With a new store in New York, MM LaFleur changes its brick and mortar strategy

Since 2016, the brand has operated showrooms in cities including New York and Washington, D.C., where customers can schedule appointments to get their haircuts and haircuts done before placing their order. And it also organizes seasonal pop-ups in other major metros. But in the new storefront on the ground floor of retail-rich Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side, customers will now be able to purchase in-store items.

“While we were really looking to grow, I didn’t really see how we could grow without introducing the brand to new customers by having them touch and feel them,” she said.

US Census Bureau figures show E-commerce accounts for 14.5% of total retail sales, which means shoppers are still spending a lot in person. And for MM LaFleur, in-person shopping could be a way to entice new customers if the brand seeks to return to pre-COVID numbers – 2020 saw revenue cut in half, LaFleur said. The recovery has been slow but steady, with revenue growing 30% in 2021 and another 20% so far in 2022; the aim is to return to pre-Covid numbers by the second half of this year, La Fleur said.

LaFleur said the success of the already-opened showrooms, which saw sales of around $3 million last year, proved the store could be a viable next step for the brand. But the expansion plans also reflect lessons learned from a decade in direct-to-consumer digital retail: LeFleur said the brand invested “way too much money” in digital marketing five or six years ago. year. Now she sees more power in presenting the brand to customers in person.

“When I think about how I want to use my dollars and allocate those dollars, I’ve really decided that I want to spend more of my marketing dollars in retail,” she said. “I really see it as a powerful advertising channel.”

The 550-square-foot store aims to be a cozy atmosphere where a shopper can “put their feet up,” LaFleur said, complete with plush sofas and ottomans. To announce the store opening, MM La Fleur hosted a week of activations, including a floral bus that toured the city, a dance performance by New York City Ballet’s Tiler Peck, and giveaways.

Yet owning a new physical learning curve to master. While she didn’t share the exact terms of the store’s lease, LaFleur said it took several tries before she scored a lease that could be terminated before a typical 10-year term. This flexibility was an important consideration, she said, especially after the uncertainty of the COVID-19 lockdown era.

I sense a bit of a disconnect between what brands like us are looking for and what owners are looking for,” she said.

Polly Wong, president of direct-to-consumer marketing agency Belardi Wong, said high-end clothing brands could start expanding into brick-and-mortar retail because it helps with customer acquisition. Not only is it important for shoppers to try on high-priced items, but it can also help build brand credibility, even for those who aren’t buying in person, Wong said.

“You see DTC brands, especially high-priced fashion, especially in A-markets, especially where there may be high real estate value, you see them start to cautiously open a handful of stores a year,” Wong said. .

Another example in recent months is Frances Valentine, which plans to open its sixth and seventh stores in Atlanta and Birmingham, Alabama, this year. Basic clothing brand Buck Mason planned to expand its retail presence with six more store openings this year, focusing on the East Coast and South regions. Other brands like Allbirds at Vuori plan to operate over a hundred stores over the next few years. Overall, DTC brands are also growing in different cities and can be found clustered in high-end shopping districts like South Congress Avenue in Austin or 12 South in Nashville, with brands eyeing markets based on data. on customer foot traffic.

Roland Figueredo, director of business development at King Retail Solutions, said while it doesn’t make sense for every DTC brand to open a physical store, it’s particularly beneficial in apparel. Stores become “an extension of the brand”, he said, and may be able to offer additional experiences to engage the customer, such as on-site personalization, special events or previews of seasonal collections. .

“These types of brands need to have a little more face-to-face interaction with the customer,” he said.

The new MM La Fleur space will focus on selling MM LaFleur’s “Power Casual” line, which features items like stretch-knit pants and pima cotton dresses meant to offer versatility. LaFleur said the line was a niche for the brand before the pandemic shutdowns. But it has since become the majority of their sales, as women look for clothes they can wear all day.

Overall, LaFleur said while the brand’s items can be priced high, shoppers who are introduced to the items in person can be won over more quickly than those online.

“A lot of the clothes we sell are understated. The colors are more subdued. You almost don’t fully appreciate it until you wear it for yourself, and then you understand why you’re paying the price we ask,” she said. “These things are so much easier to communicate in person than online.”

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