Wonderwolf Takes Outsider Approach to Kids’ Retail

Wonderwolf aims to expand kids’ horizons.

Eschewing mainstream brands, the Brooklyn, N.Y., shoe store instead carries an eclectic mix of small international collections not widely known or distributed in the U.S.

“We want to give kids different choices, offer them something unique. It gives our store a point of difference, especially in a competitive [retail market] like New York,” said co-owner Marie Pesquet, who opened Wonderwolf in February with her friend Naoko Kobayashi.

Pesquet, a mother of two who moved to New York from Normandy, France, seven years ago, was inspired by the many fashionable children’s boutiques in her native country. “Every time I go back to France to visit, I buy shoes for my kids. There are so many cute stores there,” she said. “The choices in New York are much more limited, and I know many parents feel the same way. You tend to see the same brands over and over.”

Wonderwolf stocks a number of Pesquet’s French favorites, including Easy Peasy, Kickers, Feiyue and Collégien. Other brands include Old Soles and Skinnys from Australia; Pons, Avarcas and Manuela de Juan from Spain; and Alaskan rainboot brand Xtratuf. In addition to shoes, Wonderwolf carries a small selection of clothing, accessories and gift items, including jackets from French label K-Way and knitted baby blankets by Danish line Lucky Boy Sunday. “We’ve focused on brands that offer great quality while staying in a price range that fits most parents’ budgets,” Pesquet said.

Pesquet and Kobayashi scout for new collections during their travels abroad, as well as during trips to small international trade shows, such as Playtime Paris and Tokyo. “We look for collections that are different and not already sold in New York,” Pesquet said. “It’s not always easy, but we’ve found some amazing little brands.”

Still, because some vendors don’t have U.S. sales offices or agents, the store sometimes must pay slightly higher shipping costs and customs fees. And shipping delays are not uncommon. But Pesquet said the extra hurdles are worthwhile.

Vendors said that offering an unexpected merchandise mix is one of the most effective ways that small independent retailers like Wonderwolf can set themselves apart. “Wonderwolf has a unique viewpoint and product strategy. Featuring a special product mix helps the store differentiate itself, project an exclusive image and provide customers with a sense of discovery,” said Rick Buchanan, a sales rep for Kickers.

Cristina Alvarez, international marketing manager for Feiyue, agreed: “By distributing international brands not available everywhere in the U.S., Wonderwolf gives its customers the opportunity to try new things and be unique. People living in large cities like New York have access to almost every known brand, but they tend to be attracted to more exclusive options. They like to wear something different from the crowd.”

While Wonderwolf’s assortment of under-the-radar brands has been a big draw, Pesquet said some customers still want to see the more-popular kids’ staples. “We’ve had a lot of requests for Keen sandals, for instance, because that’s what parents say their kids wear all summer. So we may add them or get something similar,” Pesquet said. “This year, we’ve worked with a pretty tight buying budget, so next year, we want to broaden our offering and add more styles. But we still plan to steer away from the big mainstream brands. That’s just not our focus.”

To market itself, Wonderwolf cooperates with other local stores, including the nearby Sweet William kids’ clothing boutique, for mutual referrals. Pesquet and Kobayashi also are hosting several special events, including a baby-registry weekend this fall. Targeted to local expectant moms, the event will bring together a variety of baby vendors, offering products ranging from clothing and gifts to gear.

In addition, Wonderwolf’s owners have invited the Kid-In and Kallio children’s-clothing brands to stage a pop-up shop at the store this fall.

To reach customers beyond Brooklyn, Wonderwolf will launch its e-commerce site later this year, though Pesquet said the assortment will focus mainly on socks, slippers, accessories and gifts. “We’re not planning to put the shoes online because we believe kids need to come into the store and try them on,” she explained. “But everything else we carry will be featured online, and we’ll probably add some toys for Christmas and also some French-language books.”

Pesquet said growing Wonderwolf’s brick-and-mortar business remains the primary focus, however. Already, the store is seeing healthy repeat business. “Customers keep coming back, so that’s a good sign,” she said. “People seem excited to discover new brands, to see something different.”

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