Fast Confession - Václav Staněk: Finding inspiration in Baťa earned him millions, everyone wants his shoes
Václav Staňek is only 23 years old, but he is no newcomer to the world of business. A native of Zlín, he founded his shoe company at the age of seventeen, selling his first shoes in cafés. This year, his brand Vasky is approaching 140-million-sales, which is three times more than last year. The company became so successful that they opened a stone shop in one of the most expensive streets in Prague - Na Příkopě - last year. But the promising beginnings were put to a halt by the pandemic. In an interview for LP-Life.com, Václav Staněk explained that the biggest problem was catching up with the pace of demand.
"Hello, I'm Václav Staněk and I wish that the shoemaking tradition would come to life again in Zlín." That’s a motto from your website. When did this wish come about?
It was around the age of seventeen, and I’d already been looking for the right business direction since the age of fifteen. At seventeen, the moment came when I figured it out and decided this was the journey I wanted to take. At eighteen, I started a company and began working on it. And I’ve been working on it ever since.
You used to do athletics, but then diabetes came, forcing you to quit athletics... How does such a young guy come up with a business plan like this? Does it have anything in common with the fact that you grew up in Zlín?
There are too many reasons. I gave up athletics because of diabetes, that's true. I suddenly had a lot of time. I knew I wanted to do business. My dad used to make occupational footwear, so I had an insight into the production process. From that market, I was aware that shoemakers still existed, but they were following the wholesale model. All of this helped form my thoughts. Zlín certainly played a huge role in it, and most definitely books. I’ve discovered books about Tomáš Baťa at an early age, which inspired me.
When you think back to your beginnings... did your parents help you financially? Because after all, some capital is needed.
No, they didn't help me. I had a registered capital of 30,000 crowns for Vasky and it was really enough for us to start the whole company. It was only possible because I had a lot of good friends. A graphic artist that made us a logo. A classmate who took our first professional photos in exchange for shoes. We really managed to start small.
You started as a purely footwear brand, but your product range is constantly expanding. Were the shoes now enough for your clientele?
We are still primarily a footwear brand. Until the end. I mean, there won’t be an end, so... forever. Of course, our customers have a lot of requirements. For example, our sandals or slip-on shoes were made at the request of customers. And as for other accessories, we felt that there would be interested in them. Wallets, belts and so on.
In one of your interviews, I’ve read that you were selling your first shoes in cafés. So when did the turning point come?
Everyone asks me about the turning point, but there really wasn't one. It's a continuous effort. The first year we had a million crowns in turnover, the next year it was 4.5 million crowns, then 12 and so on and so forth. So, while it may seem like there were some jumps, it was actually us constantly building our brand, always finding new channels and moving forward. So I can’t really pinpoint the moment when we had a breakthrough, because we’ve been selling in those cafes for quite a long time. The jump occurred mainly in the online environment. It wasn't exactly that I was going from café to café. Rather, someone ordered the shoes via social networks and then we delivered them there.
You’ve mentioned your turnover, which quadrupled every year. Last year it was 140 million crowns. What do you attribute this success to?
For me, the most important thing in any business is the product. It is the centre of everything. Next comes the consistency of the brand. And definitely also quality marketing.
Marketing is a must today. You contacted several influencers who promoted your brand. Would it be possible without them today?
It would probably be possible without influencers. What matters most are the performance channels. Of course, when I had only just started, I couldn't spend that much money on advertising on Google or Facebook. So we contacted various influencers and hoped it would catch on. And it worked out, some of them really helped us.
How much does the fact that you are from Zlín and make shoes help your marketing? The connection with Tomáš Baťa is huge.
It definitely makes it more believable. We refer to the Baťa tradition and we are from Zlín, we produce in the Czech Republic. So it has does play a certain role. It's not like we wave his name around because it suits us. We really mean it, he has been my role model for a very long time. For me, he’s the biggest businessman our country has ever had.
How many pairs of shoes do you make per day and how many hands do the shoes pass through before they’re complete?
We make 400 shoes a day. As for the employees, it varies. But usually, one pair of shoes passes through the hands of eight to fourteen people.
Nowadays, interest in craft is declining. How hard is it to find someone who is interested in making shoes?
It's a pretty big problem. We're trying to do something about it. We want to show the shoemaker’s craft in a better light. Because in such a craft, one is basically an artist.
Do you employ only Czechs, or foreigners as well?
More or less only Czechs. We do have two Ukrainians working for us, but they have lived here for a really long time. And they are great, hardworking people.
You’ve mentioned several times in interviews that you can no longer keep up with the demand. Your brand is built on the fact that everything is handmade in the Czech Republic. So how long can this be maintained?
We feel it won’t be long. By increasing the capacity to 12,000, it is still sustainable. However, we are now toying with the idea that, since we have now expanded to Slovakia, we could also ask there. But I would like for the shoes made in Slovakia to go directly to Slovaks and the shoes made in the Czech Republic to Czechs. Because I think that’s the right way to go about it.
Regarding the material you use for your shoes, I guess not everything can be found here in the Czech Republic.
That's right. We get our soles directly in Zlín. Laces are also from the Czech Republic. The biggest problem is leather. It’s almost impossible to get leather in the Czech Republic. We have Czech suppliers, but they are looking for quality, especially in Central Europe.
How did you manage to get all these contacts? You were basically a young boy starting a business. People must have perceived you differently.
It was gradual. But we started at dad's occupational footwear factory. That made things a bit easier for us. Of course, because we wanted quality leather, different patterns and so on, we still had to walk the path. But we had a place to start production.
Last year, you opened a stone shop in Příkopy. Covid must have complicated things a lot.
Yes, a bit. So far, out of the five months we could have been open, we were open 22 days, in December, when the government was trying to make up for the deficit. The covid rental call didn’t even apply to us, because we technically signed the contract at a time when it was no longer valid. Which, of course, we didn't know.
So you're still holding on and waiting for how things will work out...
Yes, we’re still there and we’re not planning to give up. We believe that one day there will be a change for the better.
Overall, how has your company adapted to the pandemic?
We took relatively quick steps in the online environment. So we started to focus on online sales because stone shops were out. We offered free shipping, extended the time period for returning goods and so on.
How often do you encounter a claim for goods?
I honestly don't know the exact ratio. It's not such a big number for us to keep track of it in detail. In addition, the shoes are repairable, so we can rework and repair them in production. So it's really not an issue.
What about designing new collections? Is that only your job?
It was, until the end of last year. In November, designer Martin Bernát joined us, and now he’s responsible for the design of our new shoes. Now we consult it together and look for the best possible option.
You have a lot of people under you. Do you have the tendency and need to have everything under control? Or are you letting it run freely?
Sometimes. When I see something is wrong, I interfere a lot. But I try to assign competencies in a way that makes it possible for the company to operate without me.
What do you think a young person needs to have in order to succeed?
I think they need to know what they want. Be persistent and follow their goals. I think that’s what it’s all about. It is necessary to move forward, keep learning and working on oneself.
What are your visions? Where do you want to take the company?
Everywhere. We’re planning to expand abroad this year. Germany, Austria and Switzerland are all coming. From there, we’ll wait and see how it goes. And in the future, we would like to keep growing steadily. That means three times, even four times higher turnovers. Now, of course, we’re operating in bigger numbers, so we'll see how it goes. But the biggest challenge is in production. Having enough shoes to be able to actually sell in such volumes. This is also connected to the fact that we want to open new premises and production halls. So we'll see where Vasky have their ceiling and when the market will stop us.
Do you check out people’s shoes often?
All the time. It is also a form of inspiration. Everything has already been invented. So most designs are inspired by others.
Where do you look most often?
Have you ever tried the whole production process yourself?
Only cutout. In the end, the machine got stuck and had to be repaired. But at the end of the day, there is not a single person in the production who would be familiar with every part of the process. So when I say neither am I, I can say it with a clear conscience.
You have also invested in other companies. That makes me wonder, do you have time for yourself at all? Can you relax, do you know how to procrastinate?
I never procrastinate! It’s a waste of time. But I like to relax. In my free time, I like to play sports and spend time with friends. And with my family, of course.