Loeffler Randall was poised for 2020 to be its biggest year to date — but, like the familiar tale that has come to define 2020, the pandemic changed everything.
The brand, which has been in business for more than 15 years, had just signed a lease on its first brick-and-mortar store in January and by March, construction was 50% completed.
“All our advisors were telling us to get out of this, but I just really believed in the store,” founder and chief creative officer Jessie Randall told FN, adding that the team opted to continue on with the project in September after initially pressing pause. The store made its debut last month at 10 Prince Street in New York City’s Soho neighborhood.
The outpost is a way for Loeffler Randall to connect with its customers, test product and tell its own story, but it is also key to the label’s larger direct-to-consumer growth plan.
The company has primarily been a wholesale business, according to Randall’s husband, CEO and co-founder, Brian Murphy. Although, he said sales had been trending fifty-fifty between it’s direct business as well as with its retailers. Now, with the addition of the physical space and the continued success from its own e-commerce site, he is optimistic Loeffler Randall will be a majority DTC business by the end of 2021.
“Our business in wholesale has always been driven by large digital platforms,” Murphy said, noting relationships with Shopbop, Net-a-Porter and Saks. “Some of the partners did have a tougher year, so we’ll have edited numbers of partners that we will continue moving forward with.”
Nevertheless, Murphy added that boutique accounts have remained robust throughout the last year, despite obvious challenges, and there’s indication of a strong Q1 performance — proof that the brand need not abandon wholesale partners altogether but should remain selective and strategic moving forward.
Meanwhile, in response to its thriving DTC business, the company relaunched its site about a year ago and is investing in more seamless software as well as offering new digitally-savvy and experiential programs such as virtual styling.
“The store is really an extension of the site, more so than a standalone channel. It’s meant to reflect what the site could be in a physical space and the inventory is integrated,” said Murphy.
Product-wise, the retail location offers an exclusive edit of all Loeffler Randall collections, including shoes, bags, jewelry, accessories and ready-to-wear. (Ready-to-wear is exclusive to the brand and is not sold at other retailers.)
And Randall is staying true to the label’s DNA for fall ’21 — even though comfort has been a go-to category in the footwear space, Loeffler Randall’s Pleated Knot heels were their No. 1 best-sellers day after day, said Randall.
“What that told me was that if people were putting off their celebrations and their weddings, they were still wanting to buy the shoes that would get them excited for the event,” she explained. “Plus, we’ve always had really casual product in our line [including flats, mules, clogs and sneakers.] It was nice to lean on that during the pandemic.” The brand also launched its first slipper, which was an immediate sell-out.
Where the brand was most challenged was in its work-wear and product in between dress and casual, such as its once-popular tall shaft boots. As a result, it had to decrease its inventory levels. For fall, however, Randall said the assortment looks similar to what it would have been during pre-pandemic times, featuring boots and booties.
Both Randall and Murphy are optimistic about the year ahead and cite a possible resurgence in New York’s boutique retail landscape. Part of that positive outlook, Randall said, also comes from a sentiment that was reinforced amid the global health crisis: Never giving up.
“That was a big lesson for me because it was a really tough year and it was really difficult for us because we had been leveraged and poised for all this growth that if the business had been smaller, it would have been a lot easier to weather the storm of the last year,” she said. “But when you’re authentic to yourself, when you’re doing something that you really believe in, that relentlessness is a competitive advantage.”