It was January 2020, only a few weeks before COVID-19 made its widespread impact in the U.S., that Loeffler Randall signed a lease on its first retail space — not knowing what was yet to come. Now more than a year later, the brand opens its SoHo store today at 10 Prince Street.
“We have always wanted to have a store, but after we had kids, the idea overwhelmed us. We found this space in SoHo and signed the lease in January right before the pandemic. We had completed 50 percent of the work before shutdown happened and it was meant to open in May. I’m happy we actually had adequate time from a design perspective and that it turned out the way it has,” said Jessie Randall, Loeffler Randall’s chief creative officer, who cofounded the label with her husband, Brian Murphy, nearly 16 years ago.
While shoes remain Loeffler Randall’s bread and butter, particularly a line of feminine sandals made from pleated fabric that ties in a bow, the label has expanded to include handbags, jewelry and a small line of ready-to-wear. The full range will be available at the new store.
The boutique, a petite and parlor-like setting, sits next to the buzzy piercing salon Studs and a luxury plant store called Plant Shed — making for something of an experiential trifecta of independent shops. For Randall and Murphy, it is also the beginning of an enhanced omnichannel strategy to increase sales.
“I think it’s been hard to tell our brand story without a physical space. We have been primarily selling through wholesale accounts and that makes it hard to tell our story in our own way,” said Randall.
For Murphy, who serves as chief executive officer, the store is an extension of the company’s growing e-commerce site. “It allows us to focus on an online-offline relationship that gives us another tool to reach customers wherever they are,” he said.
Murphy conceded that COVID-19 has had an effect on Loeffler Randall’s business due to a dip in wholesale orders. That said, he sees an opportunity in the company’s e-commerce, which accounts for 45 percent of sales. For 2021, he has set a goal of 51 percent of sales coming direct — a figure he thinks is a “realistic” objective, particularly with the addition of boutique sales.
“I think what I have been seeing since October is that our traffic on the website is up 30 to 40 percent year-over-year,” said Murphy. “January was a good month for us and already we are seeing an organic increase in February comps. I feel like we are starting to see a pent-up demand and energy,” he added.
While considering the build-out of her brand’s first store, Randall said she “wanted to make it feel really welcoming — like the brand is very warm and that our customer could feel relaxed when she comes in the door.”
Randall designed the 625-square-foot space in collaboration with designer Poonam Khanna, settling on swaths of pink pleated velvet curtains, amoeba-shaped mirrors and floral-shaped light fixtures, which capture the label’s feminine feel and Millennial pink branding. The store will also have a strong bridal shoe lineup, offering Polaroids to brides as well as custom options like inscribing shoes with wedding dates. The space will accommodate between three and four people (including sales staff) during the pandemic.
Loeffler Randall is a quiet soldier of the American contemporary footwear market, having withstood peaks and valleys by approaching seasonal trends through the lenses of femininity and a more mainstream urban shopper. They do this while offering product at competitive prices — with the average pair of shoes retailing at $300.
“Just by being a consumer myself I’m really sensitive to price point,” said Randall. “I don’t want to spend more than $395 on booties. We don’t make the margins Brian would like us to, but we are really sensitive to that and I think that price point is one of the secrets of our success. We have to be really careful about that as we continue to grow.”
During the pandemic, retailers say that accessories consumers have cut back on their contemporary market purchases, instead choosing to invest more deeply in luxury brand names that they trust. For Randall and Murphy this is an “opportunity.”
“I think it’s brand by brand. Large contemporary brands were struggling during COVID-19, but that’s a tremendous opportunity to grow into that space. With any stress in the market there are brands that thrive and brands that don’t. I feel like we are super positioned to be one of the former. But I do think there is less space for fewer players,” Murphy said.
During the pandemic, Loeffler rushed to introduce new COVID-19-specific pieces like slippers and soft sweaters as a means to capture shoppers’ interest. “We were reacting quickly [during the pandemic] and trying to make things that customers wanted. We kept saying to ourselves, ‘what could be worse than having an event footwear business [right now]?,’ but actually our very fancy shoes were bestsellers across the board. Wholesale demand was less, but I was looking at our sales reports everyday and I think customers were saving up and buying items for a smaller wedding or for an event in the future. It was nice to see,” said Murphy.