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On the wholesale side, which accounts for half of Arche’s U.S. business, Arche has around 120 retail partners. Many stores point to the brand’s popularity as a big factor in its success. George Morris, owner of Reason’s in Sarasota, Fla., said Arche has some of the most loyal customers he’s seen. “We can do an Arche trunk show and have a cadre of people [come] to the store to see what they have,” said Morris, whose shop has been carrying the line for 20 years. “Customers are loyal to Arche even though the prices have gone up like those of [so many other] European suppliers.” (Arche’s prices have increased 8 percent over the past five years due to the rising euro.)
Bob Fields, co-owner of Redondo Beach, Calif.-based Riviera Euro-Comfort, said Arche remains among the store’s top two performers each month. When it comes to ballet flats, an Arche signature, “there are zillions from everybody,” Fields said, “but [Arche’s] are the most comfortable around.” In fact, Fields added, the brand’s latex outsoles are a key part of its comfort success and are often used by his staff as a selling point.
Beyond the U.S., China is another key market for the brand. Hélaine and sister Catherine Marie-Emmanuelle Hélaine, VP of the brand, set their sights on China a decade ago, and their gamble paid off. “Ten years ago, it was an emerging country,” recalled Hélaine. Now, China accounts for Arche’s largest volume, with product sold through 65 shop-in-shops in 30 cities across the country. In order to meet the growing demand, Arche manufactures product in China for the local market and prices it 10 percent below the French-made shoes.
The Chinese market also opened the door to a younger customer base for Arche, whose core audience is the 45-and-over crowd. “China is younger [customers] — younger people have money there,” said Hélaine.
While the second generation of Hélaines is eager to take risks to broaden Arche’s reach, the siblings remain focused on their father’s unique blend of comfort and style. “Our unstructured looks make it hard [for the shoes] to have shelf appeal,” admitted Hélaine. “But once they’re on the foot, the shoes come alive.”