Mr. Buchanan has gone this far using his own money, with help from friends, family and angel investor Mr. Bennett. He is considering pursuing venture capital to help with further expansion.
Mr. Buchanan, left, and Mr. Bennett wonder whether they are expanding too fast, and they also want to better handle sales in foreign markets.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail