Benjamin John May is not the inventor of physiological footwear, the new segment created by the MBT brand in 1996, based on technology that corrects bad walking postures and prevents back pain. But his entry into this Swiss company was crucial for success in the market for shoes, which he describes as “ugly and expensive” but in which he trusts blindly. Realizing the possibilities offered by this product, he asked its owners for an exclusive license to develop the market in Spain under a new store concept (until then they were sold in multi-brand stores where they had little visibility) and got it that these distinctive shoes are so accepted and respected because of their rounded soles that they have “more imitators than Louis Vuitton” these years, he says proudly.
The development of his idea was so spectacular that when 109 stores opened in our country, MBT officials wanted to rebuild it. “They see that the brand works well in Spain and they want to control it.” He sells his franchises to the brand owners and they appoint him General Manager for Spain, Portugal, UK and Ireland.
ENTREPRENEUR: Overnight, you go from being an owner to an employee of the brand. Do you hear the change you experienced?
BENJAMIN JOHN CAN: For me, being an entrepreneur is like being a manager. You have to make the right decisions for the brand and constantly look for new business opportunities. Although I basically feel like an entrepreneur, I haven’t changed the chip and I still have a say in the decision-making process. When I accepted the change, I told them that if something works, it’s wisest not to change it. It’s the message I gave to my new bosses that was heard. We will continue to run the company as before.
PMS. Why do you decide to invest your money in a product that is little known in the market, expensive and ugly?
bj. I came to Spain without much knowledge of MBT. I’m a carpenter, but when I see an opportunity, I grab it with both hands and run. Although in this case it was my father who saw that the brand was doing well in Ireland and we decided to develop it in Spain as part of the franchise concept. At first we had trouble distributing it. We have shown the model to many chains and the answer was how weird, how ugly and how expensive. But we trusted the product and decided to open three stores in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia. And when we started franchising, we received more than 200 applications. From then on, business was very easy. A minimum investment, maximum responsibility and a new product on the market. Between 2006 and 2008 we opened 68 branches.
PMS. Is it easy to convince franchisees to invest in this brand?
bj. When our franchisees try the product, they understand. We work with people who want to wear shoes. If you want to franchise with us, you need to wear the shoes first before you start a conversation with us.
PMS. Give me one reason why you should be willing to pay more than 200 euros for such an “ugly” shoe.
bj. (Series). Well, now they’re not ugly anymore. The business has changed and we have aligned it more with the fashion world. We create two collections a year and invest heavily in innovation. We are a technology and innovation company connected to shoes. We don’t sell shoes, we sell a concept that offers a benefit to the customer. Let’s face it, if you look at this shoe in comparison to a Versace or a Prada, it’s weird. But if you try the product, you will understand and it is actually nicer to wear than to hold in your hands.
PMS. I’m still not convinced…
bj. What if I told you that you could wear shoes eight or ten hours a day and for eight cents a day you could correct your posture and smile while you walked? They are amortized with eight cents a day. Our shoes are an investment in your body. If you look at the figure of 200 euros, yes it is the most expensive on the market; but when you look at the benefits in your body, it’s different. We have an incredible product that is supported by users. There are thousands of testimonials from people telling us these shoes have changed their lives. And there are very few products that can do that.
PMS. Another big problem is that there is a lot of suspicion about the real benefits of these shoes. And the complaints to other companies about misleading advertising won’t have helped much…
bj. We have never been pressured for the medical benefits of our products. The science behind the brand is real. We have more than 40 scientific studies conducted by the biomechanics departments of the best universities in the world. We have 22 employees developing new innovations in technology and we continue to conduct new studies on the benefits.
EMP. You created this shoe segment, but now you have a lot of competition. How is it affecting you?
bj. The competition doesn’t scare us. We have many copycats, but we believe that when others copy you, you are doing something right. We continue to invest in research and stay one step ahead of our competitors. Without forgetting that we have patents worldwide.
PMS. Nevertheless, the shoes had to be redesigned. The first models were much more unique…
bj. Yes, we realized that we have to find a balance between health and fashion. Consumers are very demanding, they look for benefits, but if they don’t feel good, they don’t buy it. For this reason, since 2009 we have been collaborating with an Italian designer specialized in the luxury market.
PMS. Does the concept behind this design need to be explained or is it already known?
bj. Yes, the brand is known. People used to go to the shops out of curiosity. You saw a rare product, different… and entered. Later word of mouth was the best marketing because customers see it works and bring their friends to us.