By Mario Toneguzzi
Edmonton-based leather footwear and accessories company Poppy Barley, which “designs shoes for kick-ass men and women,” has expanded with the opening of its second brick-and-mortar store.
The retailer has opened a 2,400-square-foot location in Calgary’s CF Market Mall in a high traffic area near a Starbucks and an Apple store.
Kendall Barber, who co-founded Poppy Barley with her sister Justine Barber, said the company does see potential for even more physical stores in other major Canadian centres.
“For our journey, we’ve realized that there needs to be a mix. You have your customers that are happy to buy online but then your other customers want to buy in person, in store or at a pop-up shop,” she said.
“So at this point our plan is to continue to use a very similar model where we look at where our sales are already coming from so Vancouver and Toronto are other huge markets for us and start to look and say hey are they ready for a store now and then when we go in with a store we also see how much that increases brand awareness and acts as its own tool for customer acquisition too.”
The first Poppy Barley physical store opened in August 2017 in the Southgate Centre in Edmonton. Prior to that, the retailer had a showroom within its office.
The retailer’s name has deep meaning. Poppy seeds and barley corns were the original unit of measurement in shoemaking.
“The idea for Poppy Barley started when my sister was in Bali and went into a shoe store, tried on a pair of boots and she couldn’t quite fit them up over her calves and the guy took out a measuring tape and said let me measure your legs and I’ll just make the shoes to fit you,” said Kendall Barber.
“So Justine just kind of thought why don’t we all make shoes that way. It makes sense that we can combine the craftsmanship of shoemaking with some technology to be able to make better fitting shoes for everyone. So that’s what started Poppy Barley. She came back to Canada. She enrolled me. Got me on board with her and the two of us set out together to create Poppy Barley.”
Barber said the retailer started as an e-commerce company.
“Very early on customers started asking us to see the products. We started by setting up a little table on Thursday afternoons where people could come and see the boots and the shoes. That eventually led to having a showroom and then from there we did our first store,” she said.
Poppy Barley started in Calgary with a number of pop-up shops - 26 in over five years.
“We tried to find a partner where we thought we had a shared customer and then we would go into their space and take over anywhere from 100 to maybe 400 square feet of their space and bring all of our products with us and have it on display and available for purchase,” said Barber.
“Maybe five years ago we came to Calgary twice a year. Last year we were probably in Calgary every six to eight weeks. Seeing the demand in the pop-up shops here in Calgary combined with our online sales that were happening in the Calgary region is what allowed us to identify that ok our next store should be in Calgary.”
Poppy Barley says well-known Calgary fans of the brand include Jann Arden, Jillian Harris, and Jessi Cruickshank. National highlights include Canada’s Finance Minister Bill Morneau showcasing Poppy Barley footwear while announcing the federal budget back-to-back years, and designing footwear for three NFL cheerleading teams (one of which was in the 2019 Super Bowl).
The new Poppy Barley store in CF Market Mall includes in-stock women’s sizes, men’s footwear, and leather accessories, as well as interactive brand elements including an interactive map, videos of the shoes being made, factory photos from Mexico and Brazil, and a shoe art display.
“Poppy Barley fills a unique gap in the Canadian retail landscape,” said Barber. “The footwear market is crowded with cheaply-made, uncomfortable shoes or logo-heavy, preposterously-priced brand name footwear. Poppy Barley creates high quality shoes at a mid-market price point. We’re committed to invest in materials not markups. We’re not willing to compromise comfort or design or function or social responsibility. We’re the future of footwear.”
Jeri Brodie of Aurora Realty Consultants represented Poppy Barley in the lease negotiation with landlord Cadillac Fairview. The architectural design of the store was carried out by Keith Hlewka from KaBeN Design and gives off bright, modern and inviting vibes, says the company.
“Not a lot of companies are choosing to enter the Calgary retail market right now. We believe in Calgary now and its future,” said Justine Barber. “Calgary is the perfect place for Poppy Barley to be.”
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary has 37 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, city and breaking news, and business. For 12 years as a business writer, his main beats were commercial and residential real estate, retail, small business and general economic news. He nows works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.