The Aquila Brand

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-By Jen Hocken

Aquila began as a shoe making company and today is expanding into a clothing line for men. According to Managing Director Luke Longo, the company’s new goal is to “create a lifestyle brand for the Australian male, where guys will have a definitive place to shop from head to toe!” A few years ago, Aquila celebrated 50 years of business – 50 years of success which grew out of the dream of one man.

Luke’s grandfather, Tony Longo, founded Aquila Shoes in 1958. From Italy, he immigrated to Australia in 1949 after the Second World War under the Government’s Assisted Passage Program. Being a skilled shoe maker, he set off to Australia to start a new and better life for his family. He worked many different jobs and after a few years opened a shoe repair shop before deciding to manufacture shoes in 1958. In the beginning, Aquila only manufactured shoes for children. This changed when Tony noticed a lack in the supply of quality men’s footwear, and the decision to expand in 1961 changed the company forever. After opening a new factory in 1965, Tony recruited his two sons and was soon producing more than 100,000 pairs of shoes each year.

Up until the mid 1970s, Aquila was purely a footwear manufacturer and wholesaler to menswear and department stores. The first retail store was opened in Bourke Street, Melbourne and the retail presence continued to expand from there, with the second store opening in Sydney. Tony’s eldest son Mario took care of the retail operations and his younger brother Nick was in charge of shoe design. The manufacturing and wholesale aspects of the business predominated over the retail stores, but began to slow in the 1990s, with the reduction of tariff protection and the influx of cheaper imports. The retail presence had grown to 15 stores by then and to over 20 stores nationwide by 2003, which is when the difficult decision to close the factory was made.

Today, over 50 years since Tony Longo created the company, there is a third generation of Longo’s continuing his work to design and develop products from all over the world to supply its network of stores. Aquila is now in 25 retail stores nationwide, and is proud of its rich heritage and its leading position in men’s fashion footwear in Australia.

Aquila is the Italian word for Eagle. Tony Longo chose this name for his company because he felt it was important for his product to be represented by a strong, grand and powerful symbol. This was the beginning of creating a strong brand, which is arguably the biggest asset a company can have. It is important that all decisions and actions reflect positively on the Aquila brand. The first step to having a strong brand is maintaining a clear focus on the product and making it the number one objective. Having well trained staff, organised store design and innovative marketing are also important steps to building a strong brand.

There are currently 25 Aquila stores within Australia, with most located in NSW and Victoria, and others in Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane and ACT. There are over 100 employees in the retail stores. Aquila is well known for having helpful and professional staff, due to its excellent training on two key issues: customer service and product knowledge. According to Luke Longo, “In this age of online retail and increased competition in general, it is important for retailers to exceed the level of customer service expected of them.” There are many options for consumers today, and the Aquila staff work hard to ensure that customers are not lost to other retailers.

For many years Aquila had a basic website, and three years ago the decision was made to transform the site into a comprehensive e-commerce site. It has become an important marketing tool for the business, because it acts as a promotional tool for customers to research products and it brings together the full capacity of digital marketing. Social media is used in the form of Facebook and Twitter, and the company has a very successful email marketing campaign. In this digital age, these forms of marketing are important to keep in constant contact with customers and help drive traffic through to the website and the physical stores.

The website itself has improved greatly since it was first launched. The ease of the site and the navigational aspects are of the highest quality. The breadth of the content has also grown, so that customers always have plenty of choice when shopping online. The site boasts Aquila’s full collection of shoes and accessories, while other sections of the website, like the blog, are used to provide information and engage with customers even further. The intention is to keep the customer informed about Aquila. The free delivery option is especially appealing and is available to customers in Australia and New Zealand. Currently, there are plans to launch an extended product line, which will see the online store opened to other, international markets. The website is much more inviting now, and it keeps the customer online for longer.

The website also includes an option to sign up for the Aquila VIP Newsletter. This newsletter provides customers with access to the latest news and offers. Luke Longo explains, “Be it a new styling look that has just hit the stores, a VIP Night offer, or first access to our collection prior to our sale events, becoming a member ensures you are the first to hear of these events and take advantage of these offers.” Customers are never bombarded with emails, as Aquila believes in quality, not quantity. It is important to ensure that communication via Newsletters is newsworthy and benefits customers in some way.

Even though the online store is trading well and growing quickly, the actual retail stores in Australia are by far the company’s biggest revenue earners. The goal is to have a multi-channelled retail strategy with a balance between the online store and the physical, bricks-and-mortar stores.

There is, of course, a lot of competition in shoes and retail, and companies must strategise to keep the business growing. Retail is a dynamic industry and constantly evolving. Aquila’s strategy is reinvestment in the business. By continually investing in product development, shop fit outs and marketing, Aquila is able to stay ahead of the competition and remain at the forefront of retail and men’s footwear.

Stable relationships with suppliers are another important aspect of any business. Aquila has built very successful supplier relationships, and has established a strong supply chain. This success can be attributed to forming a clear understanding of the supplier’s business, and the supplier in turn understanding the Aquila business. Both parties know what is expected of them, which forms a harmonious business relationship. The benefits of this are that products are delivered on time, as sampled and at the quality that is expected. Aquila sees suppliers essentially as partners in the business, because the quality of the products reflects on the Aquila brand.

There are always challenges to contend with in business. Online retailing and overseas retailers entering the market are two challenges for Aquila, but they are not necessarily negative. The threat of new businesses taking market share keeps the business on its toes and forces it to constantly push for improvement.

The Longo family has now decided that the Aquila brand needs and is ready for the next big expansion. There are plans to continue to grow in terms of number of stores and also larger stores, but the biggest growth plan is expanding into clothing. A menswear line under the Aquila brand will be launched later this year, to complement the shoe collection and provide customers with a complete Aquila look. The market research done shows there is a gap in the menswear market for the type of look and offer that will be provided by Aquila.

Current economic and retail climates have been soft since the GFC, but Luke Longo is proud to state that, “the past few years have been the most successful for Aquila in its history. Turnover is at its highest level and profitability has never been better. We are very happy with the current state of our business and look forward to many more successful years in retail, in particular men’s shoes and of course our new clothing venture.”

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December 19, 2018, 9:23 AM AEDT