Elyse Walker

Elyse Walker

Founder and CEO | elysewalker and towne by elysewalker

Industry
Retail

Location
Napa, Calif.


Elyse Walker: LA’s Beloved Fashion Retailer Shares Her Business-Saving Strategies

Los Angeles–based Elyse Walker grew up in Scarsdale, New York, working on the sales floor of her mother’s shoe store whenever she wasn’t playing soccer and attending high school. She initially fell in love with mathematics and envisioned a career on Wall Street, but while attending Columbia University, Walker shifted gears after her mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and passed away shortly after. Consequently, she inherited the family shoe business, and she was led down a different career path. In 1996, Walker’s husband’s job moved the family to L.A., and they settled in Pacific Palisades, where their two young sons were enrolled in the local school. After living in the community for a bit, Walker wondered why there were no great retail fashion stores. In 1999, she filled that void, opening her eponymous boutique just a block from her kids’ school. In its 20 years in business, the store has quadrupled in size and is now more than 7,000 square feet, filled with curated finds from designers as diverse as Saint Laurent, Isabel Marant, RtA, Golden Goose, and Madeworn. In 2016, Walker opened a second elysewalker location in Lido Marina Village, Newport Beach. The 12,000-square-foot flagship includes a fine jewelry vault and “shop in shops” for advanced contemporary, denim, designer, shoes, and handbags. In 2018, Walker launched towne by elysewalker for men and women. With three California locations (Palisades Village, Newport Beach, and the Glen Centre) towne by elysewalker captures casual, California cool. Effortless style dressing with a focus on luxury basics. Over the years, the team has excelled in styling, service and their assortment, amassing a loyal client base across the U.S and abroad.

What are your biggest business concerns surrounding COVID-19? 

First and foremost, ensuring the safety of our elysewalker team and our clients. As far as the impact on our business, we’ve worked closely with our vendors to do what we can to reduce inventory levels in preparation for a decrease in business. I’ve been working daily with our buying team—collectively we work with over 200 brands. We’ve had a lot of open dialogue with our vendors to find ways to work to support each other. No one is getting out unscathed, so it’s about minimizing damage on both sides.

Elyse Walker has been a fashion retail leader for more than 20 years.

For the bigger picture, as we look at the balance of 2020 and beyond, we are forecasting a drop in sales of -30% comp. I believe we will do better than most due to our close relationships and longtime friendships with our customers. We’re working to gauge the ramp up to 2021. It is always challenging to plan the buys six months out, now more than ever. While we do believe we will begin a rebound in 2021, who really knows how long it will take to get back to full speed.

My President and CFO have waived their compensation until re-opening, and I have also personally decided to not take any distributions for the rest of the year, as we’re in this to support the staff and this business.

What is your current business strategy for dealing with the situation? 

Our current strategy is really more a part of our company’s moral fiber. We will continue to communicate with our clients that ultimately, we are more concerned with safety than with sales. We will continue to keep them engaged. Our methods of engagement have shifted, as has the content. It’s been nice to give them a glimpse behind the curtain in terms of how we are caring for our employees and how many of their beloved stylists are spending time at home. That has been a gift in terms of making the brand identity more authentic and approachable. That authenticity will be more important than ever. The bottom line is, we are always thinking of our clients, that hasn’t changed.

Elyse Walker’s fashion retail stores are an emporium of chic finds.

How do you think things will look in your industry a year from now? 

Unfortunately, a lot of great retailers and fabulous designers are simply not going to make it out of this. Not because they are not talented, but because financially it is difficult to maintain a business without cash flow. Thankfully, with 20 years in the business, we’ve established a great rapport with our lenders and with Hildun, and, most importantly, have always maintained great credit and prompt payments to our vendors. That goes a long way and is imperative to building trust. My President and CFO have waived their compensation until re-opening, and I have also personally decided to not take any distributions for the rest of the year, as we’re in this to support the staff and this business.

The elysewalker store in Newport Beach’s Lido Marina Village.

What have you learned from other difficult times in the past? 

This particular crisis in terms of business (not safety) is very reminiscent of the 2008 financial crisis, when people just stopped shopping overnight. At the time, it felt like business would never return to what it was. This time, there is no doubt that the landscape in this crisis will be very different initially. As a retailer, you have to keep evolving, keep creating a better customer experience. I am up for that challenge and am looking forward to getting the stores reopened so we can rebuild.

The Vault at elysewalker.

Safe–and entertained–at Home: What business leaders are doing with their downtime 


Morning routine?
My husband, David and I are staying in our Napa home and every morning we walk with our dogs. David has also been helping us with our leases and communication with the banks. He has always been so supportive of my business. I’ve also been spending a lot of time cooking, enjoying Zoom cosmopolitan cocktail parties with friends, and checking in with many of my peers and leaders in this industry (Lori Hirshleifer [of Hirshleifer], Jeffrey Kalinsky [of Jeffrey], Betsee Isenberg [of 10eleven], Dierdre Roffoni [of Findings]) as well as daily meetings with the team (President, CFO, buying, marketing, store managers and stylists).

Currently binging?
In my normal life, I rarely watch TV, as by the time I finish with my day and dinner, I’m usually asleep in 30 minutes! But in the last few weeks, we’ve watched Ozark, Little Fires Everywhere and The Stranger.

Currently reading?
I am obsessed with Ina Garten! Growing up on the East Coast, my best girlfriends, Michelle, Debbie, and I fell in love with Barefoot Contessa. It’s unbelievable that 40 years later and she is still killing it! Her Instagram posts are great and provide me with great inspiration for my Zoom parties.

What are you doing to spend quality time with those you’re sheltering with?
We are taking a lot of walks, working on puzzles and cooking together.

What are you doing to stay healthy mentally and physically?
Not enough! I recently got into a great routine in LA, attending Tracy Anderson and loving her workouts. I miss that. These days, our morning walks have really been the best for me, both physically and mentally.

Where are you dreaming of visiting once things are back to normal?
Looking forward to getting back to the Napa Valley Reserve in Saint Helena, they have the best pinot. I’m also looking forward to eating dinner at Charter Oak in Napa, an outside table at Gjelina in Venice, and seeing Elena Baldi at Giorgio Baldi in Santa Monica. I also cannot wait to see Vanessa for my weekly facials, and of course, counting the days to be in store and back on the sales floor with my team.