Piazza Della Sole Covers Comfort in NJ

Camille Kessler and Judy Typaldos have discovered the secret to competing in suburban New Jersey’s crowded retail scene.

The founders of the Upper Montclair, N.J.-based fashion-comfort boutique Piazza Della Sole have struck a balance between everyday comfort brands and higher-end looks. But the duo knows where to draw the line.

“Our customers are not really [on] the designer end,” said Kessler, noting that the luxury consumer typically heads to Manhattan when purchasing high-end brands such as Christian Louboutin. “Ours is a different level — we go from Clarks to Thierry Rabotin.”

With a goal of covering their customers throughout the day, the partners carry such additional offerings as novelty items from Minnetonka and Keds, as well as evening looks by Stuart Weitzman and BeautiFeel.

While comfort remains a priority for the retailers, who opened the store eight years ago, they admitted they sometimes will bend the rules. “Some lines that are not [core] comfort have some comfort [features],” Typaldos said of brands such as Sacha London and Eneka from Spain. And Piazza Della Sole does a strong business with all-weather boots by Aquatalia, Blondo and La Canadienne.

Fred Fox, East Coast sales agent for La Canadienne, said the store showcases a broad mix of his brand’s boots, from flats to heels. “They cater to a more sophisticated [comfort] customer,” said Fox.

The store offers an opportunity for labels such as Pikolinos to be positioned among other upscale lines. “I’m always happy to have our footwear sitting with brands such as Arche, Aquatalia and Thierry Rabotin,” said Roy Herbst, sales representative. “The combination of fashion and comfort is given lip service by many stores, as well as brands, but stores like Piazza Della Sole deliver on that not only with [their choice of] brands but through the atmosphere and elegance of the store.”

Indeed, the two women built Piazza Della Sole with a keen understanding of their customers’ buying habits. “We know the shopping patterns of women in town,” Typaldos said. “We know what they want. They’re professional women with money to spend. It’s the career woman who wants a shoe for dog-walking and for a black-tie [event].”

Earlier this year, the store relocated to a busier part of town, a move that has boosted foot traffic. According to Typaldos, who monitors such statistics, the number of visitors to the store has risen by more than 30 percent since the move. The store is now situated within walking distance of retailers such as Gap and Talbots, as well as restaurants.

The move to a main shopping drag also has put Piazza Della Sole in closer proximity to other Upper Montclair shoe retailers, a fact that hasn’t necessarily meant increased competition, Typaldos said.

“[The other stores in the area are] more trendy, not comfort-driven or branded,” she said, noting that even nearby malls have not posed a threat to the business. “If a customer needs a shoe for a specific event, they come here first. It’s easier than the mall.”

Competition from online sellers, however, has presented its share of challenges.

“It’s a price factor,” said Kessler. As the battle between brick-and-mortar and e-commerce wages on, Kessler and Typaldos have also observed competitive deals on the Internet. The retailers said they fight back with service as their weapon.

“We’re realistic,” said Typaldos. “We want people to come back. We pride ourselves on customer service. And if we can help a customer, they’ll come back.”

To better showcase their diverse product offering, the new 1,200-sq.-ft. location includes two mini-concept areas, converted from former dressing rooms. One is devoted to hosiery, socks and flip-flops, and the larger event room focuses on special-occasion footwear and accessories — both new categories for Piazza Della Sole. “We didn’t have dressier shoes in the other store,” said Kessler.

And in the new space, the pair can better address their consumers’ needs.

Kessler said the store often hosts evening events, but because some customers have not always been able to attend after work, they regularly hold trunk shows on Saturday afternoons that include staff on hand to give foot massages. “People’s time is precious and everyone is in a hurry,” she said, “but we’re always looking [to do] something new.”

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