On November 2, 2017, the Vionic footwear brand opened its first retail store on the second floor of the Westfield Center in downtown San Francisco. Although a temporary location, the store’s 3,500-square-foot showroom showcases the entire width and breadth of the brand for the holiday season.
Vionic footwear has a unique and important story to tell. The shoes have a technical functionality that promotes foot alignment, balance, and support from the ground up—and they look great! As the brand’s website says, “Style that doesn’t hurt.”
The real story here is that Vionic has been a highly successful brand through its wholesale channels such as Nordstrom’s, Zappos, and other great retailers. The brand is also sold through its own ecommerce site, www.vionicshoes.com.
So why would they want to go to the trouble, expense, and risk of opening a brick-and-mortar store?
Turns out there are lots of reasons.
Branding. First, Vionic is a brand and product that inspires intense devotion from its customers. That’s the point. They’re not just customers; they are a part of a real Vionic community. A brick-and-mortar retail store (especially a pop-up during the all-important holiday shopping season) can only help to increase their loyal customer base.
Product. Second, the shoes look great and are comfortable beyond belief. Created by podiatrists, they are technically the healthiest footwear on the market. Once a customer has experienced that level of comfort, they never go away from it. (That is also why Vionic is one of Oprah’s Favorite Things for this holiday season!) Vionic has nailed the Third Law of Retail, The Power of Product.
Customers. A physical store presents the opportunity for people to connect with the brand, the company, and its people in a very real way. That is why the most successful online retailer ever—Amazon—is expanding into bricks and mortar in a big way. A store provides an experience, a connection, that a website cannot. In Vionic’s case, a physical store contributes to a sense of community among its creators and the Vionic “tribe.”
Presentation. A physical store can present the brand in the most comprehensive way possible, more than a distributor can, by spotlighting the right colors, textures, lighting, all the products, and of course the people who work for the company.
Employees. The First Law of Retail is People First, which includes not only customers, but employees too. Vionic’s employees look the part. They represent the brand. They create the sense of community and, in this case, understand the technical story that Vionic footwear has to tell. The company has a strong, positive, and creative culture that is communicated very effectively though its people at the physical store.
Culture Change. Finally, a footwear brand (or any business, for that matter) cannot remain static. The culture, like the product itself, continues to evolve and change over time. The challenge is to direct that change in ways that are creative and promote growth. Creating a new channel of distribution, like direct retail, is a positive and creative way to grow and develop.
The Future of Ecommerce
Ecommerce is not “killing” traditional retailers. Far from it. The challenge for all retailers is find the right mix of the available channels, including wholesale, mobile, and catalogues. (Sears just announced they are bringing back their iconic catalogue. It will be very interesting to see if the catalogue helps to turn the brand around).
Brands like Vionic are smart enough to continually experiment and learn, as they are doing through this temporary holiday store. The company’s mantra is really applicable to this entire process:
“Walk, Move, Learn”