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Zellers to Open Initial 25 Stores in Canada with Potential Return of Mascot ‘Zeddy’

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(!) BREAKING NEWS (Update): Zellers has confirmed the locations of its first 25 store-in-stores in Canada (!)

The Hudson’s Bay Company is brining the Zellers brand back to Canada this year with 25 locations set to open within Hudson’s Bay department stores. Teaser marketing indicates that the ‘Zeddy’ teddy bear mascot could be returning as well, and it’s not yet known if the popular restaurant component to Zellers stores will be returning as of yet though there’s a possibility. 

Secrecy means that we need to speculate a bit — last year Retail Insider learned that the Zellers nameplate was returning with a focused strategy that involves opening multiple store locations as well as a dedicated e-commerce business that includes a marketplace component. In 2022 the Hudson’s Bay Company was hiring for the new Zellers division and it appears from recent postings that the Zellers Canada headquarters could be on the 18th floor of the Simpson Tower at 401 Bay Street, connected to the flagship Hudson’s Bay Queen Street department store. 

Zellers has launched social media and a new website providing us some information on what’s going to be in store. The new Zellers.ca website indicates that 25 Zellers locations will be opening within Hudson’s Bay department stores in Canada. We learned on Wednesday that these stores will be 8,000 to 10,000 square feet each as shop-in-stores within Hudson’s Bay locations. The Zellers website states, “…we’re debuting a brand spankin’ new zellers.ca and opening up 25 locations (to start!) within select Hudson’s Bay stores across the country – so you can see for yourself what all the excitement’s about.” 

Image: Zellers.ca

Various product categories will be included in the new Zellers stores, according to the website and social media. The website includes the statement, “We’re hard at work over here, getting ready to deliver a playful, helpful shopping experience; from lifestyle to home and almost everything in between (and yes, the chair’s as comfy as it looks).” 

The Zellers Instagram page includes visuals for a home goods, sporting goods, toys, and pet-related items, indicating that the new Zellers will feature a range of products (apparel is one we recently learned of). The former Zellers chain, which ceased operations in 2013 as a full branded business, featured stores sometimes spanning in excess of 100,000 square feet with a wide range of product categories. 

Job postings on LinkedIn provide further insights into the new Zellers, stating, “As a start-up within the larger organization, we are a ‘small and mighty’ team with a license to experiment and learn as we design and launch an exceptional, digital-first shopping experience. Our team values intellectual curiosity, diversity of people and perspectives, and a proactive get-things-done attitude.” 

We’ve noted in the teaser marketing for Zellers that the Zeddy teddy bear mascot could be returning to the retailer. In 2012 Zeddy was “adopted” by Camp Trillium and now things may have changed. We’ve noticed Zeddy-related branding on the website as well as with an Instagram post showing what appears to be Zeddy’s arm, as seen below. 

Image: Zellers

The Zeddy branding was used extensively by the former Zellers chain in TV commercials, and even in-store rides such as the one below. 

Since news first broke that Zellers would be returning, many asked that the retailer’s restaurant operations also return. It’s not known if food and beverage will be part of the new Zellers, though at one time many Hudson’s Bay stores had in-store restaurants. It’s not known if kitchen facilities and related infrastructure might work to create new Zellers-branded restaurants as part of this year’s Zellers 2.0 launch. Given the sentiment of many commenting on Reddit and elsewhere, bringing restaurants into the new Zellers stores should be a key priority if it’s possible — but now that the know the stores will only be 8-10,000 square feet each, a Zellers restaurant is less likely.

Zellers will be a division of The Bay according to the Zellers website. We reported last week that The Bay’s President and CEO Iain Nairn is retiring this month and that Sophia Hwang-Judiesch, who last year became President of Hudson’s Bay stores, will expand her role to also lead The Bay division which is responsible for shared functions including brand direction, marketing, buying, planning and technology for both the physical Hudson’s Bay stores as well as thebay.com businesses. 

In 2021 the Hudson’s Bay Company brought the Zellers brand back by opening a pop-up within the Hudson’s Bay store in Burlington, Ontario. That location by most accounts was a major disappointment given that it featured a range of non-Zellers products in a relatively low-budget environment. A second Zellers pop-up opened within the Hudson’s Bay store at CF Galleries d’Anjou in Montreal, a few kilometres away from rogue Zellers-branded stores in the town of Sorel-Tracey, Quebec, operated by a local family who registered the Zellers Trademark after the Hudson’s Bay Company let it lapse. 

It now appears that the Zellers brand is moving ahead full-steam under the direction of the Hudson’s Bay Company, leaving future litigation in question with the Moniz family in Quebec [See full story here]. 

Zellers at Hudson's Bay Burlington Mall
Zellers at Hudson’s Bay Burlington Mall – Photo by Sean Tarry

The Hudson’s Bay company operated a network of Zellers stores across Canada for decades. In January of 2011, the Hudson’s Bay Company announced that it would sell the leases for up to 220 Zellers stores to Minneapolis-based Target for $1.825 billion dollars. HBC retained 64 locations initially and liquidated the chain in early 2013. After a disastrous run in Canada, Target exited its Canadian stores in early 2015 amid billions of dollars in losses. 

The Zellers name wasn’t dead in Canada following the Target sale however. The Hudson’s Bay Company operated two Zellers stores in Ontario until early 2020, and those locations acted more as clearance centres for products from Hudson’s Bay store.  

Image: Zellers.ca
Image: zellers.ca

At its peak in the 1990s, Zellers had over 350 stores in Canada. The entry of Walmart into Canada is said to have impacted Zellers’ sales particularly in the early 2000s which resulted in the retailer losing significant market share. 

In the 1980’s, Zellers’ marketing slogans included “Only you’ll know how little you paid” and “Shopping anywhere else is pointless”. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the popular “Where the lowest price is the law!” was used in Zellers advertising. Included were animated commercials featuring Batman and Robin with the villains like the Joker, the Penguin, Catwoman and the Riddler.

In the 1990’s, Zellers adopted the slogan “Truly Canadian”. Between 1997 and 2000, “Better and Better” was a slogan and “Everything from A to Z” was part of the retailer’s marketing messaging between 2000 and 2013. 

Value-priced Zellers was founded by Walter P. Zeller in London, Ontario, in 1931. 

The Hudson’s Bay Company acquired Zellers in 1978. The Zellers logo, visible on the last two remaining stores, was adopted in 1975. In 1976, Zellers thrived with sales in excess of $400 million annually and in the same year, discount chain Fields acquired the Zellers chain. Joseph Segal, who at the time was president of Fields, became president of Zellers as part of the transaction. Segal died at the age of 97 in May of this year.

In 2008, the Hudson’s Bay Company and its subsidiaries, including Zellers, came under the ownership of NRDC Equity Partners, which was headed by Richard Baker. Hudson’s Bay’s namesake stores were positioned as more upscale under the creative direction of retail veteran Bonnie Brooks, while Zellers was seen as a drag on the business. 

Craig Patterson
Craig Patterson
Located in Toronto, Craig is the Publisher & CEO of Retail Insider Media Ltd. He is also a retail analyst and consultant, Advisor at the University of Alberta School Centre for Cities and Communities in Edmonton, former lawyer and a public speaker. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for over 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I’m praying this is successful and we get full size standalone stores in due time. Canada needs competition to Walmart and there is most certainly room for these two brands to coexist and compete for our dollar. I honestly hate that Walmart is currently my only option for many everyday essentials I want Zellers to be successful! I miss Target they should have just focused on a handful of stores in Ontario and slowly scaled up from there, they went too big too fast.

  2. I Agree with my Fellow Shopper STECNET, but they should focus on LOW Priced Items that everyone ne buys!! I used to do a Lot of my shopping at ZELLERS in the PAST, because of their Low Prices!! Why Spend MORE when you don’t have to?? I still Have a Lot of the Goods I use to buy there!!

  3. Target was a mismanaged nightmares’ errand! It literally cost the Canadian tax payer through the federal incentives they were given opening so many locations at once.
    Great comment @Stecnet, while they will never be the Canadian Target, we could definitely use a higher end component to the Walmart lead full lifestyle segment. Walmart also has zero considerations for any type of atmosphere so I am hoping Zellers sees the opportunity to make these “shop-in-stores” at least elevated. A feat that will be hard to do considering the un elevated state of so many HBC locations at current.
    AS with all things only time and effective choices will tell!

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