DSW may have 514 locations nationwide, but there’s only one (for now) that has a W Nail Bar inside. The Columbus-based shoe giant teamed up with the small, Columbus-based nail spa for an in-store experience that’s indicative of the shifting tides in retail.
DSW’s Polaris location, 1200 Polaris Pkwy, doesn’t look like every other storefront in the brand’s portfolio. It’s their “Lab Store.” Waist-high browsing is traded for sky high shoes, adding more inventory. Cross-merchandizing introduces accessories where it make sense – hose next to heels, footies next to flats. Industrial touches on fixtures invoke the ‘warehouse’ that’s a part of the brand’s name.
It’s all part of a re-imagination DSW put in motion about a year and a half ago.
“I think it’s probably no secret that retail in general, everybody is trying to figure out how to reinvent their brick and mortar,” says Erin Kelly, Senior Director of Innovation at DSW.
When traffic is trending down in the age of e-commerce and Amazon, “What are you going to give your customers as a reason to come into the store and shop?” Kelly asks.
DSW landed on a two-fold strategy: part visual, part experiential.
As DSW started speaking with customers and exploring in-store concepts that were a natural extension to footwear, there were the not so sexy options like shoe repair and insoles (which are still an important part of the Polaris location’s offerings). Then there were the sexier things that aligned with DSW’s mission to inspire self expression, like manicures and pedicures.
In the business of shoes, DSW knew it needed a partner for the nails. At the start of the search they didn’t know it would be someone local. Kelly hit the road, checking out nail salons across the country. And after many visits and many manicures, her husband gave her a giftcard to the W Nail Bar for her birthday. Kelly hadn’t even heard of the Short North salon.
All it took was one experience. Nails dried and Kelly was on the phone with her boss saying she had found “the one.”
“From the start there was just a great alignment between the two companies and a great chemistry,” Kelly says. “It felt right. We loved what they stood for.”
Owned by sisters Manda Mason and Lauren Hunter, multiple locations had always been a part of the business vision for W Nail Bar. They hadn’t set an exact course for expansion, but were ready to put in the hard work to one day make it happen. The sisters had been approached many times about additional locations, but felt they had finally found the right match in the shoe retailer.
The sisters were drawn to DSW’s lack of ego, with humility being one of the brand’s values, and an important virtue for W Nail Bar as well.
“You are the sum of all the people that create your company, and they are so much like that at DSW,” Mason says.
Hunter says as small business owners, she and Mason find it very empowering that they are able to provide 50 plus women from a variety of backgrounds with a safe, happy work environment. It’s an environment they will look to replicate as the partnership expands.
“We’re hoping that this is the first of many,” Kelly says.
Although the in-store nail bar just opened on Saturday, December 8, early indications point towards more mash-ups by early 2018. DSW wants to not only test the concept at Polaris, but find out how the nail bar performs outside of the other unique factors of the lab store.
For customers who have been to the W Nail Bar, the experience at the 2,000 square-foot DSW location will feel familiar.
“We have systems for everything, and consistency is super important, so you could go to Short North and get the same exact experience that you get here,” Hunter says.
Built around customer service and cleanliness, W Nail Bar differentiates itself from other salons in a multitude of ways. Customers are educated on products, an overwhelming majority of which are made in-house, during their service. The salon is also transparent with its cleaning practices.
“Instead of trying to hide it, we want people to know our sanitation practices,” Mason says.
Its copper pedicure bowls are a cornerstone of W Nail Bar’s cleanliness. Traditional jetted tubs can harbor debris, while the chic copper bowls are naturally antiseptic and anti-inflammatory.
OPI and vegan Zoya nail polishes are used for regular and gel manicures as well as pedicures. No acrylics here. The in-store W Nail Bar experience also includes a quick-fix bar where shoppers can stop for a 20 minute quick polish or chip fix-up.
“It made sense for something like this because you’re shopping and may just want to be in and out,” Mason says.
Hunter says that other shoppers and finding convenience in the fact they don’t have to go to another place to get their nails done – like the handful of women she spoke to on opening day looking for party-ready shoes that decided to stick around for a manicure.
Traffic has been split thus far – about 50 percent walk-ins and 50 percent loyal W Nail Bar Customers. DSW recognizes the salon’s existing client base as one of the win-wins in the partnership.
Director of Corporate Communication, Margaret Standing explains. While DSW is helping W Nail Bar grow their business, the salon’s regular customers will mean repeat traffic for the shoe warehouse as well.
Customers have tossed around the word ‘genius’ in regards to the partnership which has been met with overwhelming support.
“People are pumped,” Hunter says. “We are offering something in this area that doesn’t exist.”
It’s answering a call customers made for a W Nail Bar in the area – with parking to boot.
All photos by Susan Post unless noted.