Eco-friendly journey of heart and sole for Singapore distributor of Melissa shoes

One look at a Brazilian brand of plastic shoes inspired Terence Yow of Enviably Me to retool his entire business strategy.

SINGAPORE firm Enviably Me, originally a multi-brand retailer selling eco-friendly designer products, revamped its core product offerings when its founder, Terence Yow, learnt of a Brazilian brand of plastic shoes, Melissa, in 2011.

Infused with a signature bubblegum scent, and presented in rich jewel tones, Melissa shoes are made using the patented Melflex plastic, a hypoallergenic and flexible PVC material that is 100 per cent recyclable.

Six years on, the scene at the official launch of Melissa's MDREAMS flagship store last Friday at B1-28 Raffles City was a veritable feast for the senses - neatly aligning with its founder's vision for brand differentiation and distinction.

"We curate an all-sensorial physical experience for our customers; MDREAMS is not so much about simply creating a new store, as much as it is about providing a dedicated consumer-oriented retail environment," said Terence Yow, managing director and founder of Enviably Me.

The company is the official distributor of Brazilian shoe brand Melissa in Singapore and Malaysia, and Australian lifestyle brand EMU Australia in Singapore.

Conceptualised by Singapore-based interior architecture firm, LAANK, the new 1,700 square foot MDREAMS store is inspired by themes of dance and movement, paying tribute to Melissa's values of dynamism, female empowerment, and its celebration of individualism.

Having taken on the closed-loop eco-friendly footwear brand from 2011, Mr Yow said Melissa had undergone "double, triple growth year-on-year" in its first few years, with recent years experiencing "very strong double-digit growth". Despite the retail slump, the brand still managed to grow by 20 per cent in revenue in 2016.

The launch of Melissa MDREAMS' largest flagship store in Singapore is part of the brand's longer-term strategy towards establishing greater store-customer relationships and enhancing its brand presence. According to Cushman & Wakefield estimates, close to 30 new retail entrants set up shop in 2016, amid a highly challenging retail environment.

A wave of retail brands that were still optimistic about expansion seized the opportunity to upgrade to larger prime retail spaces vacated by previous tenants in the lower-rent environment. Over 10 flagship stores have sprung up in various prime locations - a sign that physical stores have not entirely lost their sheen.

In such a saturated local market, innovation and engaging consumer-oriented retail experiences are imperative to a firm's long-term competitiveness.

Previously, the brand held a special function for its VIP customers, inviting top local illustrators such as MessyMsxi to paint customised acrylic designs on the recyclable, patented Melflex plastic shoes for their valued guests.

"While that one-day event neither drove sales (as the shop was closed to other customers), nor made ostensible financial sense, it helped create brand loyalty, and enhance brand interest, allowing us to hold our head above waters. We place a greater focus on the brand, as opposed to driving sales. With a better brand, sales will naturally follow," said Mr Yow.

Locally, retail sales of apparel and footwear have increased by 6.1 per cent in April 2017, compared to last year, according to SingStat. Despite this considerable uplift, challenges like rising rental and labour costs persist for the market industry.

Fortunately, given the more people-focused culture of their company, the organisation saw higher loyalty and had better staff retention rates than the average firm, allowing them to benefit from less manpower-related challenges, noted Mr Yow.

As to alleviating the rising costs of business and rentals, Enviably Me practises a clearly demarcated omni-channel strategy, eliminating over-reliance on any one medium. This diversification in the portfolio allows for hedging against risks, ensuring that a company will not go bust regardless of prevalent cost trends.

A good omni-channel strategy is also paramount to the company in the wake of the market disruption by e-commerce. When Zalora first started five years ago, Enviably Me was one of the first few players to stock with the e-retailer. Besides cultivating strong relationships with major department stores and e-retailer players, Enviably Me also established its own Melissa e-commerce site in 2012.

"There appears to be a huge resistance against e-commerce among physical retailers. Many people seem to think that the two channels are in conflict with each other; however, I believe that they are complementary rather than competing channels," said Mr Yow.

Today, the company's website is its fastest growing channel - up till 2016, it was experiencing a doubling of revenue growth, year-on-year. Online, the company sells between 600 and 1,000 pairs of Melissa shoes a month. Offline, it sells triple that amount.

However, one potential challenge remains on the horizon. "Orchard Road has lost its lustre as a shopper's paradise. Premium brands still rely on customers in Orchard Road for their survival, and I hope that the right people will be able to re-invent and restore the shopping boulevard to its former glory," he said.

Recently, the company also started distributing shoes from EMU Australia, a sustainability-conscious Australian footwear brand, launching them in leading local department stores in February this year.

Looking forward, the company has plans to expand distribution of Melissa regionally, having made inroads into Malaysia since 2013.