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RYU Apparel Pushes Forward After Restructuring: CEO Interview

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After a year of restructuring, Vancouver-based RYU (Respect Your Universe) Apparel believes it has set the foundation for success as the retailer focuses on growing its omni-channel strategy while operating some key flagship stores in Vancouver and Toronto.

The past few months has seen a flurry of news releases issued by the company as it has embarked on stabilizing the retail operations with an optimistic outlook for the future.

Cesare Fazari, CEO and Chairman of RYU, said “there’s been a big restructure and turnaround and I recently brought on Rob Blair as COO.”

Cesare Fazari

“Mr. Blair is a transformative thinker with a sharp eye for trend and a long history of executing high-growth strategies. It is an incredibly exciting announcement for RYU to welcome him to the team. Heading further into 2021, his experience will complement and empower the RYU team as we move to deliver on our strategic plans, which includes Canada Skateboard, Zoom Media, European distribution, product placement in BEI’s new series, “The Count” and RYU.com‘s new ecommerce store,” said Fazari of the retail executive with about 20 years experience in the industry.

Fazari said Blair brings nearly two decades of experience building high-growth iconic apparel and sportswear brands and is an industry expert in design, merchandising and corporate brand strategy, having worked with iconic athletic apparel brands Red Bull, Lululemon, Gap Body and Nike.

In February of 2020, athletic brand RYU announced store closures and the fact it was going to restructure. In a letter to shareholders, Marcello Leone, the company’s CEO, President, and Chairman of the Board at the time, described 2019 as the retailer’s most challenging year since inception.

Just over a year ago, the company had a total of 11 stores — there are now just three left in Toronto, Vancouver, and Williamsburg, NY.

“I don’t like talking about the past,” said Fazari. “Where we are now, I’m very positive and confident we will be able to take this company to the next level. It has the DNA of a billion-dollar brand.

“On the retail rollout over and above the three stores, I would say over time here there’s been a big transition in retail because of COVID. The stores will be more of call it education, the touch and feel, more as showrooms and more than anything as a support for our digital strategy which is our focus.

“The retail strategy going forward over and above next year it will probably be more of a partnership with gyms and secondary locations where we’ll be able to do kiosks or a fixture which will have technology that we’ll be able to personalize the experience. I would say that the technology that we’re working with and going forward for that specific reason is like call it a personal stylist.”

In early March, the company announced it would be reopening its flagship stores in Vancouver and Toronto on April 16, saying it is a key step in the retailer’s omni-channel strategy and corporate re-set.

It said its e-commerce reach is expanding outside of North America into Europe and the UK. Part of its strategy is partnering with Canada’s skateboard Olympic team as well as global brands such as 7-Eleven, Red Bull, and Swatch.

“We are delighted to open our incredible lineup of products to customers in Europe and the UK through our e-commerce  store,” said Fazari. “Europe is a growing market for sports apparel and our expansion into the market is another key strategic milestone achieved in our global omni-channel strategy.”

Exterior of Vancouver RYU store on 4th Street. Photo: RYU

In February, RYU announced a partnership to ship its products to the Montreal-based high quality retailer, Altitude-Sports.

Fazari said the partnership is a fundamental step in setting the tone of the new company’s wholesale strategy with RYU’s sports apparel to be distributed on a national level by the retailer, in its stores and on its online-store.

“Service is going to be a big, big part of what we’re doing going forward where we’re really going to be there for our customers and clients and service and respect for their apparel dollars. It’s going to be what’s key,” said Fazari.

“We’re the best brand you’ve never heard of. There’s going to be some big, big exposure of our brand and our company going forward. I would say within seven years we’ll be a billion in sales. I know it sounds big but I understand what a billion is. Everyone now on board has been in billion-dollar companies and understands really what it means, the work that it takes, the dedication and the talent.

“I’m really, really happy with where we are now and where we’re going.”

Article Author

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 National Business Journalist with Retail Insider in addition to working on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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