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“We Have All the Brands in the World to Make Our Collection”

3 December, 2015

Nino Álvarez shop in Rambla Catalunya / Nino Álvarez

Nino Álvarez has just opened his most emblematic premises in Barcelona. The 450-square-metre space is the former home of the historic grocer’s shop, Colmado Quílez.

Number 63 on Rambla de Catalunya had been  selling groceries in the heart of Eixample since 1940 when, as the 20-year moratorium provided for under the 1994 Urban Rentals Act came to an end, the space was taken over a few weeks ago by another firm also with a great deal of history, but in this case in the fashion sector: Nino Álvarez. Behind the name are three generations of the same family which has been fostering and “trusting in” the potential of the multibrand store as a fashion distribution business since 1970, firstly in menswear and later in clothes for women.

It’s the second Saturday that the new Nino Álvarez store has been open to customers in the centre of Barcelona. Inside, the owner, happy and proud of the new project he is undertaking, explains the details of the interior design to the clients and friends that have come to visit the space for the first time. Entering any of the five stores of the firm that Álvarez owns is a deliberate invitation to dream and let yourself get carried away by feelings – and it is very easy to do so in the new Rambla de Catalunya store, where a wooden structure covers, like an additional framework to the walls of the premises, the whole of the inside of the main space, stretching from floor to ceiling. It is a roof of wooden columns crossed by shelving that displays the products in-store. Nothing has been left to chance in the arrangement of the collections exhibited at Nino Álvarez. “Everything is designed to appeal to the customer’s emotions” as this is the only way “to
ensure the sale”.

At one with many

Talking with Nino Álvarez about his new store is a fabulous excuse to gauge his opinion on the 40-plus years he has devoted to marketing fashion labels in the medium/high-range segment through multibrand retailing. He quickly rebuffs any doubts about the future of this type of store. “It is going through the best time in its history! We have all the brands in the world we can buy and use to make our collection!”

His words are blunt and his reasoning is based on the four decades spent building his own brand from the collections he prepares with vast care. His choice is like that of a master sommelier with the best wines. “Our business is artistic. The purchase, exhibition and sale of the product are artistic endeavours. Our challenge when we open each day is to move our customers,” Nino Álvarez says from Italy, where he is visiting some of the reference stores he knows will set the trends for the upcoming seasons.

Regular trips to Paris, Milan, London and, increasingly, Japan, are all part of the day-to-day work of this fashion entrepreneur. He and his son Nacho head up Nino Álvarez these days. The son, his father says, has something that can’t be learnt – a ‘nose’ for knowing what will work with customers and what won’t. That means, in Nino Álvarez’s words, “knowing what will move” customers when they enter the store. “My son gets it,” he says.

“Human beings are motivated by feelings. A white shirt can be sold in many ways. We use emotions for everything, even in the way of arranging the most classic products. However, we always work on the basis of quality and we are honest about pricing. We only buy from the best specialists in each type of clothing,” he says by way of summarising his approach.

The firm’s strategy also translates into the store windows, which have been worthy winners of different awards for their creativity and singularity, and it has become the core philosophy of the new store on Rambla de Catalunya, where everything is designed to make customers feel comfortable, while at the same time allowing them to see and touch the products.

Renewing supply

Nino Álvarez’s business strategy is also posited on the brand’s long-proven ability to acquire pieces which will go on to set mass trends. “We must be quick and take control of the distribution of a label that stands out for its quality and which is still not very well known. When a label saturates the market, we no longer sell it. We currently have exclusive representation over 60% of the products we sell,” Álvarez says.

The firm has 90 menswear suppliers and 35 for women’s clothing. Over the course of the 44 years he has been leading his multibrand stores, Nino Álvarez has discovered and sold hundreds of labels. Many were fleeting and only a few have survived the passage of time and changing trends. They are the ones that have been kept on as references within the collection. “When we include a new label it is because I think it brings something new to the store that I don’t already have. We start off with small amounts to see how it goes and then include it fully if the results are good. The new firms we can find in a display room in the US or Japan allow us to renew the collection,” says this businessman, who is clear that when a label sells hundreds of pieces it has flooded the market and he is longer interested in stocking it.

Renowned style

“We are more than a multibrand store. We are Nino Álvarez. I offer my choice, my collection, based on many other labels. I make a personal selection that identifies us. Our store doesn’t feature logos and nor do we take advantage of a label to attract customers. We want people to come because they know that our choice is special. We buy the product and make our Nino Álvarez collection in-store. That is one of the keys to our success. We draw on the multibrand concept to make our own brand and display it in keeping with our own style,” he assures.

That’s why there are no franchise corners, display cases or brand visuals to market labels in his stores. Álvarez mixes labels up in order to find the combination that defines the style he proposes. By saying this, he is alluding to other, more common strategies among multibrand stores. “All clothing manufacturers dream of having their own brand. The mistake that multibrand store owners make is doing that work ourselves. That is something that has to change in the multibrand mentality. You won’t find logos in my store. We buy products to make our collection, because Nino Álvarez is a known good.” The selection and narration of this personal product choice is, at the end of the day, a response to a unique style that customers have been acknowledging for decades.

In economic terms, his commitment allowed him to open two stores during the years of the financial downturn, in two of the city’s most prestigious commercial areas, Carrer de Muntaner and Rambla de Catalunya. “We can’t open on Passeig de Gràcia because multibrand margins aren’t what own-label ones are,” he says in reference to Barcelona’s premium shopping district. “Our openings are only possible thanks to a great deal of effort. The outcomes have been positive. Our activity didn’t drop off during the crisis, in fact we grew by around 20% per season. But there is a great deal of supply and you have to do everything well to stay ahead,” he says.

That no doubt explains why his future strategy doesn’t involve opening new stores. The firm wants to take care of each of the five stores currently in place, “keeping a very close eye on them and knowing what the customer needs,” he says. Álvarez remembers working with his parents in the family’s first store in Sant Cugat del Vallès in 1959, where they sold perfumes in bulk and sheets, a different business but one with a similar essence: taking care of the customer.

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