Retailers embrace omni-channel sales strategy

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Manufacturers are switching from selling exclusively wholesale to an “omni-channel” sales approach, now vending in corporate stores, franchised outlets, online and through third-party retailers.

Icebreaker, a New Zealand-based clothing wholesaler and manufacturer, is the latest example of this phenomenon, now pivoting its business to focus on opening additional self-branded stores.

“We expect over the next three years to double our store footprint in Canada,” says Icebreaker CEO Rob Fyfe. “Depending on how the market performs, we have the capacity to grow much more quickly.”

Retail analyst Craig Patterson lists Louis Vuitton, Prada, Calvin Klein and Burberry as other brands that found initial success through wholesaling and have since focused on self-branded stores. “Stores can be like billboards,” he says. “If you get your store in a prominent location, people are going to see it.”

Chip Wilson, founder of athletic wear-retailer Lululemon, says he understands the allure of initially selling wholesale, but prefers starting with self-branded stores because it’s easier to control the brand. “It’s great to manufacture and sell wholesale,” he notes, “but it’s much better to go vertical and have your own stores.”

Regardless of whether retailers sell wholesale or through branded stores, most say the fastest-growing sales channel is e-commerce. However, having an exclusively online presence has its limitations; eyewear giant Clearly.ca started as a purely e-commerce venture, but has since opened bricks-and-mortar stores, offering customers the chance to interact with the merchandise.

“It becomes a balance,” says Wilson. “Everybody is moving to the middle [ground of having both online and bricks-and-mortar stores].” CJ

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