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E-Tailers Embrace Physical Realm

In today's economy, old ideas about technology are changing at breakneck speed.

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NEW YORK — In today’s economy, old ideas about technology are changing at breakneck speed. Just a few short years ago, conventional wisdom said the best avenue to Web sales was through brick-and-mortar locations. The formula for independent footwear retailers seemed simple enough: Open a store in a desirable location, garner a local following, launch a Website and, eventually, an e-commerce store.

Now, a slew of retailers are challenging that model by establishing themselves as e-tailers first, and then opening traditional retail outlets. There’s no question it can be a tough transition from the virtual realm to main street, but in both cases, the dollars are very real and opportunities abound. Here, three retailers discuss their decisions to open brick-and-mortar shops after finding success online.

Karmaloop

Location:
Boston

In the wake of the dotcom crash of the late 1990s, Greg Selkoe defied the logic of the day and founded online streetwear store Karmaloop.com out of his parents’ basement. But Selkoe’s new venture wasn’t exactly met with enthusiasm.

“There was a huge risk involved,” said Dennis Todisco, Karmaloop’s director of grassroots marketing. “At trade shows, vendors were very hesitant to put their brand on the Internet.”

Still, Selkoe soldiered on and wooed both customers and vendors. Even the site itself, which now sells apparel, watches, accessories and footwear from brands including Adidas, Creative Recreation and Jeffrey Campbell, has developed its own online culture, with brand extensions such as Karmaloop TV, an online channel featuring original content about fashion, art and music that launched in 2008.

But in 2005, based on the success of the site, the company decided to open a brick-and-mortar store on Newbury Street in its hometown of Boston. According to Todisco, the brand was missing a place where people could “come together.”

“We wanted to give a face to Karmaloop and give people another dimension of the brand because we really focus on being more than just a store,” said Todisco. “We’re a cultural hub.” To that point, the store is primarily a place to host company events, brand launches, parties for limited-edition styles and celebrity meet-and-greets.

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