Edmonton-based Kunitz Shoes is focusing on building its brand at two suburban locations and through e-commerce after the retailer shut down its downtown Jasper Avenue store during the pandemic.
The company had a downtown presence in Edmonton for 18 years and this particular store closed at the end of March this year.
“We had a lot of great years downtown but we did start to see a bit of softening in the market and people being pulled toward the Arena District and no further developments on Jasper Avenue,” said Morgan Kunitz, co-owner with brother Everett.
“We just weren’t seeing any other soft goods retailers on Jasper Avenue around us. So we weren’t having any kind of a draw to grow and we were softening a bit in fact. We started looking around but we were still on the fence. A profitable store is still a profitable store. The pandemic hit and we never really knew how much of our business is people that live downtown and how much of our business is people that work downtown. We have a lot of both.
“But when the pandemic happened we know exactly 20 per cent of our customers lived downtown. We went down by 80 per cent. There were no people working downtown but 20 per cent of our customers continued to support us which was amazing but unfortunately not sustainable for the rents we were paying, marquis rents for a store that was certainly not a marquis location anymore.”
She said the retailer asked customers where they wanted a store and overwhelmingly they said in the west end of Edmonton with parking. A new store was opened in March in that area.
Kunitz Shoes began in 1981 in the children’s footwear business in Heritage Mall by Morgan and Everett’s parents Dwane and Darlene. It was known as Kobbler King. About 10 years into the business they branched out to being a multi-brand family retailer. Today the retailer has two stores – Kunitz Shoes West (10046 167 St NW Edmonton) and Kunitz Shoes Southside (837 Saddleback Rd NW). The parents handed the business over to the children about seven years ago.
“The west end location since we’ve been operating it we have actually gotten back to our original Jasper Avenue numbers in only the first quarter there. So we have seen basically a full recovery back to where we were on Jasper and now we’re seeing growth and a third of the rent,” said Morgan.
“Our online store obviously is huge with online shopping being extremely important but both stores I would say our business has recovered because the one big store in our business, which was the Jasper Avenue store, had moved. We were able to recover quite quickly and now we are in a growth mode in our business and the money we’re saving in rent and trying to sustain a failing store we’ve reinvested into shoes. So we’ve launched our own brand and been able to start direct sourcing from factories all over the world. We reinvested back into ourselves in advertising.”
Kunitz said the online business grew 300 per cent when the physical stores were closed during the pandemic.
“We managed to do 40 per cent of our overall business, which is a lot of shoes, while we were closed . . . Being able to do 40 per cent of your total business online in the closure was amazing. To sell shoes like that was incredible,” she said.
“Now it is the size of a small store. It would be our smallest store but it still is significant. It would do the same as any mall shoe store. That’s the volume. As a portion of our business, it used to be about eight to 10 per cent and now it is operating at about 20 per cent of our business. Quite significant. We buy for it. I don’t just sell shoes out of my stores now. I have an inventory for my online store.”