Today’s retail environment is ever changing, but the most savvy brick-and-mortar store owners have been able to prosper by offering a unique shopping experience, enhanced by a strong merchandise assortment and next-level customer service.
These independent U.S. women’s boutiques continue to set the standard for brick-and-mortar success, with elevated aesthetics, a keen eye for trends and the ability to understand their consumers.
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Here is a look at what they offer and how they’re continuing to grow their businesses.
Founded by Laure Hériard Dubreuil in 2009, The Webster has become a premium shopping destination for shoes. “Our footwear business has been a category that is consistently growing. Depending on the season, our footwear business is 20 to 30 percent of our business,” said Hériard Dubreuil. Top brands and best sellers include Rick Owens, Khaite and Alaia, as well as Gianvito Rossi, Celine, Amina Muaddi and The Row. “Our buying strategy revolves around timing. We strategize around key moments in the year and ensure the appropriate styles for the delivery timing. An example would be with the weather — as we see temperatures drop and boots become more in demand, we make sure to have a variety of boots for that short selling window,” she said, noting that The Webster aims to have a well-balanced assortment, while also offering exciting, trending styles. “For this fall, we are leaning toward transitional pointy toes, flats and powerful statement shoes to tie back to our buying strategy.” Since launching its flagship location in Miami Beach, The Webster has expanded to nine stores across the U.S., most recently adding a boutique in Palm Springs, Calif., in April. Three more doors are set to open starting this fall and into 2024. “Our approach since inception has set us apart, believing that retail should be set in a luxury lifestyle experience that promotes a comfortable and playful [environment] for all that visit,” Hériard Dubreuil said. “We are entrusted to creatively curate our selections by emotion and color versus by brand, which allows us to inspire our clients with unique pairings. Our top priority is that each client receives the highest level of personalized service that meets all their lifestyle needs.”
Just One Eye
Located in Sycamore District of Hollywood in Los Angeles, owner Paola Russo opened Just One Eye in 2011. While the shop offers a range of categories from home to jewelry, the boutique has an impressive footwear assortment that accounts for roughly 20 percent of its business. Top brands include Prada, The Row, Salomon and Christian Louboutin. “The store’s aesthetic is very eclectic. We are driven by art and beauty. Things that are rare, but you can discover in an artistic setting. We carry a diverse brand matrix of high and low. What sets us apart is our discovery in all categories, including fine jewelry and vintage furniture and objects,” explained Russo. The owner said she has no specific strategy for buying certain brands or styles, rather her approach is “very emotional and reactive to trends — or even away from trends at the moment.” She added, “We curate specifically for our audience and clients. Shoe trends are minimalistic. Less is more. The jettison of chunky brogues and heaviness was a thing of the past and so we’re looking forward to more ease, flat, and functional everyday shoes.”
Owner David Assil has been a footwear veteran since launching his store in 1989 in Beverly Hills, Calif. Shoes account for 70 percent of the business. Through the years, Assil has offered top designers Miu Miu, Chloe, Marc Jacobs, Balenciaga, Marni and Christian Louboutin. Now, the retailer is focused on driving his own Madison Maison shoe collection. “By designing our own pieces and working with the best small artisan factories, as well as the best tanneries all over Italy, [that sets us apart],” he explained. “We make what we believe woman want. Pieces designed to stand the test of time, which are made with superior quality, are incredibly comfortable and well-priced.” He noted that two of his best labels in the store also include Moma and a handbag line called Quyenn. “We are doing ballets, heels, boots, loafers. I see them being relevant always.” As for top trends in the market right now, Assil was in favor of metallics and some patents.
Elyse Walker, with husband David, opened her eponymous store in 1999 in the heart of Pacific Palisades in Los Angeles. Since then, eight more stores have launched, including her latest New York flagship on Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side, which opened in July. The store follows a smaller space she opened in Tribeca in November. Top shoe brands include Gianvito Rossi, Saint Laurent, Celine and Dior. Walker said shoe sales account for about 16 percent of its total business. “Our goal is to create an elevated experience for clients to shop multiple lifestyles and multiple vendors in a luxurious setting that is still approachable and not white glove,” she said. “Our buying strategy evolves every season, but we continue to balance between deep core investments and newness. Since COVID, we’ve seen a heightened demand for larger sizes, so we’re investing in size 41s more than ever before.” Footwear trends Walker is betting on for the back half of the year include kitten heel slingbacks from Gucci and Dior, novelty flats from Alaia and Celine, square-toe pumps from Gianvito Rossi and belted boots from Saint Laurent, Miu Miu and Burberry.
Gwynn’s of Mount Pleasant
Opened in 1967, Gwynn’s of Mount Pleasant was founded by Gwendolyn and Norris Ward. The luxury department store is located in South Carolina’s Charleston tri-county area. It’s now operated and majority owned by second-generation Marshall Simon. His daughter, Madison Simon, is the third-generation leadership, who will carry on Gwynn’s legacy. “We are where the locals shop. We put an emphasis on the client experience at Gwynn’s, which is the No. 1 goal,” said Madison Simon. “We style full looks for our clients from head to toe, and we create a safe and comfortable atmosphere, whether it be out on the floor or in our private shopping suites. Much of our local clientele considers us family, and we feel the same. For us, it’s about the relationships that we develop and being able to serve our community that we’re so lucky to be a part of.” With 20 percent of sales coming from footwear, the store’s strongest-selling brands include Jimmy Choo, Ron White, Ferragamo, Brunello Cucinelli, Stuart Weitzman, Pedro Garcia and Casadei. As for promising new trends, shoe buyer Susan Seeger said, “We are seeing a lot more color, more comfortable, wearable heel heights with elegant and feminine touches, which being in the South, we are definitely leaning toward.” The store is currently focused on its ongoing renovation, which will see updates to its floors, fixtures, cash wraps, and overall layout. The retailer is also adding 1,000 square feet for its in-house marketing and e-commerce department.
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