Start-rite Shoes to export to China and Middle East

Children's footwear specialist Start-rite Shoes is set to begin exporting to China and the Middle East in landmark new ventures.

The Norwich-based firm, which has a history dating back to the late 1700s, has signed an agreement with a Hong Kong-based company which will see sales begin in China in 2011.

The move will also see a first store launched in Guangzhou, Southern China, and is aimed at tapping into the huge Chinese market, and the country's increased focus on children's health.

Start-rite, which employs about 100 people in Norwich, has also signed an agreement with a major shoe retailer in the Middle East, which will target key markets in states such as Dubai and Kuwait.

The launch of the overseas ventures follow the publication of Start-rite's 2009 accounts, which showed turn-over almost unchanged on the previous year at �18.2m, while profit before tax increased by about �500,000 to �1.7m.

The vast bulk (�16.6m) of last year's sales were in the UK and Ireland, where sales remained static, with about �1.1m in the rest of the European Union and about �500,000 in other parts of the world.

Peter Lamble, managing director, said trading so far in 2010 had been 'almost identical' to last year, with sales currently up by about 2pc, and said the foreign markets could deliver growth.

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He said: 'In order to drive sales overseas we have signed an agreement to sell into China, which we are very excited about.

'The first products will be sold there next year and we are looking to open our first store, which will be in Guangzhou, through a Hong Kong-based company.

'Initially the shoes will be taken from our stock in Norwich.

'China is obviously a very big market, and there is a big focus there on spending money on kids' health, and paying good prices for Western brands.

'In 10 years' time we could be selling more shoes in China than in the UK.'

He said the Middle East was 'another big market' for the company, and said he would be looking at possible further overseas markets in the future, including India.

Mr Lamble said UK sales were likely to be 'difficult' for the rest of 2010 and the first half of next year, with typical customers like nurses and teachers potentially affected by public spending cuts.

Start-rite has also launched an internet campaign, called Healthy Little Feet, to highlight the importance of properly measured and fitted shoes.

The website, set up for Start-rite by Norwich-based marketing firm Affinity New Media, has attracted more than 13,500 parents and 17,500 children in its first six months, with 40,000 children expected to be registered within the first year of the campaign.