If there’s a theme for the last decade in retail, it’s been the shift online.
And while that opens up a whole new door of opportunities, what does it mean for genuine customer connections?
The Loeffler Randall brand launched in 2005, which means that it pre-dates the current ecommerce boom. They’ve been going strong for about sixteen years now, and they’ve seen the playbook for fashion brands shift again and again. Internally, they’ve expanded from footwear into handbags, jewelry, bridal accessories, and more.
They’re an amazing example of the ways that brands can change and develop with the times. Yet through it all, they’ve stuck to the fundamental things that make their brand exciting and unique.
So how have they pulled it off? For founder and Creative Director Jessie Randall, it’s all about building from your initial passion and becoming your own best customer. That, and telling your brand story really, really well.
Here are the tips, tricks, and tactics she’s discovered along the way.
Start with passion
Building a brand is a marathon, not a sprint. When the going gets tough, founders need an investment beyond the bottom line. For Jessie, it all comes back to her initial passion - the spark that launched the business.
“The passion piece is just so critical because I really do love what I do. I'm obsessed with fashion. I am obsessed with shoes. I love the way shoes make me feel. And I love the way my shoes make other people feel confident, happy, excited.”
So I just think having your own company is really hard. My husband and I work around the clock. There's really never a break. I can't even tell you how many seasons I've designed. It's just so full on. And if it's something that you're not innately passionate about, I don't know that you can have the stamina to keep going through the tough times if it's not something that you just innately love so much.
So, okay, most of us are passionate about the things that we do. Jessie’s approach is especially worth looking at though, because it’s so multifaceted.
It’s fueled by her love of the product, which makes her the perfect audience for her own brand (more on this in a minute).
She’s driven by compassion for her customers, and her understanding of the ways that the product helps them to live in a better, more fulfilled way.
It also speaks to the nature of Loeffler Randall as a family business. The interpersonal connections start there and flow outward organically.
Key takeaway: there’s no substitute for genuine passion. Find the parts of your brand that speak to you emotionally and, chances are, they’ll speak to your customers as well.
Look inward to understand the customer
We talk all the time about finding, defining, and understanding our best customers, and it’s not an easy process. The beauty of Jessie’s approach is that it’s fundamentally reflective: she is her own best customer, and that builds a kind of consistency into the brand that can’t be faked.
That’s huge when we talk about the longevity of a brand. Loeffler Randall has grown and changed a lot since 2005, but the heart and soul of the brand remains unchanged because it’s based on Jessie's unique identity.
“I feel like the brand really starts with me. And more than looking towards my customers, I'm looking inward at myself, and also the people that work with me. We’re the customers of the brand - what do we want? What's our lifestyle? What are all the different things that we need our shoes or our jewelry or our clothes to do?”
“So it really does come from passion of what I want to have in my own wardrobe. So that's really been a nice kind of through line. I think the aesthetic has remained very consistent throughout the years. It's very, very tied in. And I think it's very important when you have a brand to remain true to yourself because you can get really swayed by what's selling or like what a retailer wants you to do. And, you know, you have to take, I think, those hard stands like what feels right.”
Technology is a means to an end
In the past, Jessie has summarized Loeffler Randall’s approach like this: “In a world that has become increasingly tech-focused, we believe in the power and emotion of human contact.”
That means seeing retail as a relationship-oriented process, beginning to end. It means using technology as a tool for connection rather than a replacement for connection.
It’s about taking a thoughtful approach to the channels that your brand uses and the ways that those channels allow for relationship-building. Often, that means leaning into the tools that facilitate one-to-one connection.
“Obviously, technology is our friend and my husband oversees that whole piece. But I am someone who loves to touch raw materials. I love to have people in our store interact with us.”
“You know, I love Instagram because it's enabled me to have a dialogue with people. So I think it was sort of my way of talking about authenticity and about coming from a genuine place versus utilizing technology to kind of connect me to people. I wanted to sort of have a more authentic and tactile relationship that makes sense.”
The retail experience reflects brand values
After sixteen years in business, Loeffler Randall launched their first retail location in the middle of a pandemic. By that point, they’d put in the work conceptualizing the exact store they wanted to represent their brand - and that was something significantly broader than just shoes.
For Jessie, the retail location needed to be the ultimate encapsulation of the Loeffler Randall brand. It also needed to reflect the retail experience that she (and therefore her audience) would want to have. That meant building something holistic, tactile, and inviting.
“I didn't really want to have a store that was just shoes. I wanted the store to be the way that I like to shop. I'd like to buy you know, I'd like to be able to buy a little bracelet for my friend. And I want to get some candlesticks for my home. And I want to be able to buy a beautiful dress, a pair of pants, and then get a pair of shoes.”
“So I wanted to make sure that we had the breadth of the assortment before we embarked on this, because I also feel like a shoe-only store, if it's not a sneaker store, I feel like it can feel a little intimidating. And I wanted it to be really inviting. Our brand is very warm, inviting, friendly, and so I wanted the store to just feel wonderful when people walked in. And I wanted there to be sort of like the whole world of Loeffler Randall in the store.”
Loeffler Randall is also a brand fundamentally invested in storytelling. Jessie worked with interior designer Poonam Khanna to design a retail space that immersed customers in the narrative from the moment they enter for a full 360-degree brand experience.
“We used to travel a lot for work, for inspiration. So we had just been to Marrakesh and I was super inspired by that kind of earthy textures and the tones. And then Poonam had this idea for this beautiful curtain that would reference the pleats that we use in one of our most popular groups. So it was just -- it was actually a dream to work on it.”
“And I love how we can tell the story of our brand. Like when you pleat fabric, you have to lay paper on it before it goes in the pleater machine. And so we repurpose that paper to wrap up our sweaters and ready-to-wear that we sell. So we're giving like a little piece of the process back to our customer and helping to tell the story. So there's a lot of little details like that that are so special.”
The retail space tells the customer what to expect from you overall. That means telling them a story in every detail, big and small.
Craft great experiences wherever your customers shop
It’s clear that Loeffler Randall has an amazing retail experience. Yet that poses a unique challenge when it comes to serving the width and breadth of their customer base. After all, when customer experience is a key part of a brand’s appeal, that can add pressure at every touchpoint.
This is especially important when your business straddles both ecommerce and brick-and-mortar selling.
It comes down to this: does your online funnel serve your customers to the same standard as your in-person experience? For Jessie, crafting a great web presence means mirroring the highly customizable, personalized experience of in-person shopping.
“You know, you're creating this really special, amazing experience for people in the store, but not all of our customers can come to the store. So I think we have to think about what are the things that we're doing in the store and how all of those things come to life on the website. So our customer needs to have an amazing experience on the website in the same way that our customer would have in the store.”
“So I think that that's just something that we always have to be thinking about. How do we keep those experiences distinct? And one example is we have a really big bridal business. So obviously we're doing virtual appointments, doing in-store appointments. But I really wanted people to be able to customize their shoes with their initials and the dates of their weddings.
And so we are in the process--or almost ready to launch it--we're in the process of making it possible for people to order online and to have that special customization to their product as well as in the store. So I think that's just a really important piece of it, is just to remember that our customers kind of come from everywhere.”
Key takeaway: regardless of where the customer shops, Loeffler Randall consistently comes back to real people and genuine one-on-one experiences.
Retail is a lab space
One of the beautiful things about retail is the ways that it allows founders to see what’s happening on the ground and interact with that information in real time. Responsive teams can use that feedback loop to stay flexible and understand customer demand more deeply.
When it comes to Loeffler Randall’s retail space, Jessie says:
“It's just a really wonderful laboratory for me. Like we can get a really small run of something produced and put it in the store and see how the customer responds to it, as opposed to doing like a really big production run. And you don't know whether it's going to connect. So I feel like for now, that's kind of how I've been learning as I go.”
The experimentation that Loeffler Randall is conducting in their retail location is all about understanding customers on an emotional level.
In other words: online selling has amazing advantages for building up data about purchasing habits and customer LTVs. Retail is perfect for getting the other half of the story.
Loeffler Randall connects deeply with their audience because they prioritize stories that can’t be quantified, and they build that into their company dynamic from top to bottom.
Hope is resilience
Let’s end where we started: with passion.
Fundamentally, believing in your brand makes all the difference in tough times. Jessie has stayed strong for sixteen years in business precisely because she had faith that she was building something meaningful - even when the pandemic threw out a whole new set of challenges.
“I think resilience means just not giving up, even if you want to, being really true to your gut and sticking with something if you believe in it. I think, yeah, for me, it's my capacity to just never, ever, ever give up. And I think part of it is just being hopeful that even when the times are really, really tough, I just I always, even when times have been better, just always believed in our brand. I always - it didn't matter. I just always believed.”
That’s something to hold onto as we come through to the end of a really tough year.
However retail has changed and however it continues to change, it will always be fundamentally about passion, connection, and serving our customers in the best ways that we can.