Happy New Year from Retail Insider. 2013 was an busy year for Canadian retail news, and we think 2014 will be equally busy. Here is our top 10 list of Canadian retail news stories, with topics provided by readers. This article is by Retail Insider writer Adam Ramsay.
1) LOBLAW PURCHASES SHOPPERS DRUG MART
One of Canada’s biggest retail stories of the year involved a huge corporate takeover. On July 15th, Loblaw announced that it had acquired Shoppers Drug Mart for $12.4 billion in a cash and stock agreement. The deal was groundbreaking as the nation’s leading grocer had acquired the nation’s largest pharmacy chain. Under terms of the purchase, Shoppers Drug Mart will continue to keep its identity and will operate as a new division of Loblaw.
Loblaw also announced in the deal that Shoppers will continue to use an ‘associate owner’ system – one that helped make the chain one of the country’s top 10 most fail-proof franchises. Because of this, no store closing or rebrandings have taken place and none are anticipated. A ‘cross marketing’ of Loblaws and Shoppers signature products, services and loyalty programs has also begun and will continue to expand in 2014.
2) MASSIVE CASUALTIES AT COLLAPSE OF ILLEGALLY BUILT CLOTHING FACTORY IN BANGLADESH
In April, a devastating collapse of an illegally built clothing factory in Bangladesh killed 1,129 people and injured more than 2,500. The factory, Rana Plaza, was used by several well-known inexpensive fashion labels including Canadian retailer Loblaws for its Joe Fresh line. The disaster is now regarded as the world’s worst modern-day industrial tragedy.
The building collapse has led to international discussions over corporate and social responsibility across global supply chains. Advocacy groups have been working on awareness campaigns and accords meant to highlight and fix the terrible working conditions and treatment of Bangladeshi workers and many consumers have revolted against companies that not only have connections to the building which collapsed, but also to those who use Bangladesh factory sourcing in general.
In December, five global retailers who source from Bangladesh, along with other manufacturers and labour groups, created a $40 million compensation fund for victims of the Rana Plaza disaster. Those retailers include Britain’s Primark, Spain’s El Corte Inglés, France’s Bon Marché and Canadian Loblaw.
3) TARGET’S HIGHLY ANTICIPATED CANADIAN ARRIVAL RECEIVES LUKEWARM RECEPTION
After years of rumours, market research and anticipation, Target – the #2 department store chain in the United States – made its long awaited Canadian debut in March. The company would open up 124 locations from coast to coast in 2013 and with it promised Canadians a “distraction-free” shopping experience with products, brands and loyalty programs much akin to those found south of the border.
Reaction from consumers proved to be a disappointment for Target, as supply issues in many departments left store shelves empty in a problem that is still not fully rectified going into 2014. There was also concern amongst shoppers that the prices found in the former Zellers locations were higher than their American counterparts. In September, Target had to move quickly to correct a nasty PR issue that saw veterans forced outside of their stores to sell poppies for Remembrance Day. Target Canada President Tony Fisher has been adamant that although Canadian operations have been a drag on total company earnings so far, they are committed to growth and will “continue to show positive progress as [they] continue to go forward.”
4) LULULEMON HAS TUMULTUOUS YEAR – EMBARRASSING PR MISHAPS HURT THE BRAND
Lululemon has had a year for the ages, but not the kind that they’ll necessarily want to remember. First there was the sheer yoga pants recall that began in late 2012 that cost the company $67 million in lost revenue, affecting almost a fifth of its entire inventory. In June, well-liked company CEO Christine Day, who had lead the brand for more than five years and steered the company through the above mentioned recall, announced that she was leaving.
Perhaps the most damaging PR mishap of the year came in November, when founder Chip Wilson stated in an interview that “some women’s bodies just actually don’t work” with Lululemon pants, when complaints began to grow that the pants are sheer and pill too easily. Wilson quickly came under fire for his comments, and many believe he exasperated the situation by offering an apology that didn’t retract his remarks. Early in December, he resigned from the organization that he himself created.
It’s not all doom and gloom for Lululemon, as sales continue and they enjoy some of the most productive retail space in Canada. The West Edmonton Mall Lululemon location, the company’s highest selling, brings in upwards of $26 million annually with a store of only 3,200 square feet, and that Lululemon stores enjoy average revenues of $1,936 per square foot annually.
5) SEARS CANADA LOSES CEO CALVIN McDONALD, CONTINUES TO STRUGGLE
It was another rough year for Sears Canada, as in September CEO Calvin McDonald resigned as head of the company that has been struggling to both find itself and keep up with competitors in recent years.
As he moved on to head up the North American operations of Sephora – a French cosmetics chain – Sears continued to actively sell back some of its most valuable leases to landlords in an attempt to secure the much needed capital just to continue its operations.
As the company continues to divest of some of its most valuable assets, it has begun to pave the way for some major new entrants into Canada’s retail space. Upscale American department store retailers Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue (purchased this year by HBC) have already announced plans to open up locations in this country. And with La Maison Simons focusing aggressively on new development outside of Quebec and the long-running rumour that Bloomingdales locations might not be far from a reality in this country, Sears is opening the door to increased competition amongst retailers to allure the type of consumer it has historically tried to attract. 2014 will prove to be a pivotal year for Sears Canada, not just for its long-term success, but for its very survival.
6) SOBEYS BUYS CANADA SAFEWAY CHAIN, INVESTS IN FUTURE GROWTH
Back in June, Sobeys invested $5.8 billion in a cash deal that saw them acquire Western Canadian grocer Safeway. The deal included hundreds of locations with in-store pharmacies, plus gas stations, liquor stores, manufacturing facilities and a handful of distribution centres and related wholesale business. The Competition Bureau approved the sale in October, but would demand that Sobeys divest of 23 stores in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The move is expected to save Empire (Sobeys parent company) more than $200 million annually in operational costs.
The Safeway acquisition wasn’t the only substantial business move for the company in 2013. In addition to teaming up with Target to supply their new 124 stores with grocery items through the Sobeys distribution network, they have also finalized the purchase of the Shell gas stations in Quebec and Atlantic Canada. There’s been the sell-off of their Theatre business (through parent company Empire) to Cineplex and even the recent opening of the first of their new ‘Sobeys Extra’ format stores in Burlington, Ontario. In this fall it was announced that long-time company executive Marc Poulin – who became the President of Sobeys in June 2012 – is taking over as the head with the retirement of Paul Sobey.
7) HUDSON’S BAY COMPANY BUYS SAKS FIFTH AVENUE, PLANS TO OPEN CANADIAN SAKS STORES
The summer proved to be a very busy time for North American retail business purchases, takeovers and acquisitions. That was certainly felt by American luxury retailer Saks Fifth Avenue who had seen keen interest from several potential buyers. The Hudson’s Bay Company made its $2.9 billion purchase of Saks public on July 28 by announcing that they will open 7-8 full line Saks and up to 25 ‘Off 5th’ (discount outlet chain) locations in Canada. It was also reported that a REIT could be set up to hold Saks’ real estate assets, which are valued at $1.5 billion.
In early December, it was revealed that the flagship location for Saks in Canada will be built on the corner of Yonge and Bloor Streets in Downtown Toronto, and will in fact replace a 342,000 square foot Hudson’s Bay store. Once the more than $100 million renovation is complete and the location opens its doors, it is expected to be the second largest Saks in the world, after the Manhattan store in New York. The arrival of Saks and Nordstrom north of the border, combined with the already existing presence of the likes of Holt Renfrew means that upscale department store retailing will soon to heat up in Canada.
8) AMAZON OPENS UP ONLINE STORE TO CANADIAN GROCERY SHOPPERS
For many, delivery drones may quickly come to mind when thinking about the kind of year Amazon had in 2013. But for Canadians, it’s a different story altogether, as the online retail giant announced its intentions in October to enter into the ultra-competitive Canadian grocery market.
Amazon launched the grocery and gourmet food section on its website on Halloween, offering more than 15,000 different food items including packaged beverages, breakfast foods, pantry supplies and snacks. All major brands are represented on the site, with very competitive pricing. This leaves many in the industry to believe that the already heated Canadian ‘grocery war‘ is about to get even fiercer, and that as a result prices will be driven down. In fact, Amazon believes it already has a pricing advantage on its bricks-and-mortar competitors, citing its ‘dynamic pricing’ model, which analyzes massive amounts of data to adjust prices in real time on certain items when necessary.
Amazon’s move has Canadian grocery retailers taking notice. Loblaws and Sobeys, for example, anticipated the increased competition earlier this year when each made substantial investments in future sustainability by taking over Shoppers Drug Mart and Safeway, respectively. With Walmart’s further expansion into the Supercentre format across the country, and Target’s 2013 foray into the ring, the Canadian grocery industry both in-store and online will no doubt remain the most competitive retail space in 2014.
9) BLACK FRIDAY AND CYBER MONDAY SHOPPING CONTINUES TO GROW IN CANADA
Black Friday and Cyber Monday, two of the biggest shopping days on the calendar in the United States, have become a major force in Canadian retail as well. This year, more Canadians than ever before shopped in-store and online during these major sales days hoping to find outstanding discounts on products and services. Mall landlords and large national retailers have led the charge, all but forcing businesses of any scale or type to offer their very best prices and offers to compete.
Although more Canadians than ever before took part in the shopping frenzies, the numbers were still lower than anticipated earlier in the year. Part of the blame is thought to be placed on the fact that savings north of the border simply weren’t as attractive as those found in the States. As an example, many retailers offered up to 80% discounts down south, while most of the sales experienced in Canada were only in the 40-50% range, which proved to be not much better than the normal savings found in a typical sale in many stores.
The general belief is that the shopping events will continue to grow in Canada, but proper marketing is needed amongst retailers, and a ‘one size fits all’ approach will not necessarily work for Canadians.
10) LA MAISON SIMONS NATION-WIDE EXPANSION PLANS
La Maison Simons has had another busy year of strategic planning. After opening their first location outside of Quebec in 2012 – a 118,000 square foot store in the West Edmonton Mall – plans have been unveiled that will see the chain expand further into other major Canadian cities including West Vancouver ‘s Park Royal Shopping Centre, Ottawa (at Rideau Centre and Les Promenades Gatineau) and at Mississauga’s Square One Shopping Centre.
La Maison Simons CEO Peter Simons has also identified Winnipeg and Calgary as cities that are ‘on the radar’ of the company, which could see as many as two locations open up in Calgary. He went on to say in an interview with Retail Insider in September, that there is no preference as it relates to urban vs. suburban development, and that all future growth must be “gradual and intelligent” so that the company, which has existed for more than 175 years, can continue to exist for future generations. La Maison Simons currently operates 10 stores in Canada, all in the neighbourhood of 80-100,000 square feet. The highest-selling locations remain inside their home province of Quebec, at Place Ste Foy and Downtown Montreal, though this may change in 2014 as its West Edmonton Mall store continues to see significant sales growth.