At a time when many brands and retailers are downsizing and closing stores as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Montreal-based footwear brand Maguire is expanding with a new Toronto store and growing online sales. The brand has benefitted from being nimble, adaptable, and from having a direct-to-consumer distribution model during this challenging period, according to designer and Co-Founder Myriam Maguire.
MAGUIRE SPECIALIZIES IN HIGH-QUALITY SHOES AT A FAIR AND TRANSPARENT PRICE
Maguire specializes in high-quality women’s shoes at fair and transparent prices. Sisters Myriam and Romy Maguire launched the brand in 2017. After having spent years learning about the footwear business as a designer with major international brands such as Benetton and ALDO, Myriam found that there were many hidden costs in the price of shoes, and the average customer was unaware of the true costs associated with manufacturing shoes.
“Everywhere I went, quality shoes were expensive, and it was hard to find something with good quality but at a fair price,” she says. “We wanted to offer more transparency to our customers.” The brand offers footwear, handbags, and accessories starting at $115, with a focus on quality, durable materials, such as genuine leather and suede. A detailed breakdown of prices is available on Maguire’s website.
THE DIGITALLY-NATIVE BRAND NOW HAS TWO PERMANENT STORES
Maguire launched with an online distribution model, in addition to hosting pop-up shops. Last year, the brand opened its first permanent store on Montreal’s St. Laurent Boulevard, and after several years of assessing potential Toronto locations, Maguire opened its second permanent store in late June. The new store is located at 1514 Dundas Street West in Little Portugal. Myriam says the neighbourhood was a nice fit for Maguire, since there are numerous other independent boutiques in the area, and many of the brand’s customers live nearby.
The public health restrictions associated with the pandemic forced Maguire to open the new store later than originally planned, as well as putting bigger growth plans on hold.
“COVID forced us to really rethink the speed of our growth, for at least a few months,” Myriam says. Now, however, she anticipates there will be attractive opportunities to expand. “Every time there’s a crisis like this, a lot of stores close, so that means the rent will go down a bit. We’re going to try to take advantage of the opportunities that emerge.”
In particular, she hopes to open a store in New York City and one in Paris. Rather than operating a large network of stores, Maguire intends to focus primarily on online distribution supported by a handful of stores in major cities, providing an opportunity for customers to try on styles.
Instead of targeting central, high-traffic areas, Maguire prefers to operate stores in neighbourhoods outside of the downtown core where rent is more affordable, which ultimately helps to keep costs down for customers.
Maguire aims to provide an in-store shopping experience that is more customer-friendly than a traditional shoe store. For example, shoes are accessible in all sizes so that customers can try on styles without having to wait for an associate to bring out their size.
“We designed it so that it’s more like self-service,” Myriam says. “Of course someone is there to help, but we want to remove the pressure…we felt that [traditional model] was not really serving the customer well.”
The stores are also organized differently than traditional shoe stores, with a smaller, more curated selection of styles. Rather than having dozens of different options for each style of shoe, Maguire focuses on carrying the core essential styles for each season. Myriam describes Maguire’s style as “classic with a twist.”
“We try to just make the best of the best,” she says. “Our styles are classic with a little something different. There are so many basic styles on the market. We always try to add something special.”
With less merchandise to display, the stores are spacious and inviting. “It doesn’t look like your traditional footwear store,” Myriam says. “It’s a bit more like a museum feel.”
The design of the store is part of an effort by Maguire to create a high-end boutique feel. “We’re keeping the price closer to a fast fashion brand,” Myriam says, “but the experience is closer to high-end brands.”
The new store is approximately 1,000 square feet in size, and features design elements that reflect the essence of the surrounding area. “We tried to design the store according to the architecture of city,” Myriam says. For example, the floors are more rustic and portions of the wall feature exposed brick. “There’s a bit more of a vintage element to it, compared to Montreal.”
Although many customers still prefer to try on footwear before making a purchase, Myriam says Maguire has seen a significant shift towards online sales recently. “Right now online sales are increasing a lot,” she says. “I think people have realized it’s pretty convenient to order something online.”
MAGUIRE HAS ADAPTED ITS BUSINESS MODEL TO ACCOMMODATE CHANGING CONSUMER HABITS DUE TO COVID-19
A key factor that has helped Maguire thrive in the past few months is being lean enough to have the flexibility to adapt its styles to rapidly changing customer demands as the pandemic has continued. Rather than having to design styles and order footwear many months in advance, Maguire is able to adjust its collections on short notice.
“It’s a different lifestyle now,” Myriam says, noting that sales of flats have surged and shoes with heels have declined in popularity as most social events have been cancelled. “We’re really lucky to be able to adapt our designs really quickly to the market.”
Being lean has also helped Maguire adapt to the public health guidelines in place in response to COVID-19, including reducing capacity in the stores to allow for physical distancing, making hand sanitizer available to customers and quarantining shoes for three days after a customer has tried them on.
“We’re a small team, so it was pretty easy to implement [these measures],” Myriam says.
The Montreal company anticipates lower rents and as a result, and plans to selectively open more locations as well as growing its e-commerce presence.