When High Sport founder Alissa Zachary began planning to roll out her stretch knitwear line, she targeted independent stores with loyal following: A’maree’s in Newport Beach, Calif., Just One Eye in Los Angeles. and Clouds in Aspen.
Even before the collection hit the ground in November 2021, traders were sending pairs of Zachary’s $ 890 flared pants – which are available in basic black but also in grape, cherry, lemon and other saturated and fruity colors – for their best customers.
Six weeks later, the three retailers had placed multiple orders and expanded their assortments. There are waiting lists. The pants are now a certifiable hero product.
“In-store retail is the best way to reach our customer at our price point,” said Zachary, an experienced merchandiser who has spent time at The Row and Khaite. “A lot of these stores have been around for decades and there is a certain level of trust. Retailers create an edition for their customers. They contextualize.
Physical stores, when marketed with idiosyncrasy and passion, can delight customers in ways that are difficult to achieve online. But when it comes to exciting brick-and-mortar options, there’s a “void” in the market, said retail consultant Robert Burke. Now a slew of newcomers and a few savvy incumbents are betting that the thirst for a great place to shop in person, across brands, is back, and they’re using a mix of old-fashioned customer service and new sales models at once again bring shopping pleasure.
“I miss Barneys”
No store has left a bigger and darker hole in the American luxury landscape than Barneys New York, which closed in February 2020 after a heartbreaking bankruptcy and liquidation. Many of Barneys’ wounds were self-inflicted. For a decade, fashion insiders have complained about its decline – they said it lost its magic after fashion director Julie Gilhart was fired in the early 2010s and hedge fund manager Richard Perry took control, attempting to transform into a corporation what was truly a local store with global influence. Perry executives took the oddity out and lined its cold marble floors with shelves of designer handbags, investing hundreds of millions of dollars in physical retail while letting its once-flourishing digital presence fall behind. over its competitors.
Bad business decisions were only made worse by what was happening to the luxury industry as a whole: Top brands prioritizing their own retail, while e-commerce natives like MatchesFashion and Net-a-Porter stole their sales. Social media, especially Instagram, has perhaps had the greatest impact, as the discovery of new brands and trends has occurred almost exclusively on these platforms.
Despite all of this, the closure of Barneys was greeted with utter sadness, a classic “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone” situation.
And it’s not just Barneys who died. The opening ceremony of the downtown Manhattan luminaire announced that it would close its retail doors in January 2020, just before the pandemic took hold and after its acquisition by New Guards Group, owned by Farfetch , which now produces its namesake brand. Soon other fan favorites shut down, including Atlanta institution Jeffrey, Brooklyn Bird mainstay, Richmond’s Need Supply, and Seattle’s Totokaelo. Forty Five Ten, which kicked off a booming multi-store project in New York’s Hudson Yards mall in May 2019, has closed all of its locations outside of its Dallas home. Milan’s 10 Corso Como, which opened in Manhattan’s South Street Seaport tourist port in 2018, bade farewell to the city in May 2020.
Some merchants cited the pandemic, but others noted an increasingly competitive market, where independent retailers faced heavily funded multi-brand stores that were willing to spend huge sums on customer acquisition, either in targeting online customers, or branding products much earlier. in the sales cycle than small businesses could afford.
“Moments of discovery”
However, what multi-brand stores can offer remains special. A seller can recommend things based on taste and appearance, rather than computer-generated data points, and it’s also possible to try multiple items at a time without purchasing items for thousands of dollars online. , only to return them. If a customer is looking for a dress for a wedding or a suit, it is often more fun to stop at a multi-brand retailer than to visit 10 different stand-alone stores. Traditional department stores meet some of these needs, but generally lack personality.
“I miss Barneys even though I was absolutely one of those people who wondered why it wasn’t cool and not interesting – but it was still a bit,” said Eugene Rabkin, Partner and Director of Atlanta’s Antidote, a multi-brand store he opened in September 2021 with managing director and senior owner Lauren Amos, who also runs the sneaker and streetwear store Wish. Rabkin, founder of the online forum and magazine StyleZeitgeist (and occasional contributor to BoF), believes stores like theirs can serve as a launching pad for independent designers who don’t have the financial bandwidth to market and sell directly. to consumers, as well as a haven for brands that are not widely available in the United States outside of New York and Los Angeles because they are picky about distribution.
He also believes that Atlanta, a cultural capital with booming music, film and startup scenes, also has enough wealthy and fashion-curious residents to build up a solid client base, some of whom have already shopped in the city. Jeffrey, today closed.
“American stores tend to buy very conservatively,” Rabkin said. With an eye towards the conceptual, Antidote sells the tastes of the whole family Comme des Garçons, Jil Sander, Mugler, Undercover – a favorite of Rabkin and Amos – and is the only North American store to carry Hyke, a Japanese brand. fashionable. which is now expanding abroad, thanks to collaborations with Moncler, Adidas and The North Face.
The only thing the internet will never solve is the browsing problem.
“The only thing the Internet will never solve is the browsing problem,” he added. “You can get recommendations, but it can never replicate the feeling of just stumbling across something and having that moment of discovery. “
Localized – and personalized
Webster founder Laure Hériard Dubreuil was not sure her growing chain of stores would survive the pandemic. However, the French-born, Los Angeles-based executive had a lot going for her. Not only did three of its Florida locations – which for better or worse were less restricted during the lockdown phases of the pandemic than other parts of the United States – it had also spent the previous decade investing in retail talent, starting with The Webster’s first store in Miami in 2009.
In 2021, sales increased 60% compared to 2019 and profits almost doubled during the same period. There are now nine The Webster locations – three in Florida (including one outlet), three in California, one in Houston, one in New York and one in Toronto. Dubreuil believes that, unlike some multi-brand retailers who have suffered after their expansion, it has targeted areas where it is convinced that there is a ready, willing and underserved customer base who will benefit from the store’s upbeat and colorful edition. which includes everything from Rosie Assoulin to Chanel. (It’s one of the only multi-brand stores in the world to sell the mega-label.)
It is no coincidence that many of the successful stores during this period are in secondary or tertiary cities: people travel again, but not as often or as far. Rabkin said that in addition to serving Atlanta’s creative community, Antidote has brought in buyers from Nashville and Birmingham, Ala.
“I don’t want to lose the personalization,” Dubreuil said of her approach to each store, calling her start in the middle of the 2008 recession a good preparer for what she faced during the pandemic.
A fresh start, with some outdated issues
Telsha Anderson-Boone, who opened TA in New York’s Meatpacking District in 2020, also said starting such a volatile time was, in some ways, a blessing: designers who were bypassed by stores at large area but still wanted a -mortar were more open to work with it. TA’s top sellers include Christopher John Rogers – whose knits she can’t keep in stock – PH5 and Ottolinger, as well as Christopher Esber and Julia Heuer.
“We bring different brands, those that are not necessarily worn [widely] in the United States, and we take risks with our purchases, ”said Anderson-Boone.
But while optimism reigns in retail today, the fundamental flaws of the wholesale model remain, making success elusive, especially for any store that is looking not only to keep its business, but to grow.
For example, stocking the right mix of brands is more difficult than ever, as many prefer to sell direct. Then there are the logistical headaches. Even in good years, when supply chains are functioning well, bottlenecks arise, and sometimes a brand may not be able to ship their products to a store on time, which means items are not. not on the full-priced sales floor for as long as they were meant to be, often resulting in bigger discounts. Online, competing with department stores and e-commerce giants remains a challenge.
There are newer sales models, such as consignment in store or online drop shipping, but they don’t generate as much profit for retailers and also require a larger initial investment from brands that are already running out. And while consumers want to browse in-store stores, they’re still shopping online more than ever, so the frequency with which they visit retailers – and their loyalty to those retailers – continues to decline.
For each Charivari there is also a Maxfield.
“It was easier in the Charivari days,” said Burke, referring to the legendary Manhattan boutique that sold everything from Ann Demeulemeester to Dries Van Noten, and closed in 1998. “Today” ‘hui, you see everything online. “
These new stores, however, are betting that the romance of in-store shopping, in front of a beautiful mirror, will – at least sometimes – outweigh the convenience of the click and the shipping.
“For every Charivari, there is also a Maxfield,” Rabkin said. (This venerable Los Angeles retailer has been in business for over 50 years.) “There is always a place for fashion with a capital F.”