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Vancouver's Duer is rare fashion retailer to expand during the pandemic

Comfortable chino-pant maker and seller opened new Calgary and Denver stores, and plans to move Vancouver store to Kits
Traffic is down at Duer owner Gary Lenett’s stores but his sales-per-customer conversion rate has risen substantially | Duer

Not all fashion retailers have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vancouver’s Duer lost a lot of potential traffic in its stores, and its Toronto store has been forced to close for months because of that province’s lock-down rules, but owner Gary Lenett brims with positive vibes.

He opened new stores in Calgary and in Denver during the pandemic, after signing leases just before COVID-19 overwhelmed the world.

He also plans this spring to move his five-year-old, 1,800-square-foot store at 118 West Hastings Street to a 2,100-square-foot location at 1755 West 4th Avenue, just east of Burrard Street.

“It’s a bit bigger space, and it's got a lot more visibility,” he said of the Kitsilano store. “We feel like we’re sort of coming out in Vancouver now. I mean, we want something with a little bit more visibility, with the parking easier. There’s better access.”

Duer’s main products are chino pants made with proprietary fabric blends that primarily include cotton, lyocell and polyester.

Essentially the pants are have a comfortable, sweatpant feel but are designed to look a bit more dressy.

Sales are in the tens of millions of dollars annually, thanks to three main revenue streams:
• retail stores;
• wholesale sales to approximately 700 independent retailers; and
• e-commerce transactions.

“Our traffic is down, but our shoppers are very intentional,” he said. “Our sales metrics are based on traffic times conversion. Our traffic is way down but our conversion is way up.”

Online sales in the fiscal year that ends March 31 has so far been up about 60%, compared with the previous year, Lenett told BIV.

Those sales now amount to about half of his total revenue, he said.

“Norway has been amazing for us for some reason,” he added. “In Norway, we're selling to other retailers. We don't have our own retail stores, nor do we sell through e-commerce there. We sell to other retailers in Norway.”

The 28-employee company that designs its products in Vancouver also subleases distribution space from Arc’Teryx in New Westminster.

No more Canadian stores are planned, but Lenett said his plan is to scout potential locations in various U.S. cities.

His business model is to have one store per city, instead of opening multiple stores across the same metropolises.

That’s a similar model to the one at Fluevog Shoes, which has grown to 24 stores, across North America and into Europe and Australia.

Fluevog, however, has two stores each in key markets where it has had strong sales: Vancouver, Toronto, San Francisco, Boston and New York.

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