VILLA Movement Is More Than Selling Sneakers

Last week, VILLA opened the doors of their first flagship store in Minnesota’s Mall of America. A slightly surprising move as their bread and butter has been stand alone shops in smaller markets, this opening comes as opportunistic in their plan for Westward expansion but still idealistic in their company values.

As far as their come up, VILLA’s rise has been about as underground as it gets. Focusing on neighborhoods most retailers wouldn’t/don’t reside in, their community based build has set them apart from contemporaries, somehow playing the middle ground between big box and boutique. By setting up shop where shops don’t exist, they get a chance to establish themselves in the community while building brand loyalty. These concepts of community and loyalty appear to pave a two-way street, as VILLA claims to both hire from within as well as offer design opportunities and shelf space for upcoming clothing companies.

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Touted as ‘taste with scale,’ VILLA’s flagship shops are meant to represent the apex of both company cornerstones. The Mall of America location sees a luxury aesthetic crafted by Skylab, a Portland-based architecture force well known for their work with Nike. Visual highlights include the golden “V” entrance, leather vault space and intricate wooden detailing. The regal aesthetic is complimented by warm greetings from staff members upon entrance to a circular, segmented floor plan that places well-thought emphasis on specific customer groups. The left side is devoted to men’s footwear and apparel, mixing sportswear and streetwear from the likes of Nike, adidas, Jordan, Stussy and Levi’s. Conversely, the right side is reserved for women and children. Dubbed the “No Boys Allowed” section, the ladies department hears the demands of female sneakerheads, ignoring conventional pink and purples, hosting aggressive workout gear and not filling in the blanks with GS makeups. Just the same, the “Rookies” section is rooted in youth celebration, offering many of the same SKUs seen in the adult sections for both sneakers and gear. On top of that, all the displays in the Rookies section feature original photography and local models from VILLA’s home base of Philly.

While an upgraded aesthetic and stronger segmenting on the retail floor are a focus of the flagship store and those to follow, the real advancement is the VILLA Launch Pad system. By signing up either in store or online, the customer has a chance to receive notifications on when new product or restocked pairs are up for reservation. The reservation system allows the consumer to put in a hold request for their desired pair of shoes in a range of up to three sizes at one desired store with the option to check others. If reserved in time, the customer will be alerted as to the store and size they scored, with a two hour window to pick up and purchase the shoe in store on the launch date. Once paid for in person at a flagship store, the customer then scans a QR code on their phone correlating to the reservation, causing the vault to open on its own and present their pair.

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The Launch Pad is currently live in the Mall of America flagship store and will next take to the second flagship store set for Philly’s King of Prussia Mall. VILLA hopes to have the Launch Pad system in place in all stores in time for the holidays. Technological advancements aside, the Launch Pad system was apparently a reaction to a non-sneaker related violence situation that occurred during a past lineup release. The Launch Pad is meant to make securing release date product both safer and smoother. As VILLA’s VP of Marketing Patrick Walsh put it, purchasing a premium product should also include a premium buying process.

VILLA’s commitment to community is further exemplified by other situations that find the shoe store turning negative situations into positive initiatives. Around the time of the Eric Garner tragedy, the company considered selling “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts to raise social awareness in their communities. Instead, they decided to address the same issue through a more positive position by creating the “I Matter” campaign as a way to support esteem and dreams among local youth. The efforts were well received and proved to be not just talking the talk but also walking the walk. Moving as part of VILLA’s in-house line of t-shirts, 20% of sales from the collection go towards their scholarship fund. This fall, $50,000 will be handed out.

As seen by various initiatives, the community campaigns are what really drive the VILLA movement. While their vault will be re-stocked with Jordan retros throughout the year, it’s the pennies their throwing in each neighborhood’s wishing well that shine the brightest.

Look for the VILLA Launch Pad to impact at additional VILLA stores later this Fall. In addition, look for VILLA partner Wale’s Every Blue Moon clothing line and upcoming collabs to launch in the near future.