Sneaker Concept GRAIL Launches 1st Location in Canada

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For people who have a passion for sneakers, the holy grail of stores has arrived.

The GRAIL to be exact – a new 3,100-square-foot sneaker concept flagship store that has just opened in Vancouver on Granville Street.

“There are a lot of brands and stores out there that develop shoes for what they call a sneakerhead customer,” said Simon Nankervis, chief commercial officer for shoe company DSW and the president of GRAIL. “We don’t think of ourselves like that. We think of ourselves as sneaker enthusiasts. Because we’re more around the fashion of sneakers and the fashion of shoes, we thought it would be really cool to be able to come up with an opportunity to bring a fashion sneaker concept into one.

Image: GRAIL

“The reality is that sneakers have now become a mainstay in almost everyone’s wardrobe. People are generally getting more educated around sneakers all the time . . . I think you’re seeing this true immersion of fashion and athleisure coming together . . . It really is around someone who’s passionate about sneakers. And what we’re really trying to do is to appeal to someone who’s passionate about sneakers but is also passionate about fashion.”

GRAIL offers vanguard global brands for sneaker fans and serious collectors alike, and a vast, anything-but-basic offering from established brands. There are about 350 different options of shoes.

Brands carried include Nike, Adidas, Puma, Vans and New Balance, with a selection of niche global brands—such as Karhu, Colmar and Leather Crown — some of which can only be found in North America at GRAIL.

Image: GRAIL

With financial backing from DSW Inc., GRAIL anticipates continued growth in two of the world’s most exciting retail segments: streetwear and fashion.

“What is it about this obsession that we have with sneakers? What drives it? Everyone sort of had a holy grail. This is the shoe that either got you obsessed with sneakers or it was the shoe that you wanted to have in your collection or something that you just saw on someone that you wanted,” said Nankervis.

“We realized that everyone sort of had this one shoe that really is the pinnacle of what they’re wanting to collect. So we came up with the idea that it’s really about what is your grail? What does that mean to you? And I think it means different things to different people.”

According to the company, GRAIL’s vestibule features a state-of-the-art ultra hi-res LED ceiling and surround sound — a theatre-like experience that welcomes guests and sets the tone for an evolved retail experience. The space pairs minimalist and textured design elements with slick technology. Slatted cement board walls, perforated steel panels, exposed conduits and caged LED tube lights mix with liquid crystal wall projections that switch from clear to opaque on a whim, a storefront digital countdown clock (for the next drop), and the latest in laser projection technology for window displays.

“It’s really your grail. It’s something that means a lot to you personally and why you would want it,” said Nankervis.

“For us it’s looking for those sneakers that is your grail. What does it really mean to you? If something is your grail, it’s something that really enables you to talk about it, live it. It’s a true expression that people have.”

When asked about expansion plans for the concept, Nankervis said the brand has to continue to build authenticity.

“We really wanted to bring together all of the current digital elements that are available that really enhance the shopping experience so that when a customer walks into the space they’re really feeling immersed in whatever it is that we’re talking about or engaged in selling that week or the brand that we’re featuring  . . . So we’ve created this environment where you walk in and you get this full 360-degree sensory immersion into whatever the brand is that we’re talking about at that point in time,” said Nankervis.

“As we think about how does it expand across Canada, it really is do we believe that there’s an opportunity for more? Yes we do. Do we know how many more? Not at this point in time. It really is around the way that the customer actually responds and then the way we’re able to continue to develop the relationship with the brands that we’re working with.”

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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