Since opening his first Matches store in the well-heeled London suburb of Wimbledon in 1991, Tom Chapman has grown his company into a booming retail business that now encompasses eight Matches locations, a Website, as well as MaxMara and Diane von Furstenberg franchise stores. Today, the company boasts annual sales of nearly $78 million and is regarded as one of London’s premier fashion retailers.
Key to Matches’ success has been Chapman’s understanding that London is a series of small villages — with customers preferring to shop close to home rather than in the city’s highly trafficked retail destinations, such as Bond Street and Sloan Street. His Matches stores are strategically scattered throughout London and its suburbs, in exclusive districts including Wimbledon, Richmond, Marylebone, Mayfair and Notting Hill. “All our stores are in affluent neighborhoods. That’s why we have a very international customer base,” Chapman said, referring to the many wealthy businesspeople and celebrities who live in and frequent these districts.
Matches specializes in high-end clothing, shoes and handbags, with two of its stores focused exclusively on women’s product, two dedicated to men’s and two catering to both genders. In addition, the company operates two stores under the Matches Spy nameplate, a diffusion concept launched in 2000.
While all the stores carry a selection of accessories, the category has prime placement at the Matches women’s location on Notting Hill’s Ledbury Road, where shoes and handbags account for a third of the mix. More than 600 shoe styles are featured each season. The Matches assortment includes collections from dedicated shoe designers such as Christian Louboutin, Pierre Hardy and Rupert Sanderson, as well as footwear offerings from ready-to-wear houses including YSL and Lanvin.
Meanwhile, Matches Spy, also located in Notting Hill and Wimbledon, focuses on apparel and footwear from lesser-known, often lower-priced, labels such as Sumfortune, LD Tuttle and Castaner.
According to Chapman, Matches’ buyers take an organic approach to selecting product, resulting in an eclectic assortment that has a distinct point of view. “We’re not a number-crunching business,” he said. “[Our] buyers are given free rein compared with department store buyers. For us, it’s all about gut and instinct, and we’ll certainly stay with a designer for more than one season until they’ve built a following.”
Pierre Hardy is a current favorite among female shoppers seeking more casual footwear. “Last fall, we sold more than 300 pairs of his crepe-soled boots,” Chapman said.
And new designers are added to the roster each season. Giuseppe Zanotti and Rupert Sanderson debuted in spring ’08, and Brian Atwood and Isabel Marant will launch at the store this fall. On the men’s side, Prada is a bestseller in shoes. Other key men’s labels include John Varvatos, Bottega Veneta, NDC, Gucci, Martin Margiela, Lacoste and Grenson.
When it comes to the stores’ designs, Chapman said, “there is no template — every store is different.” The Marylebone location, for instance, has been designed in such a way that it can easily be transformed into a gallery or party space as needed. In fact, earlier this year Matches charged British artist Abigail Lane with creating a circus-themed installation at the store. “I see retail as a fusion of the senses,” Chapman explained. “Fashion, art and design all form part of the sensory experience, and inviting Abigail to collaborate with us on this exhibition fit perfectly with our philosophy of bringing art and fashion together in a new and exciting way.”
Looking to expand its reach, Matches made the leap into e-tailing a year ago with the launch of Matchesfashion.com. “These days, as a retailer you have to be multichannel,” Chapman said about the move online. “The growth [of our site] has been almost stupid. It has become a large part of the business — almost our No. 1 store — in its first year.”
The Website has been so successful that it has already inspired a new private shopping service aimed at big spenders. Upon the request of a wealthy online customer, Matches staffers traveled earlier this year to Le Richemond hotel in Geneva, Switzerland, where they presented a private trunk show for the customer and her friends. The impromptu event — referred to by the company as a “pop-up shop” — was an overwhelming success, according to Chapman. As a result, similar events are planned for VIP clients in locations in the U.K., Poland and Morocco.
It’s this dedication to the customer that vendors say sets Matches apart from the competition. “The experience in the store is second to none,” said Tim Little, CEO of Grenson. “If you are a Matches customer, you feel like part of an exclusive club where you are looked after like royalty.” That coupled with the dearth of high-end shoe retailers in the city, and it’s no surprise that Matches has found a loyal following, said Rupert Sanderson. “It’s the most committed and directional store in the U.K.,” he said. “Anyone who is serious about fashion in London shops at Matches.”