View from the C-Suite: What’s driving Designer Brands’ transformation

President Mary Turner discusses the formerly named DSW company's ambitious expansion plans that include nail salons in stores.

Mary Turner

Last week, shoe retailer Designer Shoe Warehouse (DSW) was renamed Designer Brands, with the company revealing expansion plans to grow its Canadian footprint by another 50 stores under its Designer Shoe Warehouse, The Shoe Company and Shoe Warehouse nameplates over the next few years.

With 140 stores, the company also plans to expand into Quebec, enhance its ecommerce platform and launch a pair of loyalty programs, including a DSW-specific VIP offer, to replace its previous banner-agnostic program. Meanwhile, the company will be introducing nail bars and and repair services (pictured below) – already offered in the U.S. – to drive traffic to its stores in Canada. To help lead those efforts, Lauren Reimer, former head of Expedia.ca in Canada, has been hired as head of marketing, loyalty and ecommerce.

DSW-BeautyBarOverseeing its transformation in Canada is Mary Turner, named SVP and president of The Shoe Company in January. Now leading The Shoe Company and Shoe Warehouse banners, as well as DSW’s merchandising and operations in Canada, Turner was formerly COO for Town Shoes and EVP of merchandising and head of development at Hudson’s Bay.

Strategy recently spoke with her about Designer Brands’ ambitious plans for Canada at a time when many other fashion retailers are closing stores.

How do your new strategic priorities address the trends we see happening in retail?

There’s no question that digital sales are growing very quickly. Building this larger network of The Shoe Company stores can act as fulfilment centres and pick-up and drop-off centres, and be a last-mile solution. It can also be a showroom and marketing billboard for us in smaller communities. It’s the perfect solution, because it means we’re growing our presence, but actually facilitating and responding to the digital demand that’s growing so much. [Our physical] stores still have a very real function. In Canada, we don’t hold any goods in a warehouse – we fulfill 100% from our stores. So they’re basically acting as mini warehouses and they’re facilitating digital sales.

What are your plans for each one of your banners with this expansion?

In Canada, we have Designer Shoe Warehouse, The Shoe Company, and Shoe Warehouse, which is the western version of the Shoe Company. But when we think strategically about our business, we’re thinking two streams. We’re thinking about DSW and we’re thinking about Shoe Company / Shoe Warehouse.

At this point in time, we don’t have any intention of changing the names over the door. But from a strategic, merchandising, assortment and marketing perspective, [Shoe Company and Shoe Warehouse] are essentially serving as one banner. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, any new [store] opening will be under the Shoe Company name. We’ve learned a lot in the four years that we’ve had both brands operating in Canada, and we can now be more strategic in how we co-locate them as we move forward, focusing on smaller markets for [our small-box store] Shoe Company and on larger markets for [our big-box store] DSW.

DSW-BeautyBarWhy have you decided to bring nail bars and shoe repair services into your stores?

It’s really for two reasons: it’s for customers to visit us [and for us to] connect with the customer emotionally and not just transactionally. We want to do things that are both useful and of interest to her, but that aren’t necessarily always just about finding something. The nail bars, for example, is a great example of something that isn’t shoes, but a reason for the customer to come and visit us, and what we have found [in the U.S.] is that typically people do enjoy staying and then shopping for shoes. It’s been a very successful integration. And with the shoe repair services, it’s a convenience to customers, it’s also another reason for them to visit. We’re looking for other things that are of interest to the customer and complementary to our business.

You ended the Town Shoes banner, your mid-priced chain, in January. What’s behind the challenges facing so-called “middle” retailers?

There are two things that I would immediately call out. First, the entrance of some very large players. When you think of Nordstrom coming to Canada, whose greatest expertise is footwear – that really changed the landscape for the Canadian footwear market in that middle category. The other thing that has changed is brands opening their own retail stores. If you think about Yorkdale Shopping Centre [in Toronto], for example, you see every single important footwear brand in their own retail store and represented in the multi-brand stores. That’s something that’s new within the last five years.

This interview is part of a series for Strategy C-Suite, a weekly briefing on how Canada’s brand leaders are responding to market challenges and acting on new opportunities. Sign-up here to receive the latest stories.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.