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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Even the children’s shoe business, which has historically dodged retail slow-downs, is taking a hit, he said.

“The kids’ business is not recession-proof. It’s less susceptible to a recession than other parts of the business because kids need shoes, but our children’s shoes are upscale, so it’s difficult,” said Brownstein. “The economy will come back, but it might take six months or a year. In the meantime, it’s a really tough market out there.”

The key right now, he explained, is to pick the right items that will sell themselves — sale or no sale — such as Michael Kors and Ugg, which have held up in Browns stores despite dwindling consumer confi dence. Another bright spot for the retailer has been its private-label business, which includes the B2 line ($98 to $250), Brown’s Couture ($168 to $498), Brown’s ID ($128 to $398) and Bravo Browns ($78 to $298), among others.

“We work hard on developing our private-label business because it makes us different and lets our customers know they can get something at Browns that they can’t get anywhere else,” said Brownstein. “And it’s great quality at a great price. Some of the factories that do our private- label footwear also make shoes for Michael Kors and Marc Jacobs.”

Looking at the difficult year ahead, Brownstein said he is upbeat and realistic, and he believes that is the only way to approach business in these times.

“Business has been good for us in the last few years. We’re not ahead of last year’s numbers, but we’re keeping up, and we’re a very healthy company — we have quite a bit of money in the bank, and we’re very entrepreneurial,” he said.

To that end, Brownstein said all of Browns’ marketing initiatives would go on as scheduled in 2009. Twice a year, the company puts out B magazine, which is produced in-house, is distributed to customers and features must-have styles for the new season. The company also puts on a yearly, two-night presentation of dance performances and a fashion show at the Montreal and Toronto stores. The shows sell nearly 2,000 tickets, benefiting children’s hospitals in both cities.

“That’s very important to us. Any kind of charity work is worthwhile. It makes us better people, and our customers really appreciate it,” said Brownstein.

The recession also isn’t hindering store openings this year. The retailer bowed locations in the West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton, Alberta, and has plans for three additional stores this year, in Southgate Center in Edmonton; Don Mills in Toronto; and Cross Iron Mills Mall in Calgary, Alberta.

“I have a feeling there are going to be a lot of good locations opening up, so we’ll see what happens,” Brownstein said. “But we’ll move slowly because times are tough. We have to make sure we make the right decisions.”


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