Rachel Zoe’s first brick-and-mortar store will bring her history as a personal stylist into physical retail.
After building her brand as a stylist for the past two decades before launching her own brand in 2011, Zoe knew that the in-store experience would revolve around guiding women through the store visit. She wanted it to go beyond typical browsing and fitting room trips.
“We wanted to help women understand the process of getting dressed and creating their own style, and so that’s what we’ll train our employees to do,” said Zoe, who is the designer and CEO of her namesake brand.
The store is set to open this September in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles, where it will be part of a new retail development from Caruso, the real estate firm behind LA’s well-known shopping destination The Grove, where Rachel Zoe previously held a pop-up store. Right now, the store is positioned as a residency set to run through spring of 2019, but it could stick around longer if it’s a fit for both the brand and the development.
Zoe plans to be hands-on, formally training new employees through sessions, Q&As and talks on how to address customers who come in around their styling needs. (For instance, they shouldn’t push sales of anything on anyone, Zoe said). For customers, there will be the option to make formal styling appointments, but the goal is that they’ll get the personal styling treatment in more casual interactions with store employees, as well. The idea is that customers will get the closest experience as possible to being personally styled by Zoe — who started her career as a stylist 20 years ago before launching her brand — just by coming in to shop the store.
There will be other additional touches only available to in-store customers, including a rotating collection of items on sale from Zoe’s personal collection of vintage fashion, and re-releases of past Rachel Zoe brand items.
The Rachel Zoe brand, which launched in 2011, was only sold through wholesale partners until the company launched its e-commerce store in 2016. After selling directly to customers, the brand got a hold of customer information it didn’t previously have, like what’s selling and when, what customers are searching for, what occasions they’re shopping for and how they end up on the brand site. For instance, Zoe said that the majority of her customers come to the brand for a special event, not for basic items.
“Being able to see what women respond to, and understanding that more and more, has been so helpful, particularly when it comes to merchandising the store,” said Zoe.
Most important, the Rachel Zoe store will carry the brand’s full collections, not a selection filtered through a department-store buyer. The element of control — which has led to brands like Gucci and Michael Kors reinvigorating their in-store strategies to better display newness — is something not found in wholesale partnerships.
“If I could go into every store and style things a certain way, I would love to, but the control is different,” said Zoe, who doesn’t plan on changing her brand’s wholesale presence but hopes to send new feedback on customer behavior in the store back to buying partners. “When we’re in market, we always say what our favorite pieces are, and how something should work and be styled, but at the end of the day, it’s not my store or decision.”
Zoe, who has been wary on whether or not an in-season collection model can work for small brands, said that when it comes to merchandising around seasons in store, the most important thing is that the inventory is in-step with the weather. There will also be an emphasis on newness, with fresh pieces coming to the store several times a month, catering to repeat customers. What’s selling and trending online will play a role in determining how much inventory is dedicated to the store location.
To determine the store’s success, Zoe said she will look past sales alone and base it on how many people visit the store for extracurriculars, like events and styling appointments. It’s part of the modern store-as-marketing-tool approach for brands: A visit in store is worth its weight in brand engagement, even if people don’t buy something right then and there.
“Being cautious right now, when the whole retail industry is changing constantly, is so important. You have to understand that change and how to be nimble,” said Zoe. “I always wanted to do a store, but I had to wait until I knew what I wanted to put out there as an extension of the Rachel Zoe brand, and that was never just about pushing a sale.”