Retail isn't dead: Edmonton's Poppy Barley opens flagship store at Southgate
Hatched from Startup Edmonton, the e-commerce fashion company marks its 5th year in business in one of Canada’s most successful malls.
It started almost five years ago with just three boot designs and a bare-bones online shop at the URL, PoppyBarley.com. Huddled over two desks in Startup Edmonton’s incubator, sisters Kendall and Justine Barber envisioned a digital footwear business that served customers while they slept; they were in for a wake-up call. While Poppy Barley’s online sales grew substantially in Canada and the US over the years, they tested the demand for in-person shopping experiences with popup shops in the major Canadian cities. The popularity of physical retail couldn’t be ignored. On August 3rd, the Barber sisters opened a 1000 sq. ft. flagship store in Southgate Centre, essentially doubling their staff count from 10 to 20, and tripling their inventory.
“Every year, we've designed more ways for our customers and community to interact with us,” says Poppy Barley co-founder Kendall Barber, who says the company now has a social media and email list following of over 60,000 people. “A store gives us an incredible platform. We don't believe retail is dead; mediocre retail is dead. Five years into our business, we knew how we wanted to translate the Poppy Barley experience into a physical environment.”
The Poppy Barley flagship includes in-stock women’s flats, pumps and ankle boots, leather accessories, and, for the first time, stocked men’s footwear, to eliminate the wait time on made-to-order purchases. Customers can discover their true shoe size in the Southgate store’s intimate measurement lounge (Poppy Barley offers extended sizes 5 to 15 for men, 5 to 12 for women, narrow to wide widths, as well as calf-fitted boots). There are also interactive elements reflective of the company’s ethical and transparent manufacturing in León, Mexico, like a customer-meets-artisan photo display, a Sustainability Report decal, and a tactile leather wall for customer exploration.
“It’s not your typical ‘Designed in New York, Made in Italy’ story,” says Kendall. “And there are no hard benches and shelves crammed with shoes. Our vision is to communicate Poppy Barley's main brand value, which is Luxury For the People. It’s designed to be fun, inviting, educational and community-centered. It celebrates transparency, quality, craftsmanship, Edmonton and Mexico—essentially, the foundation of the Poppy Barley brand.”
As such, the interior also includes handcrafted baltic birch millwork and tables from Edmonton’s Oliver Apt., and eco-friendly encaustic cement tile in a traditional clover and star pattern from Edmonton-based River City Tile Company. From Mexico, deconstructed shoes-cuts, lasts and tools are on display. “There are over 20 steps to making a single pair of shoes,” says co-founder Justine Barber. “This is our opportunity to give Edmonton an in-person look at how we craft our products in Mexico, and why we believe they’re the most comfortable leather shoes in the world.”
Choosing a mall over a standalone boutique for the flagship location has much to do with the current state of retail. “Retail is changing fast,” says Kendall. “We explored both options and listened closely to our community. We found Southgate to be innovative in understanding our vision for a community-store within a mall. Southgate attracts Edmonton guests, and much of our growth over the last five years is due to support from Alberta customers. It just makes sense. We believe there's benefit to growing our brand in such a high traffic space.”
Customers can find out more about the Southgate store—and enter to win shoes for a year—by visiting poppybarley.com/southgate