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Canadian Brand Rudsak Shifting Retail Strategy Amid Pandemic: Founder interview

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Canadian fashion and outerwear brand Rudsak is shifting gears amid the pandemic by re-evaluating its operations while innovating to meet consumer demand. With that, the company is reducing its physical store count while shifting sales online with an eye to the future guided by analytics and technology. The company is moving further to a direct-to-consumer model with a heavy focus on outerwear with sustainability being an important component. 

Founder Evik Asatoorian told Retail Insider that his company is making significant changes to its operations based on learnings over the course of the pandemic. Online sales have already grown by 300% and by the fall, about 50% of the company’s sales will be online. That’s a significant jump from 2019 when the brand had 34 stores across Canada with sales primarily being in physical locations. 

That store count will eventually be reduced to between 15 and 20 stores across Canada, according to Asatoorian, who explained that many brands no longer need an expansive store count to meet consumer demand. Many of Rudsak’s leases have been coming due recently and the company is working with landlords on what makes the most sense for the brand’s physical footprint. Asatoorian said that markets such as Montreal and Toronto should ideally have three or four physical storefronts. 

Image: Rudsak at CF Toronto Eaton Centre

“Consumers will always need a retail space to discover and experience the product as well as to be served,” said Asatoorian. The company ultimately grew to have too many stores he said. “We opened stores in places that we shouldn’t have.” Moving forward, Rudsak’s concept stores will aim to be experiential with attractive interiors and exceptional customer service including in-store private styling appointments. “We’ve seen a change in how consumers purchase and what they look for, so we have optimized our e-commerce and in-store experience to cater to those needs”, he went on to say.

Rudsak is also expanding internationally after opening a store at the Hudson Yards in New York City in the spring of 2019. A pop-up strategy is being implemented which included a storefront in New York’s Soho area. An expansion into Asia is ongoing with China as a focus. 

Analytics are a key component to learning about the consumer in new markets according to Asatoorian. He explained how data from pop-up stores can be used to gage where new stores might open, including markets such as Chicago if demand is determined. 

Rudsak at CF Market Mall
Rudsak at CF Market Mall. Photo: Jessica Finch

Rudsak’s operations are also shifting primarily to a direct-to-consumer model according to Asatoorian, as consumers are drawn both to the brand’s stores and online channels. As a result, some wholesale accounts at multi-brand retailers have been dropped while strategic partnerships are maintained. The standalone Rudsak stores allow it to control merchandising, staffing and overall brand presentation which is strategic as Rudsak launches new product lines as part of a shift for the brand. 

That includes gender neutral coats and puffers that launched in the fall of 2020 under Rudsak’s Unified Capsule Collection. Neutral silhouettes “challenge fashion’s once-rigid gender norms” according to the company. For this spring, Rudsak said that it is unveiling “a fresh new palette of bold hues to usher in the warmer months. This vibrant collection embodies all the hallmarks consumers have come to expect from Rudsak including streamlined tailoring and technical construction infused with luxe fabrics.” Details, like four-way stretch and durable ripstop deliver the movement.

Outerwear will become the primary focus for Rudsak moving forward according to Asatoorian, with about 95% of the brand’s offerings dedicated to coats for the seasons. Currently 10-20% of Rudsak’s offerings include other fashion items such as accessories, footwear and clothing. 

A partnership with Uber is seeing Rudsak become the first outerwear brand to offer home delivery in less than an hour. Asatoorian said that Rudsak is continuing to look at how the consumer shops and what other innovations might drive loyalty. One in the works is virtual stylists who will be able to assist customers online. 

One innovation involves a partnership with Montreal-based Heyday which facilitated a chatbot function on Rudsak’s website which is able to answer about 60% of common customer queries without the need for a human answer. It allows Rudsak’s employees to focus on better serving the customer through online channels with a more curated service.

Rudsak’s shift-to-virtual also includes its staff, with about 75% currently working from home. Asatoorian said that the company is seeing success with employees working from home, including efficiencies. One example is product knowledge meetings which were time consuming and involved travel — the brand is now able to do them online which saves both time and money.  

Sustainability is also a focus for Rudsak according to Asatoorian, with 99% of garments having something recycled — that’s up from 80% of garments last year. Recycled leather is one innovation being introduced as part of Rudsak’s aim to be more eco-friendly. Recycled fabrics are also being used as well as its signature lightweight down. 

Evik Asatoorian designed a black leather jacket as “a symbol of non-conformity” in 1993 and a year later he founded the Rudsak brand. In the early 2000s he opened the brand’s first store in downtown Montreal. The brand’s aesthetic aimed to be urban, modern and with an edge which has carried it to this day. Rudsak describes its design ethos as being “cool rebellious spirit, traveling seamlessly between art, music and design”. Prices are generally in the hundreds of dollars for a man or woman’s coat with some styles surpassing $1,000.

Competition is fierce in the outerwear space in Canada as brands continue to fight to gain market share. Toronto-based Canada Goose has been opening stores globally as part of its brand building, as is Montreal-based Moose Knuckles which is also opening stores in major markets with a mix of permanent and pop-up spaces. Montreal-based Mackage and Quartz Co. are opening stores to attract consumers, while Toronto-based Nobis recently downsized to one Canadian storefront on Queen Street West after shutting a location in Yorkville. Other brands such as Wuxly Movement are also looking to gain market share while offering vegan-friendly options not using any animal products. One notable trend seen among many outerwear brands is a shift to direct-to-consumer models as brands see the benefit of selling to customers through non-wholesale channels. 

Rudsak Hudson Yards images courtesy KCG Architects

Article Author

Craig Patterson
Craig Patterson
Now located in Toronto, Craig is a retail analyst and consultant at the Retail Council of Canada. He's also the Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for the past 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees. He is also President & CEO of Vancouver-based Retail Insider Media Ltd.

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