Designer Brands Inc. is a growing player in the Canadian market, thanks to a longtime retail partner that is now an integral member of the family.
In 2014, the firm took an equity stake in Town Shoes Ltd., the country’s largest multibrand retailer, which at the time operated The Shoe Company, Town Shoes and Shoe Warehouse chains. The two parties merged in 2018, and today the Designer Brands Canada division operates 27 DSW locations in the country and it recently consolidated and converted all its other retail banners to The Shoe Company, a family chain that now counts 117 doors.
“Our strategy as it relates to DSW is to deliver an experience that is absolutely seamless to that of DSW in the United States,” said Mary Turner, EVP of Designer Brands and president of Designer Brands Canada. “We ensure that we’re collaborating with our partners in the U.S. to deliver on the same experience to our customer. For The Shoe Company, we own the strategy, the vision and the direction, and our strategy there is to significantly deepen our connection with our customer to make sure that we’re the first place she thinks of for family footwear in the Canadian market.”
Ahead of its 70th anniversary in 2022, The Shoe Company chain is undergoing a visual refresh that will be completed next year. Turner said the group has been “white-boxing” its stores — cleaning them up, removing old signage — to create a consistent shopping experience and highlight its core strength: “One of our biggest goals was to convey our amazing brand portfolio because it’s probably one of our best kept secrets,” she said. “We wanted to assure her that we understood her style and you’ll see that coming through.”
While DSW stores average around 20,000 square feet, locations for The Shoe Company typically measure 5,000 square feet and are found in neighborhood strip centers and streetfronts.
As a result, the family chain has a smaller assortment than DSW, but head merchant Nancy Figenshaw said it has something for everyone. “We go from athletic to casual to seasonal because we have the whole gamut,” she said.
The Shoe Company stocks numerous top brands such as Steve Madden, Timberland, Adidas and Vans, though Figenshaw said it is seeing strong customer response to the in-house labels coming out of its sister Camuto Group, including Vince Camuto, Jessica Simpson and Lucky, as well as Crown Vintage, Mix No. 6 and Kelly & Katie.
“This allows us better control over the products, allows us the exclusive products that nobody else has and it just makes us the destination for these brands,” she said. And The Shoe Company will also soon begin stocking Hush Puppies, as part of the brand’s exclusive distribution deal with Designer Brands.
Two other partnerships are also giving The Shoe Company a sales boost. Starting in fall ’21, it added Lids shop-in-shops to 45 locations, to help grow its men’s portion of the business. And Claire’s shop-in-shops have rolled out to 17 doors. “It really beautifully supports our strength in kids,” said Figenshaw.
Meanwhile, Designer Brands Canada also is working behind-the-scenes to create a positive customer experience both in-store and online. In July, the group migrated its digital operations to the corporate platform. “We now have one set of technology and team development team powering all of our website banners,” said digital lead Eric Penno. “It’s a tremendous advantage for us as we put further investment into this platform, with new features, new functionality and new experiences for our customer.”
Additionally, it has leaned into its long history of in-store fulfillment to help meet the growing digital demand. Penno noted that capability has been particular vital throughout the pandemic. “At the height of the COVID surge in Canada, when we had a lot of store closures, we already had this distribution model that was very scalable.”