Online footwear retailer Shoes.com plans to open stores nationally, complimenting its booming online business. We spoke with company Vice President of Brand and Retail, Geoff Henshaw, who explained why the pure play online retailer decided to move into physical stores, and why its locations will be unique and customizable.
Shoes.com was founded in 1996 and now carries over 500 designer brands, boasting annual online sales in excess of $300 million. The company is now headquartered in Vancouver, after being bought last year by Coastal Contacts founder, Roger Hardy. The company also recently bought a popular sock brand called Richer, Poorer to compliment its footwear business.
Shoes.com’s first location opened last month on Toronto’s trendy Queen Street West. The boutique was originally intended to be a temporary pop-up, but the company has since decided that physical stores are part of its long-term game plan. Mr. Henshaw explained how only 3% of all footwear purchases are made online and if a retailer does brick-and-mortar in a ‘purposeful way’, there’s room to gain market share. The Queen Street store will revert to a long-term lease in March of 2016.
Mr. Henshaw says that the retailer decided to open physical stores to connect with customers face-to-face, and that the company is looking to grow through omni-channel. Owner Roger Hardy used a similar strategy when his online retailer Coastal Contacts opened brick-and-mortar stores in Canada in the spring of 2013, and within the first year these stores saw sales in excess of $2,000 per square foot.
Mr. Henshaw says that in 2016, Shoes.com will look to open physical stores in all major Canadian markets. Targeted cities include Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal and others. Although its first physical store is on a retail high street in Toronto, Shoes.com will consider opening in mall locations as well, particularly given Canada's weather. Shoes.com Stores will ideally be in the 2,000 square foot range, he said – about twice the size of the existing Queen Street store.
The Toronto Queen Street store is unique in how its interior is customizable. Photos in this article show the store featuring a ‘forest’ backdrop. Mr. Henshaw explained that backdrops are easily customizable and interchangeable and that this backdrop may soon change to reflect January’s push to promote Canadian brands. Every six weeks, the store will see a new theme. Product is also customizable, and individual Shoes.com stores may curate brands and styles to cater to local markets, as well as for various promotions.
In some respects, Shoes.com’s brick-and-mortar expansion is an experiment, and the company will continue to evaluate its operations. It’s testing two-hour home delivery in Toronto and if it proves popular, new store locations might require less backroom storage space. Once there’s proof that its stores are a winning concept, Shoes.com will look to roll them out not only in Canada, but in the United States as well. Mr. Henshaw revealed that an American store expansion is in the works for the second half of 2016.