Even in 2019, deciding to go online-only as a retailer can feel painful.
“It was a hard decision, let me tell you,” Laurie Furst said of closing all 35 LF locations several weeks ago. “It’s not easy and there’s a lot involved, but we needed to be visionary in terms of our business. It’s not about today, it has to be about tomorrow.”
Furst started LF as a manufacturer in 1978 and eventually turned the business into a retailer focused on young women, with his daughter Mariel Furst. They cofounded LF Stores in 2004. But with so much happening in retail over the last few years, from luxury to mass and everyone in between finally feeling the squeeze of online convenience, it’s a wonder that it took LF so long to go online. The company, which sells reworked vintage and private label, only launched its e-commerce business in May of this year.
“The hesitation initially was running two businesses,” Mariel Furst said, noting the entire business side of the company is about 25 people. “We really are family-run and -owned and in terms of resources, we were concerned about splitting them.”
But she admits that customers in stores and on social would openly wonder why they couldn’t shop LF online, giving the company an extra push to make the jump. The larger motivation, however, seems to be the same for LF as dozens of other retailers — the financial upkeep of physical retail far outweighed in-store sales.
“It takes a tremendous amount of time, maintaining the stores, that’s a full-time job,” the elder Furst said. “We were never going to be successful online unless we fully invested in it. With the stores, there were too many distractions. With the addition of online, we were doing too many things, too many organizational and structural issues. Now we have a new opportunity to make a dent in the online marketplace.”
LF’s six-month-old e-commerce site has about 4,000 styles to choose from and LF is also offering a version of the styling services it focused on in-store, mainly in the form of personal recommendations and suggestions and “collection pages” that keep track of items customers like. The company would not reveal any specific sales numbers, either from last year or the current one, saying the e-commerce switch is too new to make any significant statements about financials or trends.
Father and daughter also said they never considered simply trying to sell the company or operating it as solely a licensed business through a partner, but the decision to close the stores didn’t take too long. It hadn’t been in the family conversation in recent years, but Mariel Furst said the realities of brick-and-mortar retail started to hit the company. While customers were taken by surprise at LF’s closures — saying things like “I’m going to miss this so much,” “How can you do this?” according to Furst — she agreed there is a striking disconnect between what a lot of shoppers say they want and how they behave.
“They say they want this but then, yeah…” Furst trailed off.
She is hopeful about the future of the business online though. LF recently got its first order from Hong Kong and it’s now shipping to all international markets that don’t restrict orders from the U.S. Online sales have also been growing “week over week,” Furst said, and with holiday coming up fast, she’s predicting even more growth over the next 12 weeks.
With no plans for pop-ups or any other form of physical retail right now, Furst did say LF isn’t ruling out a return to retail, but only after online is fully “up and running” and the assortment on offer is deeper.
“Anything is a possibility.”
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