Colton’s taps exclusivity

Karacters helps launch the members-only B.C. clothing retailer, which offers "Personal Couture" in a Parisian-style penthouse.

This is a store most of us won’t be allowed to shop at.

In fact, most of the team on the project won’t be able to get memberships.

But that’s all part of the brand identity that Colton’s, a new store in Richmond, B.C., is going for. Think of this store as an über-upscale Costco – only instead of selling bulk meat and ketchup, it sells high-end luxury designer clothing. The store launches in April, and members, of which there will only be 200 to 400, will pay $7,500 a year to be allowed access. Members are also required to maintain a $17,500 credit each year for in-store purchases (which may seem excessive, but a single suit can run up $30,000).

But once you’re in, it’ll be a completely different experience than any other high-end retailer, says Chris Dallin, director of branding and design at Karacters, the DDB design agency brought on to create the overall Colton’s brand.

“From an emotional point of view, we came up with a brand identity around the idea of ‘Your luxury confidante.’ So it’s this whole idea of being on the inside. It’s beyond just luxury, it’s that feeling of being in a club,” says Dallin. “You won’t be sold to, but listened to.”

High-end retailers should take note: Andrea Sampson, VP strategy insight and planning, Cundari, says this type of store could definitely take off. Sampson, who has done extensive research into the affluent shopper, says that as luxury becomes more accessible (with more stores carrying luxury items and posh brands carrying merchandise at lower price points) affluent shoppers are likely to migrate towards the ultra-exclusive shopping experience, be it private boutiques or personal shoppers.

The idea for Colton’s came from owner Howard Colton, president of Richmond-based Colton International, which owns luxury watch distributor ToyWatch Canada, and is the exclusive distributor of high-end Italian fashion to BlueFly, an online luxury retailer. Using his connections, Colton would set up friends and family with discounts on designer fashions, an idea he believed he could sell on a wider scale.

Dallin says all of the merchandise will be discounted up to 70% off, and shoppers will have access to hot-off-the-runway fashions and exclusive pieces not available in other locations – both of which will be key draws to encourage members to shell out an annual fee, but it’ll be the personal connection and exclusive experience that keeps shoppers coming back.

The store will cater to the very wealthy, predominantly Asian population of Richmond, but will also target wealthy shoppers in West Vancouver. “We needed an identity that sold exclusivity and luxury,” says Dallin.

Everything from the tagline (“Personal Couture”) to messaging on brochures will be tailored to this idea of creating a club environment for shoppers. For example, the invitation invites future members to “become one of the few, the proud, and the impeccably dressed.” Most members will be picked directly from Colton’s personal address book, says Dallin, with others coming on board as a result of word-of-mouth.

By limiting the size of the clientele to 400, Dallin says the Colton’s team will be able to offer personalized service and name recognition for each of the clients, creating a friendlier atmosphere, as well as differentiating from other high-end stores that cater to everyone.

The store encompasses the entire penthouse of a 15-storey building, styled in a classic Parisian boutique look, with a wrap around balcony offering views of the city and mountains from all sides. It is designed to be able to host a fashion runway, says designer Gary Van Dijk of AA Robins Architect, the firm brought on to design the space.

With white Carrera marble floors and contemporary furnishings, the space was designed to be clutter-free and feel spacious, says Van Dijk. For example, the change rooms will be large enough to have chaises, and garments will be hung with about a foot of space between hangers to avoid overcrowding the shelves.

“This is not storefront,” Van Dijk says. “This is an exclusive club. It’s a different world.”

Dallin says Colton’s is simply ahead of the curve. “I really think these customized, exclusive, personalized retail experiences are going to be something you see in the future,” he says. “These people don’t want to be fighting or waiting in line for that Tom Ford suit. They want to be in a more personal environment.”

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