Wedged into a high-profile space on Water Street in Gastown in downtown Vancouver, just a few footsteps away from the famous Steam Clock, is Herschel Supply’s largest store in the world and its designated North American flagship.
But it is much more than just about size. It has dozens of franchise-operated stores worldwide, however, this is the first company-owned and operated store.
Herschel co-founder and managing director Lyndon Cormack told Daily Hive in a recent interview that the company has devoted significant resources and attention to making this its model store – the ultimate destination and a showcase space for all-things behind the world of the Herschel brand and culture.
“When people get retail right, it can be a very amazing experience. I know others who are failing because they’re over-retailed,” said Cormack.
“I think that consumers care more about experience in general, and I think that if you can deliver through retail an amazing brand experience that doesn’t have a sole purpose to sell something but to also engage, learn, listen, and experience – whether it be art, architecture, music, and design – well, I hope the store can provide a backdrop for conversations and our identity as a brand.”
The store, opening this weekend at 347 Water Street, spans 5,000 sq. ft. and was designed by Omer Arbel – a Vancouver-based designer who is also the creative director of Bocci.
The interior boasts a bright contemporary flair that contrasts with the heritage nature of the old brick building it is located within, and large video screens connect store guests with the “parallel realities” in locations elsewhere on the planet.
Wood materials are extensively used for the floors, walls, and product shelving.
An “infinity room” with wall-to-wall mirrors provides limitless reflections while showcasing products.
Canadian artists were commissioned to create large humanoid sculptures for the space, including pieces made of clay, concrete, and wicker baskets.
Halfway into the store’s depth is the cashier area, which features a sculptured aluminium counter and lighting overhang that are inspired by the intricate complexities of coral reefs.
Instead of using the rear of the store as closed-off storage space like traditional store space concepts, the back wall is retained as a patio-like open retail space.
In fact, the entire back wall was reconstructed with floor-to-ceiling sliding windows that open up to provide fresh air and views of the cruise ships, helicopter and float plane activity, and the North Shore mountains.
“I think consumers appreciate our design-driven attitude and the consideration we put in every single of our product,” said Cormack. “I think this space is a testament to how much we care about detail.”
The entire store is packed with product. Walls are lined with bags and luggage, and there is even a 20-ft-long selection of wallets.
“We obviously want to make sure that we have the best selection of Herschel products in the world in this store,” he continued. “There’s not a place on Earth other than our website where you can see this much product in one space. It’s a collection of all our best sellers and new items.”
Cormack says the first company-owned and operated store will allow it to learn more about its consumers so that it can become a better brand and retailer. It would also act as a template for future stores in new markets globally.
Cormack, who founded Herschel with his brother Jamie nine years ago, also own and operate two retail stores – A’hoy and Little A’hoy – in North Vancouver’s Deep Cove village as their side projects, separate from their Herschel operations. These stores sell not only the Herschel collection but also the collections of their favourite global brands.
As for looking towards the future, the company has big plans on a few different fronts.
It is interested in opening company-owned and operated stores in New York and Europe, possibly London. It could potentially open in Toronto and Montreal as well given that both markets are some of Herschel’s largest in the world.
“Vancouver was key to important first. It’s our hometown and we’d just feel bad if we went somewhere else first,” said Cormack.
Herschel already has a strong presence in the Asian market, which is where most of its 45 franchise-operated stores are located. Other stores are located in Europe, Mexico, and South America.
Its global distribution is already strong, with Herschel products found in about 10,000 third-party retail locations in over 70 countries.
To support its growth, the company’s corporate workforce will triple in size over the next five years.
Herschel’s head office, located in Vancouver’s Railtown district, currently employs just under 200 people. It also has satellite offices in Shanghai, New York City, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, and Brussels.
And another expansion front is its product lines. Herschel sold over seven millions bags in 2016 – up from just under 10,000 bags in 2011.
While Herschel is best known for its wide assortment of bags and wallets, there are plans to take a deeper dive into travel baggage and apparel.
Furthermore, there will be special lines next year to celebrate the company’s 10th anniversary in 2019.
“There’s definitely going to be some awesome things for the 10th anniversary,” he added. “We have a bunch of collaborations lined up that are sort of behind the scenes and can’t be talked about… there’s a whole bunch of amazing projects.”
Previous partners for unique, limited-time collections have previously included Disney, Coca-Cola, Madwell, Major League Baseball, Hudson’s Bay Company, Canadian Olympic Committee, Hoffman, and Coachella.
“We always have a reason to call our friends in the industry and other brands we really love, and we can always have a dialogue with them. But it’s so much easier when there’s a reason… our 10th year anniversary has a lot of people pumped.”
Herschel’s Vancouver store in Gastown opens at 10 am on Saturday, June 16.
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