Since 1998 when TopScore was established, it has founded and served as the agent for nearly 10 fashion brands. Its various subsidiaries manage the operation of almost 2000 retail stores, and its 13 production lines manufacture around four million high-quality women’s footwear products per year. Yet hot discussions and news about TopScore rarely appear in the media.
Walk the walk, rather than talk the talk, is a characteristic of most Chinese companies that value action, even in the fashion industry where bold expression is the norm. TopScore cofounder and CEO Mr Jianming Ni, revealed the innovative path taken by TopScore to Luxe.CO in his first media interview.
Make Good Products
In the footwear industry, which forms the core of TopScore’s business, the various companies each place a differing emphasis on marketing, R&D, channels, and retail, depending on their team’s DNA. TopScore’s DNA focuses on ‘Product’.
A graduate in design, Jianming Ni founded TopScore with his friends, who all shared a belief in the principle of making good products. Hence, TopScore has been able to move forward even when the industry has been stagnant.
Prior to 2014, TopScore specialised in women’s footwear. KISSCAT, their first brand, was founded in 1995. TopScore has launched new brands every two years since 2007, including ZSAZSAZSU, tigrisso, and KissKitty.
‘Throughout the years, TopScore has focused on just one thing, “making good women’s footwear”. The top four brands that originally contributed to TopScore’s revenue and profit remain the same today.’
Looking back on the company’s first decade, Jianming Ni thinks that they ‘missed out on some opportunities, not due to conservatism, but due to a focus on concentration and moderation’. It wasn’t until 2007 that TopScore began to operate as an agent for a foreign brand, the Spanish ladies’ shoe label Patricia.
On this decade-long partnership, Ni notes that Europe’s hundreds of years of shoe-making history offers many opportunities for learning regarding product concept, technology and craftsmanship. ‘This partnership has helped us to improve, for instance, in terms of understanding how material selection is key to making good products. European factories are professional and specialised, and this specialisation fits well with TopScore’s DNA. Moreover, European brands have developed their own distinct styles and core products after long periods of growth and market evolution, from which TopScore has been able to learn how to execute brand development strategies.
In February 2016, TopScore became the first Chinese women’s shoes company to be listed on the A-shares market (SHH: 603608). At the same time, the company began to expand its product categories.
Jianming Ni has a clear idea of how to pick product categories for TopScore: firstly the brand value needs to be unique, secondly it needs to have large market share and potential for growth, thirdly it has to be in a field TopScore has experience in, and lastly its brand values must align with future market trends.
After carefully selecting high-quality products for consumers, TopScore launched four new brands. They created the classy menswear brand MUST HAVE, became the agent for the Italian fashion brand O bag, invested in a Dutch brand that innovatively uses architectural design in fashion, UN (UNITED NUDE), and launched a brand that targets the large-size ladies’ shoes market, KASMASE.
Through these four brands, one can clearly discern TopScore’s focus on good products: fix customers’ pain points, use environmental friendly materials, encourage innovative design, and ensure top craftsmanship.
While TopScore was late to the game in terms of travelling to Italy to discuss the partnership with O bag, it still won the business and became the brand’s agent in China. ‘Our customer surveys reveal that many customers are often asked about the brand of the bag when wearing it, and they like that they can be relaxed about using the bag, which is not always the case when having to take special care of a luxury bag’. O bag uses environmentally friendly EVA for its bags and accessories. Its environmental friendliness, customer engagement and easy usage are key factors that TopScore values.
Jianming Ni adds, ‘The TA for O bag is tremendous, it’s a market with no ceiling.’
Similarly, TopScore’s own men’s fashion brand MUST HAVE also has the consumer in mind: firstly in terms of the fact that the consumer mentality is maturing, combined with a comeback for materialism; and two, women have always played an important role in Chinese men’s fashion, and women are the consumers TopScore works well with. Chinese men’s pain points in apparel have long been known but unresolved. Jianming Ni unveils that there is a lot in store for MUST HAVE in 2018.
Intelligent R&D and Skilled Craftsmanship
- Product Upgrades Based on Big Data
In TopScore’s ladies footwear R&D, shoe shape is at the core. Creative designs might attract consumer attention, but winning consumers’ hearts depends on ‘invisible creativeness’, such as comfort and fitting. For TopScore, whose main business is ladies footwear, ‘in order to understand customers, it’s necessary to first understand customers’ feet.’
Since completing the first foot-shape measurement survey across seven cities in 2011, TopScore has been continuously collecting foot-shape data. In a joint study with the China Leather & Footwear Industry Research Institute, after collecting samples from several cities in China, they found that the new foot-shape data differed greatly from industry conventions due to changes in lifestyle and environment.
For instance, in the past women’s foot-shape sizing was measured by length, while there was only one standard width (1.5). Yet from its study, TopScore found that the shape of modern women’s feet is very diverse. Shoes made according to conventional sizing would only meet the needs of 30% of consumers.
Research data was soon applied to the actual production of TopScore products. Tigrisso expanded their shoe width range from 0.5 to 2.5 in their latest 2017 collection. KISSCAT will also soon be launching multi-width products to meet consumers’ diverse needs and improve wearability.
TopScore is also partnering with third parties on assessing walking posture. ‘Comfort’ and ‘health’ are not only about the shape of shoe lasts, but also about the walking postures of the women wearing them. In the future, even specially tailored demands may be met.
As of now, TopScore’s brands’ digital scanners in retail stores have collected data regarding tens of thousands of foot shapes. In addition to improving consumers’ in-store experience and helping them to find well-fitting shoes, this also helps TopScore to collect diverse data that will contribute to R&D and production.
- High-Grade Production + Craftsmanship
To make high-quality products, continuous efforts must be made to improve them using big data collection and analyses. At the same time, TopScore has upgraded production lines. Flexibility in switching production between large and small scale production is gradually becoming the company’s competitive advantage.
When introducing the production methods of TopScore, Jianming Ni invited Luxe.CO to visit TopScore’s factories with enthusiasm. He said with pride that production is the most respected department at TopScore.
In 2015, TopScore made ‘manufactured with craftsmanship’ their slogan for the next decade. TopScore believes that craftsmanship is not merely about technique, but about respect for the makers. This respect is shown in various ways, such as each employee’s sense of mission to make good products, and the efforts to synchronise production with the business division’s performance. These endeavours have helped TopScore make great improvements with regard to product quality and production efficiency.
Serve Consumers Well
TopScore’s blueprint is to create ‘a digital fashion ecosystem based on consumers’ while becoming deeply rooted among consumers. Facing changes in retail, this 20-year-old fashion company based in Guangzhou had proposed their strategy for transformation as early as 2014: ‘guard, shift, target, integrate, and get through’. ‘To guard, is to guard existing department store channels; to shift, is to shift to shopping centres; to target, is to target e-commerce and consumers; to integrate, is to integrate channels and organisations; to get through, is to get TopScore’s businesses through to consumers.’
During the exchange with Luxe.CO, Jianming Ni emphasised that ‘the channels of TopScore’s brands are not divided by online and offline; the channels are our consumers: our channels are wherever consumers are. Our channels are, in essence, about consumers rather than platforms’.
With the diversification of products and brands, TopScore initiated the establishment of channels around consumers. In 2017, they bought Beijing Xiaozi Technology Co., Ltd. to enhance their precision marketing in the mobile age and to upgrade the corporation’s digital capabilities.
Jianming Ni says, ‘TopScore’s digital platform is currently limited to internal use, which we hope can be optimised to provide open access to independent designers and partners. We hope that TopScore can distil its data and lengthy experience, and shorten the timeframe from product concept to production, industrialisation and marketing. In this way, in the future, we will be able to help designers to grow their brands quickly, help companies improve efficiency, provide better products and a better experience for consumers, and lay the foundation for the industrial Internet’.