Tag Archives: footwear

Personal meets digital at new Shoes.com store

One of North America’s major online footwear retailers is making the transition from e-commerce to bricks and mortar, with a new Toronto store that combines elements of online shopping and in-store browsing for a modern retail experience.

Shoes.com, which offers a dizzying selection of more than 500 brands through its websites Shoes.com, ShoeMe.ca and OnlineShoes.com, opened its first physical store on Queen Street West this week.

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New Shoes.com store in Toronto, located at 356 Queen Street West.

The move is, in part, a strategy to cater to shoppers who aren’t comfortable shopping online. A large proportion of consumers likely fall into that category when it comes to shopping for shoes, given that sizes tend to vary slightly between brands, and the opportunity to try them on can help shoppers avoid ending up with a pair that doesn’t fit quite right.

By incorporating online shopping stations right into the store, Shoes.com hopes to make new customers more comfortable with the online shopping experience.

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Shoeme.ca website homepage.

The establishment of a physical retail presence also allows the company to develop a stronger connection with its existing customers, according to Jonathan Zhu, assistant store manager, who offered tours of the store during a media event this week.

“Being a really stable online retail space, we want to make that personal connection. We want our customers to see the people behind the shoes and behind the website, and this is our opportunity to do that,” Zhu says. “To be a part of the community is really important to us.”

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Interior of the new Toronto store.

The store is divided into three main sections:

1. the “Home Room”, at the front of the store, aims to reflect the home page of the Shoes.com website, showcasing a variety of different popular styles and brands;

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The Home Room.

2. the “Dressing Room”, in the middle of the store, is set up as a boutique that will put a spotlight on five to six specific brands;

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Maians shoes on display in the Dressing Room.

3. the “Editor’s Room”, at the back of the store, aims to reflect the local community, showcasing merchandise from various designers and entrepreneurs from the city in which the store is located.

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The Editor’s Room.

“More so than a corporate space, you’ll get the feeling of a boutique from us, and the fact that we’re really in tune with our community,” Zhu says.

Each store that the company opens will be unique, with the Editor’s Room being the key differentiating component. In the new Toronto store, for instance, the Editor’s Room will initially feature Toronto-based hat designer Jason Mitchell and his brand Coup de Tete, as well as Armed Jewelry, a local brand founded by designer Desiree Girlato.

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Armed Jewelry on display in the Editor’s Room at the Toronto store.

“Every one of our stores is going to have a different vibe,” Zhu says. “There’s going to be different personalities from the community incorporated into the stores.”

The online shopping terminals will be available for customers to browse and order items not available in store, using the company’s new artificial intelligence-powered shopping tool, called Smart Shopper. The tool helps customers narrow down their search by learning their style preferences and displaying the merchandise that is most relevant to each individual.

Shoes.com plans to open a second store in Vancouver in September, with other locations likely to follow.

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Footwear, fashion and a glimpse of the past

One of Western Canada’s footwear institutions has made its debut in Toronto, with the unveiling of an impressive new Queen Street boutique that’s as rich in design as it is in merchandise.Gravity Storefront

Gravitypope, an independently owned retailer that began in the footwear business and more recently expanded into fashion, opened its first Ontario store last week. It represents the sixth store for the chain, with all five other stores located in Alberta and B.C.

Gravitypope is known for its wide selection of footwear brands, among them: Clarks, Hugo Boss, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Alexander McQueen, Toms, See by Chloe, and many more. The company’s collections of clothing and accessory labels are similarly extensive.

Gravity ShoesAltogether, the Toronto store carries more than 100 brands. This explains the vast size of the new boutique: with three floors of retail space, the store is quite a bit larger than most other boutiques in that part of the city.

Probably the most breath-taking part of the store is the vast quantity of shoes spread out across the main floor. Different styles of shoes and boots line the walls of the boutique, and are scattered across display tables everywhere you look.

A variety of men’s clothing can be found in a separate section on the main floor, and the second floor houses a selection of women’s clothing and accessories. But the shoe collection is clearly the main event in this store.Gravity Clothes

Layered beneath the merchandise are a variety of elegant design elements that add some serious charm to this boutique. The shop is decked out with chandeliers, antique mirrors, display cases and other charming artifacts that provide a look and feel reminiscent of times’ past.

Even the steps leading to the second level are nothing ordinary – they’re comprised of a 1930s’ Art Deco staircase, made of solid brass and round glass inserts, which was reclaimed from the Buenos Aires Paramount Theatre. Wow.

Gravity ChandelierThe store definitely caters to wealthier shoppers. Upon browsing, I was disappointed to find that most of the merchandise was too pricey for me to justify. Most of the shoes I saw were at least $300, and even most accessories boasted price tags of $100 or more. Many of the items I saw were upwards of $600.

Since the boutique is right around the corner from the high-end vintage retail strip on Lower Ossington, perhaps Gravitypope’s pricey offerings will resonate well among the shoppers in this part of town. But the store certainly isn’t for everybody.

Despite the high price of the goods, a visit to this unique new store is worthwhile – particularly if you have an appreciation historical design.

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StyleSense shoe stores shut their doors

StyleSense has sold its last pair of shoes.

All three StyleSense stores in the GTA, owned by The TJX Companies, Inc. – the same company that operates Winners, Home Sense and Marshalls – have been shut down.

The stores, located at Vaughan Mills, Oakville Place and Heartland Town Centre in Mississauga, had only been open for about three years. Large and spacious, they carried a huge – and I mean HUGE – selection of brand name shoes and boots, along with bags, hats, scarves and other accessories, at marked down prices.

The stores seemed to be busy whenever I stopped in, so I was suprised to hear this week that the company had decided to close all three locations.

TJX brought its Marshall chain to Canada for the first time last year (More discount fashion for the GTA), and I gather that the closure of StyleSense is part of the company’s effort to focus on beefing up this new brand in Canada. Like Winners, Marshalls stores carry mainly clothing, but they also have a hefty selection of shoes.

Still, the shoe selection in the Marshalls locations that I’ve seen have been disappointingly small, and way less organized than the impressive stock at StyleSense. I’ve found some amazing deals on shoes at StyleSense in the past couple years, and I’m sad to see the stores disappear.

But perhaps I should give Marshalls another chance. It looks like the chain is here to stay, as it’s actively growing its footprint on this side of the border. The chain now has six store in the GTA, and six more Ontario stores are slated to open at the end of March. The new locations in the GTA will  include:

  • Upper James St. in Hamilton
  • Burlington Power Centre in Burlington
  • Taunton and Harmony in Oshawa

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Sterling steps out of Toronto’s retail scene

Toronto shoppers will have fewer places to look for cheap-chic shoes in the months ahead, as Sterling Shoes exits the city’s retail scene.

Struggling footwear company Sterling Shoes LP, which owns five chains: Sterling Shoes, Shoe Warehouse, Joneve, Gia, and Freedman, has announced that it’s closing 53 stores across the country.

The Vancouver-based retailer has been operating under court protection from creditors since October. Like many retailers, it was hit by declining sales during the economic downturn, which came at a particularly vulnerable time for Sterling, as it had expanded aggressively in the three years leading up to the recession.

The Sterling Shoes chain, which has the biggest presence in the GTA of all the banners, is exiting Ontario entirely. It’s closing half of its 55 stores, leaving it with 28 once the restructuring is complete.

That means all of Sterling’s GTA locations will close. This includes locations in:

  • Toronto Eaton Centre
  • Richmond Adelaide Centre
  • Dufferin Mall
  • Scarborough Town Centre
  • Oshawa Centre
  • Square One Shopping Centre, Mississauga
  • Erin Mills Town Centre, Mississauga
  • Markville Shopping Centre, Markham
  • Lime Ridge Mall, Hamilton
  • Upper Canada Mall, Newmarket
  • Promenade Mall, Thornhill
  • Hillcrest Mall, Richmond Hill
  • Bramalea City Centre, Brampton

Most of the remaining Sterling Shoes stores are in Alberta and B.C., along with a couple in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Meanwhile, the company’s Joneve and Gia chains are being shut down entirely, while its Freedman and Shoe Warehouse banners are only shrinking slightly.

These four banners have less of a presence in the GTA. The ones closing include:

  • Sherway Gardens (Joneve)
  • Bramalea City Centre (Joneve)
  • Hillcrest Mall (Freedman)
  • Oakville Place (Freedman)

Freedman will no longer have any GTA stores, but all of Shoe Warehouse’s Ontario locations will continue to operate as usual. The company will have a total of 105 stores once the restructuring is complete.

Of all the banners, I’m most familiar with Sterling – a destination for trendy, affordable shoes where I’ve stumbled upon a good find once or twice. It’s too bad the stores are closing, but I can’t say I’m too surprised.

It’s a crowded market, with chains like Aldo, Spring, Stepss and The Shoe Company competing for the same shoppers. So, it’s important for retailers to stand out in order to survive – and perhaps Sterling didn’t shine as bright as it should have.

What’s the silver (or, ahem, sterling)  lining? As the stores begin to wind down their operations, shoppers will have a chance to score some pretty great deals on shoes, to the tune of up to 50% off all merchandise. Keep in mind, though, that anything you buy is final sale.

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Sandal shop flips across the border

Torontonians will soon have a new destination for summer footwear.

U.S.-based chain Flip Flop Shop is beginning to expand across Canada. A B.C.-based franchisee has signed an agreement to open about 30 of the stores in Canada over the next decade.

Locations are already operating in Vancouver, Kelowna and Edmonton, and five more are slated to open in the next year, including two Toronto stores.

Flojos Catalina Women's Sandal, $28.50

As the name suggests, Flip Flop Shop specializes in sandals and flip flops. The stores carry trendy styles from such brands as Roxy, Quicksilver, Vans and Flojos.

The niche concept has been popular south of the border. Since launching in 2004, the chain has grown to almost 40 stores, and another 60 locations are in development.

In U.S. markets like Florida, California and Hawaii, I can see how there’s year-round demand for the open-toe offerings of this retail chain. Thanks to the warm climate in these states, sandals are a wardrobe staple every season of the year.

On this side of the border, I’m not convinced that the concept will have the same level of success.

In Toronto – and across the country, for that matter – flip flops are mainly worn during just one season of the year. The rest of the time, consumers are buying shoes and boots designed to withstand the rain, snow and cool temperatures that are inevitable from October to April.

Sanuk Avenue Men's Sandal, $30.00

During these months, there’s little demand for open-toe footwear, with the exception of vacation-goers needing sandals for a trip south to escape this country’s sub-zero temperatures.

So while Flip Flop Shop might be a popular destination a few months of the year (Canadians do love their flip flops during cottage season!), I suspect that in this climate, its sales may be less robust than they are in the sunny southern states.

The company does carry a small selection of closed-toe shoes, and perhaps it will expand these offerings at its Canadian stores as a way to keep the customers coming when the temperature drops. If not, it may be a long and cold winter for Flip Flop Shop.

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