The Webster plans to open its first store outside the US – and eighth overall – in Toronto next summer, signalling that customer service-oriented, multi-brand boutiques can escape the downturn facing other parts of the wholesale and bricks-and-mortar sector.
Founded by Laure Hériard Dubreuil in 2009, The Webster has emerged as a winner in the pandemic despite that challenges that many of its competitors are seeing in multi-brand luxury retail. In May, Neiman Marcus filed for bankruptcy; two months later, Totokaelo and sister store Need Supply shut down. The overall luxury market is expected to contract by 23 percent this year, according to Bain & Company, with bricks-and-mortar wholesale down 40 percent globally and the US luxury market in total declining by 27 percent.
But The Webster, which is privately owned and declined to share revenue figures, is expected to see sales grow between 10 percent and 20 percent year-over-year in 2020. And September marked the most successful sales month in the history of the company, despite the lack of tourists and downturn in spending this year.
Hériard Dubreuil attributes that success to the company’s close relationships with luxury shoppers, who are catered to by The Webster’s private client team. Even before the pandemic, many shoppers, particularly women, came into the store for private appointments, prepped beforehand in consultation with The Webster’s team and the clients’ personal stylists. The boutique can also pre-order runway looks and couture for clients, among other services, and offer pieces on consignment so private client shoppers can try them on at home.
“Since the beginning, for us, The Webster has been about fostering a personalised curated experience, with amazing service, one on one,” said Hériard Dubreuil.
That service-oriented business has grown in the pandemic, she said. Meanwhile, the men’s customer is driven more by highly anticipated collection drops, and they come to The Webster to get special pieces like Fear of God’s sell-out collaboration with Zegna, or Dior’s collaboration with Stüssy.
The Webster’s stores in Miami, Houston, Los Angeles and southern California, New York and now Toronto also serve as a way to bring new shoppers to the business, particularly tourists browsing the shops during their visits.
Limited-release events, like when Rihanna staged her first physical retail event for LVMH line Fenty at The Webster’s New York location in 2019 — the entertainer is a customer, according to a market source — also serve to draw in new shoppers, as does its e-commerce business. But the store is not aiming to compete with online luxury players like Farfetch and Matches Fashion for sales.
“[We are] definitely not in the chase of recruiting clients, recruiting clients, recruiting clients, and all the massive investments that have to do with that,” she said. “I’m more into developing relationships, building relationships, building trust, building a curated assortment, building wardrobes.”
Editor’s Note: This article was updated on 11 December 2020. A previous version said The Webster has a store in Aspen, Colorado. It does not.