For the past 27 years, high-end boutique Madison has leveraged its reputation for identifying emerging brands into a loyal following of customers in Los Angeles. Madison was among the first stores to carry Miu Miu, Marni and Balenciaga in the mid-1990s before the brands became powerhouse staples at other upmarket retailers.
But new challenges in the luxury sector, such as a saturated marketplace, conservative customer spending and digital marketing, have led Madison’s founder, David Assil, to pursue a more aggressive strategy. The formula: fresh designers, collaborative projects and social media influencer-driven campaigns that resonate with the iPhone generation.
“Now we believe it’s about new, small designers,” Assil told Footwear News. “Unfortunately, a lot of designers are overexposed in department stores or have their own boutiques, so for us to be our own individual boutique, we have to reinvent ourselves with [unique] designers.”
Nearly five years ago, Assil began devoting more shelf space at his Beverly Hills and Brentwood outposts to support smaller labels such as Silvano Sassetti, Officine Creative, Fauzian Jeunesse and Rocco P. And the retailer added Sartori Gold to its roster two years ago.
“We turned over a new leaf, and we no longer carry many of those [highly recognizable] names. We’ve gone toward designers who are secrets now but won’t be in years,” Assil said, adding that a few familiar labels such as Marni, Fenty Puma by Rihanna and Laurence Decade are still among his offerings.
Assil credits his ex-wife and partner, Bridget, for her “good eye” when it comes to spotting the next big thing. “When we first saw Miu Miu, there were only six styles on a shelf — and she bought all six,” Assil recalled of the discovery around 1995. “That’s the nexus of how these things start.”
His new modus operandi is to curate products based on quality, versatility and lifestyle. Sales associates are educated about the burgeoning brands to help consumers identify with their craftsmanship and heritage. “The way it’s conveyed to customers is that [these labels are] family-owned — second or third generation — and they are artisans. You can see the detailing,” Assil said.
The strategy has yielded more foot traffic at Madison stores and a growing audience online. “We had a 35 percent increase in sales in 2016 over 2015,” Assil shared, adding that e-commerce is seeing the most growth.
To build name recognition for undiscovered labels, Assil last year developed a millennial-friendly digital marketing program dubbed the Madison Muses.
The venture currently includes around 25 social-media influencers who wear the store’s brands in photo shoots, which Assil then curates on social networking platforms. Rocky Barnes and Miss USA 2015 Olivia Jordan are among his partners. Altogether, the Muses have an estimated total reach of 40 million followers on Instagram, according to Assil.
The initiative so far is paying off for Madison. The store launched its Instagram page only last year and has racked up more than 30,00 followers. “It’s building momentum, to the point where other people are contacting me to work with the Muses,” he said.
In fact, in July last year, G.H. Bass & Co. teamed up with Madison and his Muses on a social media campaign for the 80th anniversary of its Weejuns penny loafer.
“Working with the Madison Muses on developing and distributing content was an important part of the collaboration,” said Marlene M. McDade, VP of brand marketing and licensing at G Creative Group, a division of G-III Apparel Group, G.H. Bass’ parent company. “The campaign was designed to help elevate brand awareness for the footwear classic to a new audience.”
Here are a few of the young ladies helping Madison build name recognition.