The secret to sales, according to fashion retailer Elyse Walker, isn't just closing one deal at a time – it's about building the relationship with the consumer over time, so that the shopping experience isn't just about buying clothes, but about buying the right clothes.
"A short-term sale is not how you build a healthy business,” Walker noted in an interview.
And, in fact, a short-term sale is something that a smart stylist will turn away, according to Walker – when they notice that the client is on the verge of buying something that doesn't look as good on her as it could. That can be a hard thing to say to a client – but, according to Walker, it is often the most valuable investment her staff can make in forming an ongoing relationship, because it allows that assistant to become more than a salesperson, moving more fully into the role of trusted advisor.
"You did not lose a sale there, you’re building a relationship," noted Walker. "It doesn’t happen in a year of business – that comes a long, long, long time [later].”
And Walker has been in the game for quite some time. She opened her first retail store at the age of 20 in New York City, then ran her mother's Scarsdale clothing boutique for several years before heading out west with her spouse and opening up her eponymous store in Los Angles. They were nearly out of stock by the end of the first day.
Those were the small days: The first Elyse Walker store was only 900 square feet. Today, the flagship store in Pacific Palisades is 6500 square feet, and boasts, according to industry sources, the highest sales-per-square-foot of any multi-brand retailer in the United States. A year ago, the brand made its first major expansion, opening a second 12,000-square Newport Beach location, which has branched beyond apparel to include jewelry, salon services and even fine art.
And the expansions are rolling on in 2018, with the opening of two Towne by Elyse Walker locations, which are focused on offering casual luxury shopping for both male and female shoppers (Elyse Walker stores focus on women's apparel).
“Towne is for every suburban man and woman who does not want to leave the house in their sweatpants, but who wants to look relevant and simply styled with ease. Our goal is to capture one lifestyle and to present a carefully curated selection of those essential key pieces,” Walker noted in a release on the opening.
Basics of late have become a bigger and more influential category, as office culture has become significantly less dressy in recent years and increasing numbers of workers are not "going" to work at all. Walker is not quite ready to surrender the world of casual dress to yoga pants and flip-flops, however. She noted that she has long wanted to expand her line of basic clothing, but her flagship boutique is out of room.
The Towne line, which will cover a range of high-and low-fashion items, can offer consumers with evolving life styles a way to look well-dressed without having to look dressed up.
“I really think it’s the future of retail, and there’s unlimited potential for it to grow around the country in any neighborhood, tailored to that community’s needs and tastes,” Walker said of the Towne concept in an interview with WWD, noting that the plan for 2019 is to expand that concept further.
Is that a risky move in an era where commerce seems to be moving increasingly online, and brick-and-mortar has been declared dead multiple times in the last two years or so?
Walker doesn't think so, even noting that online shopping has a great appeal for shoppers, including herself. The digital world of commerce offers consumers a nearly limitless selection of goods to choose from, an amazing number of discovery opportunities and a great deal of ease insofar as the items come directly to the consumer's door. Walker doesn't doubt the power or importance of eCommerce, and is in fact a very active participant as the fashion director of Forward by Elyse Walker, an eCommerce venture with Revolv.
But consumers' needs are complex, and while the online experience can offer a lot of conveniences and improvements over in-store shopping, it actually doesn't replicate the guidance of a trusted advisor when making decisions. When people are looking to save time, they are also looking to think less about their clothes and wardrobe.
“People are coming here for relationships, for expertise, for our experience,” Walker said. “They’re coming here because there’s so much out there — but they want your point of view. They want that edited perspective.”