During the pandemic, fashion retailer Oak + Fort opened a number of new store locations with continued plans for expansion this year and beyond.
Melorin Pouladian, Vice President of Operations for the brand, said “we expanded significantly even in 2021.”
“We opened eight new stores in 2021 and some of them were a pop-up concept to really test the waters. Some of them were permanent,” she said.
“For 2022, we’re planning on opening approximately six on the Canadian side.”
Currently, the retailer has 27 stores – 20 in Canada and seven in the US. The brand opened its first store in 2010 in Vancouver.
“We’re thoughtful design for a modern lifestyle. So really what that entails is that we have curated pieces that will serve you throughout the years in whatever seasonality or whatever you’re doing in your life. We are fueled by the purpose to enhance and explore our own personal styles. So we really want to ensure that we are embracing individuality and uniqueness and celebrate that. So anyone can wear our clothes at any given time,” said Pouladian.
The target customer demographic goes through a range of ages.
The company will be expanding into its flagship store in Gastown in 5,000 square feet in late April or early May from its current location of about 2,000 square feet in the same neighbourhood.
“We’re really building within a modern, new building. It’s an historic building that is just being fully renovated by a great landlord,” she said. “Much bigger square footage and we’re actually trying to do a different experiential for customers.
“We’re going to create a shop-in-shop store in the front where you come in we’re going to be embracing other brands, a lot of community based brands as well. We’re going to have a lot of our unique product.”
The company’s first store opened in the Gastown neighbourhood.
Pouladian said Canadian store openings this year will include Toronto Premium Outlets, CF Rideau Centre in Ottawa, CF Pacific Centre in Vancouver, CF Masonville Place in London, Square One in Mississauga, and Coquitlam Centre. The retailer is in CF Polo Park in Winnipeg as a pop-up and it will continue building a permanent store for 2023.
She said in the US the brand is estimating five additional stores this year.
“We are well known on the Canadian side and we’re pretty much almost in the places we want to be so we’re going to be heavily focusing on 2023 in the expansion in the US. We already see such great growth numbers that will continue the success there. So right now our biggest focus is going to be looking at some great locations in a lot of the top US malls and we’re planning on going towards Florida, Tennessee as well as the Texas markets,” said Pouladian.
“The pandemic was such a difficult time for us all. But we just did so well. We believe in our product. Our customers believe in us as well too that whenever we go into any new markets they’re finally saying ‘thank God you’re here’ or ‘we’ve been waiting for so long’. For us right now we have brand awareness to spark this growth. We want to continue giving our product to so many people.
“We want to make sure that everyone is able to go into an Oak + Fort or an Oak Refined store, try out product and then that pushes them to go online as well too. So it’s really the growth factor we see once we open stores. It will continue our success rate online as well.”
Michelle Wong, Senior Manager, Marketing and Communications, for the brand, said opening more stores in 2022 and 2023 is really about bringing that offline experience to the customer.
“We grew a lot during the pandemic with both online and offline in different ways. We know we gained a customer that didn’t know us previously that are in locations we don’t have stores and we want to be able to bring our experience to them, knowing that we cater to that market and provide that for them,” said Wong.
“It’s really just a touchpoint for us to communicate with customers both offline and online and really bridge that gap to create a full omni-channel experience.”