On is bringing Swiss footwear to the Big Apple in a major way.
The running-focused brand announced that doors are opening on its New York City flagship today, an innovation-focused location consuming 1,630 square feet of real estate in the NoHo neighborhood on Lafayette Street. The highlight of the shopping experience is the “Magic Wall,” which was created to pair human interaction with the best in technology.
This addition to the shopping experience, On co-founder David Allemann told FN, is in response to a problem that has long plagued footwear retail.
“We thought about how you shop, especially at sports and sneaker stores — it’s a messy process,” Allemann told FN. “You’re looking at shoes and then you’re greeted by one of the advisors, then she or he vanishes to the stock room for five minutes and comes back with a lot of boxes — you have hundreds of boxes in front of you and hopefully it’s the right size. If not, then your advisor vanishes again for five minutes to find the right size. At the end, you spend probably half an hour in that store with very little interaction.”
On’s “Magic Wall” — which spans nearly the length and height of the store — was added to guide the shopping experience. The front features hidden gait-cycle analysis technology, and with a quick few run strides the customer will be matched with the best shoe for them. The frontside of the Magic Wall allows shoppers to analyze their running styles in seconds right on the store floor. Also, there is an invisible foot scanner with depth cameras that will accurately find your correct size with an accuracy of +/- 1.25 mm.
The back of the wall allows customers to see all of the shoes and try pairs on without having to wait. Each style and size is available to try on at the wall — which also eliminates the mess from piled up shoe boxes on the floor — and a fresh pair will be brought to the checkout for you.
The store also has changing rooms behind the wall to try on the brand’s apparel. To bring a bit of the Swiss Alps to NYC, the rooms will include a signature Alpine scent and complementing sounds.
Additionally, the theme is carried out through installations including a 3-D-printed boulder that was scanned from the Engadin Valley in the Swiss Alps — a nod to On’s outdoor roots — as well as a water fountain that is filtered to a purity that you get in the Swiss mountains. And customers can find out more about products and installations in the store by using their smartphones to activate the NFC technology.
“The store is simplified and we made it very sleek, which is also connected to our design DNA,” Allemann said. “When you look at how On designs shoes, how we design apparel, it’s inspired simplicity and we felt that should be part of the store experience as well.”
But opening in NYC isn’t as simple as having a footprint in the biggest market. Allemann said On has a connection with the city. After all, the first three retail accounts the brand landed 11 years ago were in the Big Apple.
“For us, it’s so gratifying if we’re in New York running on the High Line or along the Hudson [River] or in an Equinox or whatever to see so many On shoes,” Allemann said. “It’s really fantastic to see, so we wanted to come back and connect with the running community.”
However, the Swiss company did experience some challenges along the way. After a year and a half of planning, COVID-19 delayed the store opening by half a year. “We planned to open early summer but then building stopped and there were a lot of hurdles,” Allemann said.
Despite the setbacks, paired with the economic uncertainty created by the pandemic, On opted to move forward.
“This year we observed the running boom, people who hadn’t long run for a long time started to run again,” Allemann said. “Roger [Federer] joined our brand and there was a moment of mass casualization where everyone — even the ones who didn’t wear hoodies and sneakers before — are definitely wearing a hoodie and sneakers now. That happened on a scale of six billion people.”
He continued, “That was almost a signal for us to accelerate. We even accelerated the launch of our first sneaker, the Cloudnova, to the spring. We said, ‘Let’s push through this storm because when we come out of this it’s going to be more important to more people who just started to run.'”
What’s more, the NYC store’s format is ready built for today’s safety-first shopping measures. For instance, the shoes are all sanitized overnight and almost every aspect of the store — including checkout — is doesn’t require touch. “There’s a lot of simplification. It’s a situation where you don’t want to spend too much time or have too much physical interaction,” Allemann said.
Allemann also confirmed the store will follow all safety recommendations, the staff has been trained in them and the amount of people allowed in the store will be limited for the time being.
The On flagship in NYC is located at 363 Lafayette St. Hours of operation are Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. ET to 6 p.m. ET and Sunday from 12 p.m. ET to 6 p.m. ET.
Aside from in-person shopping, On is allowing both NYC residents and visitors to schedule virtual shopping appointments, and will receive product within two to four hours to try from their home before purchasing.
Although this is the latest retail initiative from On, it’s not the brand’s lone effort in 2020. In August, the company teamed up with retailer Fred Segal for a new consumer experience at Fred Segal Sunset in Los Angeles. Within the activation — which On said is in line with its “Performance All Day” mantra — several outdoor, running and lifestyle products are featured.