Unwavering. That best describes Elyse Walker’s modus operandi.
The luxury specialty retailer, who opened her first L.A. store some 18 years ago in the Pacific Palisades after moving West from New York, has rolled with the times without compromising her brand for the sake of growing the business. She’s been careful with growth, only branching out last year into her 12,000-square-foot second store at the well-manicured Lido Marina Village enclave in Newport Beach. She’s also addressed the Internet age with a deal struck five years ago with the founders of Millennial e-commerce firm Revolve to launch the luxury e-commerce site Forward by Elyse Walker. She’s not shy on social media and encourages a team of stylists at her boutiques to also respond as adeptly on Instagram to customers.
“I’m pretty much the brand ambassador and people are reacting because we have a point of view,” said Walker. “I think whenever you hit, with an e-mail for example, it’s never basic. There’s always a twist on it. Designers [will say] ‘You took my shirt and made it into a dress.’ We are just willing to push the envelope a little and our customers react to that curation and excitement.”
Styling is part of the Elyse Walker experience and has been a big part of staying in business and ahead of the pack, with Walker having assembled over the years a team of stylists — not store associates — who help their clients with looks rather than hanging pieces on racks and ringing people up at a register. Having a clear voice in the marketplace has been key to standing out.
“Years ago — I grew up in the shoe business in New York with my family [Capreto]. I remember walking into showrooms and they’d say, ‘Oh, this is the shoe that everyone bought’ and then you’d buy it. Now, when everyone says, ‘This is the dress that everyone bought,’ I almost don’t want to buy it,” Walker said, who operated her own Capreto shoe store in Manhattan before moving to L.A.
Styling isn’t new; it’s what she’s been doing for more than 20 years with a store that’s always carried a broad mix of designers, including Alexander McQueen, Ann Demeulemeester, Victoria Beckham, The Great, Amiri, Juan Carlos Obando, Golden Goose, Fenty x Puma, Re/Done, The Hours, Sundry and, of course, her line ThePerfext (pronounced “perfect”).
It was only in the past decade or so that more and more people threw around the phrase “Oh, my stylist” when referencing looks or new labels they were wearing, so Walker seized on the momentum and branded her team of stylists. Clients book appointments and are greeted at the store with a full rack of pieces pulled just for them, right down to the shoe size and preferred heel height. The team takes photos and records what designers worked and what didn’t so it’s all notated in a client’s history.
To keep the team motivated, Walker has a point system to encourage them to sell over a certain amount and for two years now has hosted corporate retreats for stylists in Cabo San Lucas. Stylists are also awarded budgets that can be used for dinners with clients or the opportunity to be featured on the Elyse Walker web site.
“It’s all about the personal relationship and building client relationships, following up and not wasting their time,” Walker said.
The impact to the business is quantifiable.
Over the past five years or so, the retailer has seen sales from scheduled appointments and home deliveries go from representing about 10 percent of the revenues at the original Palisades store to north of 50 percent. They account for about 25 percent of the newly opened Lido store’s, and that’s expected to grow as the company builds relationships with the clientele there.
The plan is to now roll that stylist program out into the Forward business, Walker said.
The retailer has also been adept at changing up her social media strategy. In the beginning, Walker and her team posted a lot of lifestyle-types of images that looked ahead at product not in stores. Today, it’s more about what’s in at the moment.
“People want everything right away more than can you write me three to four or even six months out [on in-coming product],” she explained. “I’m not saying we never do that, but that has changed.”
Instagram is hot right now for the team; Facebook not so much. And while e-mail newsletters are still important, Walker said the open rate isn’t as strong as the team would like it to be and “it’s getting less and less important over time.”
With the Lido store performing well, Walker said the company is looking to expand and open more units, although she’s mum about where she’s looking for real estate saying, “I’m working on it, but nothing official yet.”
All in all, it’s a good time at Elyse Walker, the merchant said.
“Everything ebbs and flows and I don’t know if the market got saturated with product and certainly a lot of square footage of a lot of big stores,” Walker said. “There’s so much offered online that if you’re going to go for a really wide assortment, you most likely at this point prefer to shop online, but if you’re going to go to a store, you’re going to go for curation. So, since everyone’s over-stimulated in every sense of the word, I think retailers who have a more narrow, focused point of view who are still going to call the customer, are in a good place.”
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