Independent Spotlight: Browns

Canadian retailer Browns is confronting the global recession with sure-bet brands, top-notch service and a hopeful attitude.

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Interior shot of Browns.

Photo By Courtesy Photo

“In today’s overly corporate retail world, what a pleasure it is to deal with such a professional and loyal family,” designer Stuart Weitzman told Footwear News. “For 30-plus years, Browns has been offering our shoes throughout Canada, in an exemplary setting with an extensive presentation. They are the next best thing to having our own stores.”

“Even though it’s grown to be quite large, [Browns] really is a family business, and it has been predicated on those principles from the beginning,” said Marvin Krasnow of Aquatalia by Marvin K, who has been working with Browns for more than 30 years. “They have very little turnover, which is refreshing. And they’ve positioned themselves well.”

Positioning itself as a high-end family shoe store has helped separate Browns from its competition, which includes high-end retailers such as Holt Renfrew and mid-tier independents across Canada.

“Our stores go from Steve Madden to Stuart Weitzman all in the same space, which is unique because in Europe you don’t see that at all, and in America you can see that in certain department stores, but they’re not shoe-only stores,” said Brownstein. “At Browns, the same customer can buy a $90 Adidas sneaker or a $500 Prada shoe, no problem. And it is the same customer, so why would I sell her an athletic shoe and then tell her to go somewhere else for her designer shoe?”

Though Brownstein said the portfolio of brands — from Rocket Dog, Converse and Puma to Gucci, Stella McCartney and Y-3 — had for years enticed customers to spend without regret, recently the tide has turned. Even with extraordinary service — Browns has a customer service coach who regularly visits sales teams at all the stores — today’s struggle really comes down to price, said Brownstein.

“The mentality is if you’re not getting a deal on it, don’t buy it, because maybe you’ll get a deal on it eventually,” said Brownstein. “It’s created a customer who won’t buy regular price anymore.”

That price-sensitive consumer is making Brownstein’s merchandising decisions tougher than ever.

“Over the last few years, business has been good, so we went out with lots of confi dence and weren’t worried about being overstocked. But nowadays, we have to be much closer to what’s right in fashion,” he said. “We have to be on the ball all the time, reading magazines, seeing movies and trying to stay ahead of the next trend, which isn’t easy.”

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