The Italian producer of hiking and trekking shoes is accepting fewer orders from corporate clients, especially from the U.S. private-label sector because of the lower value of the dollar. Instead, it is using a recently reinforced management team instead to push sales of its own AKU brand. In line with this strategy, which was put in place a couple of years ago, the company stopped one of its production lines at its factory in Montebelluna last May, leading to speculation in the local press that it was going to shut down completely.

Employment at the factory was actually reduced by about 20 employees, trimming the staff involved in the production to only 15 persons, but the Italian plant will continue to make about 10-15 percent of the total output. Most of the production will continue at AKU's 7-year-old factory in Romania, which employs 200 people.

The reduction in the OEM business, which now represents only 10-15 percent of the company's total production volume, is expected to lead to an overall 5 percent drop in its turnover this year. In 2007, a slight increase in revenues from the USA to the equivalent of €3.6 million had led to a margin improvement in total sales to €14.7 million.

On the other hand, sales of the AKU brand are up by 11 percent so far this year, with increases in Italy and other markets such as the U.K., Spain, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. The company has also started to do business in France, where it is working with Leki's local importer, Olivier Dufour, and in Poland, where it has a new distributor, Sparker. An agreement is about to be finalized with a distributor in Russia.

On the Italian market, where AKU is the leading supplier of light Gore-Tex trekking shoes, with deliveries of more than 100,000 pairs to more than 600 stores, sales went up by 16 percent for the Spring/Summer 2008 season, partly due to strong growth in sales of Icebreaker garments, for which the company acts as its Italian distributor.

The companyfs relative success on its home market is also the result of a decision two years to hire Mirco Battaglia, formerly with The North Face, as its Italian sales manager. At about the same time, Paolo Boldrin, AKUfs general manager, also hired a new export manager, Andrea Cattaneo, who worked previously for Aigle and Tecnica. He also appointed a marketing manager, Vittorio Forato, with experience at Marcolin, the Italian eyewear company, and at Look.

To help support the brand, AKU has organized some interesting events at leading stores such as Ellis Brigham in London and Sport Schuster in Munich. At Ellis Brigham's store in Covent Garden, customers who agreed to try on a pair of AKU boots were given the chance to participate in a drawing to spend a week in the region of Alta Badia, near the companyfs head office in Italy. A similar promotion was staged at Sport Schuster, where an Italian brand of cheese was also involved as a symbol of Italian taste.

Most recently, AKU signed a deal to supply the trekking and mountaineering boots for the 300-plus Spanish mountain guides who belong to AEGM, a prestigious association in the Aragonese Pyrenees. Working through an agent for the Spanish market, Josep Casas, AKU was previously selected as official technical partner of the Catalan school for mountain sports (ECEM).