Zumnorde has been selling shoes for 130 years. The recently renovated flagship store that reopened with 2,500 square meters of space on Prinzipalmarkt in Münster, Germany illustrates what the company considers indispensable today.

Anyone who thinks the future of retailing is in the IT cloud, in algorithms, blockchains and online shops, needs to meet shoe retailer Thomas Zumnorde-Mertens. If you listen to him, you will be astounded to hear what he says about his company, which he manages together with his uncle Heinrich and father, Franz-Josef. It’s rare to hear a retailer speak with so much enthusiasm about brick-and-mortar retailing–so many emphasize their concern about seemingly omnipotent online players and their sense of inferiority to them.

Zumnorde women's footwear department
Photo: Zumnorde
Zumnorde women's footwear department

To make it perfectly clear, Zumnorde has gone digital: At its 27 retail locations as well as at its online store, which started up in 2013, and operates all across Europe. But here there is no either/or, no polarization of physical retail and digital, of tradition and technology. Screens are in front of and in the store and RFID chips and interactive communications work seamlessly at the shoe company which was established in 1887. This can be seen at its most impressive in the store in Westphalian Münster, now open again after eight months of renovation work designed by the architecture firm of Roters + Hölscher, Münster.

Digitization is neither more nor less up for debate here than anything else because, of course, it’s clear to Zumnorde-Mertens: “The upheavals in our industry are extreme.” Naturally, it is necessary to respond to these extreme changes. But in this family-owned business – it is important to the Zumnordes to be recognized as just that and not as part of a chain store – there is only one real key element and that is, quite simply, the customer. Everything that follows–whether digital, analog or otherwise–depends on the customers’ needs. “We are the concierge, the one who looks after the customers,” says Zumnorde-Mertens. “That’s what we are good at.”

Men's footwear department
Photo: Zumnorde
Men's footwear department

Of course, those who take customer care seriously also rely on the data algorithms provide, but this data is not enough for them. With each interaction with customers in the store–even before the first words are spoken–Zumnorde -Mertensand his team already know more than any click on the Web can reveal: What kind of person is the customer? What is the customer’s look? What sort of mood is he or she in? What is the person’s basic character? If the contact leads to a conversation the insights into the customer expand enormously–from establishing what the person needs, the shape of their feet, all the way to their lifestyle, valuable information is exchanged. The prerequisite for this is, of course, outstanding employees, in whom the company invests a great deal, but also clear and unambiguous prioritization, which extends into the stockroom. Even there, the models are sorted in a way that is most effective for customers, says Zumnorde-Mertens.

The key question asked before renovating the flagship store for about €3.5 million was: “How do we have to position ourselves in order to reach our customers?” Construction started in January 2018, but planning had already begun in 2016, with trips to major cities such as Bangkok, London, New York and Tokyo to get inspiration in local venues. The Web is changing customers, turning them into volatile, self-confident shoppers who scurry from one sensation to the next, for whom variety, the new and the unexpected have become the norm. The new Zumnorde business has everything they need: fine, leather-covered shelving (including LED lighting) not only offers more space for more shoes but can also be easily swapped out depending on the season. Open and intimate spaces alternate, created in the women's shoe department on the ground floor, for example, by a sensational 87-sq.-meter chain curtain made using 10,000 bronze rings per square meter (Manufacturer: Alphamesh, Pforzheim).

Thomas Zumnorde, managing director
Photo: Zumnorde
Thomas Zumnorde, managing director

The Zumnordes satisfy not only the need for change and novelty in their revamped building: "We want to appeal to all the customers’ senses.” French walnut wood, pithy scented leather, hand beaten brass and soft fabrics and carpets were used, and those who are interested in more will find the finest footwear by Crockett & Jones, Santoni and Alden presented in the newly decorated lounge room like jewelry at the jewelers, sip whiskey from the region, and enjoy the view of the town hall across the way, where, after 30 years of war and slaughter, the Peace of Westphalia was signed. Those who prefer the more modern can use RFID chips on shoes to enjoy a video about how the shoes are made, displayed on a 65-inch touchscreen. Customers are given choices.

Of course, the way fashion is handled has also changed. “Customers have completely new ways to access the product range,” says Zumnorde-Mertens. Instagram, influencers, bloggers–these factors are taken into account not only when choosing the assortment, but also in the retail space. And so on the ground floor, next to the antique library table that the family bought at Sotheby’s, there is another digital touch point that provides access to videos, bloggers, Instagram, manufacturers and brands. On average customers remain in front of the display for around ten minutes. “That’s relatively high,” says Zumnorde-Mertens happily. The new, white and naturally contoured display areas located on each of the three floors are there to show off shoes, stage them, bring them to life.

Display in the women's department
Photo: Zumnorde
Display in the women's department

Because the Zumnorde family, in addition to their customers, have another passion–the product. “We are product specialists, and we want the customer to know that,” says Zumnorde-Mertens. But which product is right, when and for whom? Not an easy question to answer, for “purchasing is shifting more and more to order picking,” he says. In the past big names were the driving force behind entire collections, but today there are one or two models that make the fashion world go crazy–Balenciaga flip-flops and sneakers or Valentino’s rockstud sandals are examples. Other models leave (influencer) hearts cold. Today buyers have to create analogies, find out what influences whom and how. Instagram and other sharing apps inspire these developments but also make it possible to recognize them.


“The central question is: What do people still want?” says Zumnorde-Mertens. And since this company is a family shoe business it should serve everybody–from toddlers to men with insoles. If there are several branches at various locations, each store has a unique concept–in Oldenburg, in addition to the Zumnorde shop for women, men and children there is also the Signora comfort shoe concept.

Lounge area in the women's department
Photo: Zumnorde
Lounge area in the women's department

So, if you are looking for answers to pressing questions and changes in retail, you will find them here. “This new store can suggest solutions to all the challenges of our time,” says Zumnorde-Mertens. Anyone who wants to experience the variability of retail space, how to make the business look different from Monday to Tuesday so customers discover the unexpected, digital tools, competent and attentive employees and, despite new technologies, a pleasant feeling–just needs to visit Münster. “The exchange of smiles between customer and salesperson–that is difficult to convey online.”


Facts & Figures

Schuhhaus Hch. Zumnorde GmbH & Co. KG, Münster, Germany

Shoes for women, men, children, comfort shoes

Founded in 1887

27 stores around Germany, European online store

750 employees

About 300 shoe labels per season in the stores

(in the sportswear/urban/fashion segment brands such as Adidas, Converse, Timberland, Puma, Ash, Buffalo, Dr. Martens, Filling Pieces, Nike, Palladium, Ugg, Vans)




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