Analysis: Holt Renfrew to Close its Smaller Stores Amid Increased Competition

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Holt Renfrew has announced that it will close its small Ottawa and Quebec City locations early next year, and we think that more Holt Renfrew store closures could follow. The company will instead concentrate on operating larger locations in just five Canadian cities. This strategy could be in response to expected competition from Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, both opening Canadian locations over the next several years. It appears that Holt Renfrew’s strategy is to build stores in excess of 100,000 square feet, calling into the question the future of two Holt Renfrew locations not discussed in other media sources. 

Holt Renfrew locations to close at the end of January, 2015:

Holt Renfrew’s 36,000 square foot Ottawa store is located within the CD Howe Building at 240 Sparks Street. The underperforming two-level location lacks many of the typical designers and concessions featured in other Holt Renfrew locations, most notably a Louis Vuitton shop. The store is about a kilometre from bustling Rideau Centre, a downtown mall which is seeing substantial renovations, as well as the addition of three new upscale anchors to be discussed below. 

Holt Renfrew’s 33,000 square foot Quebec City store, located at the Place Ste-Foy shopping centre, also lacks many of the upscale brands featured in Holt Renfrew’s larger, more successful stores. Holt Renfrew was founded in Quebec City in 1837, and was originally a hat shop. At one time, Holt Renfrew had three smaller Quebec City stores, including a downtown location on Rue Baude and a store within the iconic Chateau Frontenac Hotel. 

Holt Renfrew locations with an uncertain future: 

We already know that Holt Renfrew’s current 84,000 square foot Montreal store, at 1300 Sherbrooke Street West, will close in 2017. It will be replaced with a merged Ogilvy/Holt Renfrew store, measuring about 220,000 square feet. With the closure of its Sherbrooke Street store, only two of the company’s remaining locations will measure less than 120,000 square feet. The lease on its 47,000 square foot downtown Edmonton store, located at Manulife Place, is set to expire in 2017. Sources say that Holt Renfrew may not renew this lease, and may instead choose to open a substantially larger replacement location in a suburban shopping centre.

Holt Renfrew also operates a 33,670 square foot unit at Toronto’s Sherway Gardens and we’re unsure if the store will be expanded or eventually closed. A Holt Renfrew representative confirms that the retailer has a long-term lease on the space and that as far as they’re aware, the store will continue to operate. Given Holt Renfrew’s trend towards operating larger stores, however, we expect it will either substantially expand its Sherway Gardens location, or close it entirely. The company has already announced a 120,000 square foot flagship at Mississauga’s Square One Shopping Centre, which sources say could act as a replacement for its Sherway Gardens store. Holt Renfrew will see substantial competition at Sherway Gardens when a 132,000 square foot Saks Fifth Avenue opens there in 2016, as well as a 138,000 square foot Nordstrom a year later. 

Competition: Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, La Maison Simons, Harry Rosen

Holt Renfrew will see substantial competition from several large retailers, which are either building new stores or expanding their existing locations. As a result, Holt Renfrew appears to be concentrating on expanding and improving its top-performing locations, spending in excess of $300 million to increase its store square footage from about 800,000 to over 1.2 million square feet. We’ll briefly discuss how Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, La Maison Simons and Harry Rosen are all putting pressure on Holt Renfrew’s bottom line. 

Saks Fifth Avenue: Holt Renfrew’s announced store closures may be partly in response to Saks Fifth Avenue’s plans to open as many as seven Canadian stores over the next several years. Saks has already announced two Canadian locations – a 150,000 square foot store occupying part of Toronto’s 850,000 square foot Hudson’s Bay flagship, and a 130,000 square foot location to occupy part of a former Sears store at Toronto’s Sherway Gardens. Sources confirm that Saks is looking to open similarly sized stores in Vancouver and Montreal, as well as possibly in Calgary and Edmonton. 

Nordstrom: The upscale Seattle-based retailer also plans to open as many as seven Canadian stores, including its first Canadian location next month at Calgary’s Chinook Centre. Although less upscale than Holt Renfrew, Nordstrom’s exceptional customer service may pull some clients away from Holt’s. Nordstrom will also carry an assortment of top-priced designers which are also carried at Holt Renfrew, though it also carries more moderately priced items in various product categories. Nordstrom will eventually operate stores in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Ottawa, and sources confirm that the retailer is also interested in opening an Edmonton location. 

La Maison Simons: Besides its extensive selection of moderately priced, private-label product, Quebec City-based La Maison Simons carries a considerable amount of women’s and men’s designer ready-to-wear items. Simons’ selection lacks in the designer shoes and cosmetics categories, and has a limited assortment of designer accessories. Simons is currently in a substantial growth phase, with stores planned for Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, and possibly Calgary. 

Harry Rosen: Upscale menswear retailer Harry Rosen is expanding and renovating its store base, adding new designers as well as an expanded assortment of footwear and accessories. Harry Rosen’s customer service is exceptional, and it spends more on staff training than any Canadian retailer. Harry Rosen has considerable brand loyalty and appears keen to maintain its status as Canada’s premier menswear retailer.  

Why will Holt Renfrew close its Ottawa and Quebec City stores? 

Ottawa: Despite Ottawa’s large population and high average income, the conservative city has a limited number of consumers who buy luxury goods. Holt Renfrew’s tiny and dated Ottawa store, distanced from busy Rideau Centre, would have seen considerable competition from Rideau Centre’s 157,000 square foot Nordstrom store, set to open in the spring of next year. Additionally, in August of 2016, a 105,000 square foot La Maison Simons will open in the same mall. Both Nordstrom and La Maison Simons will carry a selection of pricey designer labels. Furthermore, in November of this year, Harry Rosen will open an 18,000 square foot flagship at Rideau Centre, replacing a store about half the size. Interestingly, several years ago we were told that Holt Renfrew was in talks to occupy part of the space to be occupied by Nordstrom in Rideau Centre’s former Eaton’s/Sears retail space. It appears that instead of trying to compete with Rideau’s upscale new anchors, Holt Renfrew has chosen to exit a city which lacks upscale designers such as Chanel and Louis Vuitton, present in similarly sized cities such as Calgary

Quebec City: Quebec City has a limited number of luxury shoppers, due to its relatively small population, modest incomes, and high taxes. La Maison Simons’ flagship store is located in the same mall as Holt Renfrew. Simons’ 100,000 square foot store carries considerably more designer ready-to-wear items than the mall’s Holt Renfrew, though Holt Renfrew beats Simons for designer accessories, footwear and cosmetics. With the closure of Holt’s, affluent Quebec City shoppers will be underserved in these categories. As far as we’re aware, Harry Rosen has no plans for a Quebec City location, possibly further speaking to the city’s modest demand for luxury goods. 

Expansion and Renovation Plans for Holt Renfrew’s Current Stores: 

Holt Renfrew will renovate and expand its top-performing locations, as well as build a free-standing men’s store in Toronto. Here’s a rundown of what is planned: 

Vancouver: We’re told that Holt’s Pacific Centre store, the chain’s top-performer, will be expanded by annexing two adjacent sports retailers. This will grow the current 140,000 square foot unit by as much as 40,000 square feet. Vancouver’s Holt’s will be at least partly renovated to include a restaurant as well as expanded footwear and leather goods departments. It will also update its personal shopping areas, the most productive real estate in the store, as well as add a by-invitation-only luxury shopping ‘Apartment’ for its top clients. The Vancouver store, which replaced a 68,000 square foot location in 2007, has seen sales more than double in the past seven years, according to sources. 

Calgary: Holt Renfrew’s Calgary store, located downtown in The Core shopping centre, will also see an expansion and renovation. The 147,000 square foot store features an unused 25,500 square foot fourth floor, which may be opened up as part of its announced expansion. Calgary’s Holt’s will also see a new restaurant as well as expanded footwear and leather goods departments, as well as enhanced personal shopping suites and the addition of a luxury shopping ‘Apartment’ similar to its Vancouver store. Calgary’s current Holt Renfrew opened in the fall of 2009, replacing a 43,000 square foot unit that reportedly had the highest sales per square foot in the chain. 

Toronto – 50 Bloor Street West: The chain’s flagship (currently measuring in excess of 180,000 square feet) will be expanded and fully renovated, including the addition of a new facade to replace its current banal, aging marble frontage. According to Holt’s, a luxury shopping Apartment will be added to the store, as well as significant enhancements to its beauty, accessories, and footwear areas. 

Toronto – 100 Bloor Street West: This fall, Holt’s will open a free-standing, 14,000 square foot men’s store to compliment its 50 Bloor St. flagship. Interestingly, menswear will continue to be carried at the 50 Bloor St. flagship as well. We’re awaiting further details on the company’s new menswear concept, which will have branding separate from Holt’s main stores. 

Montreal: In 2017, Montreal’s current 84,000 square foot Holt Renfrew store will close, to be replaced with a combined Ogilvy/Holt Renfrew location. To be named Ogilvy, part of the Holt Renfrew & Co. collection, the 220,000 square foot location could become the grandest in the chain, depending on how large its Toronto flagship is expanded. 

Despite the length of this article, we’ve got more to say on the topic. Next week we’ll discuss Holt Renfrew further, including the future of its current Edmonton store. 

4 COMMENTS

  1. I’m not going to go to Square One just for Holts. I’ll still continue going to Sherway. So if they leave Sherway its giving Saks and Nordstrom those sales that I’d go to Holts for.

  2. Holt Renfrew better watch out. It was not until I visited Nordstrom in Seattle that I realized how vile the customer service at HR really is. (at least the Vancouver location).
    The staff at Nordstrom are warm and friendly not one single staff member that did not say hello to me. Holt Renfrew most of the staff will pretend that there is a bad oder in the air if you even smile at them. Dont even get me started on CHANEL unless you are a Chinese person they will not even acknowledge you!!!! (that was not a rasist stab at Chinese people I have close Chinese friends that have pointed this out to me as well that they will not acknowledge non Chinese Women) No one should EVER feel cold or uncomfortable when they are in a store and ESPECIALLY if they are going to spend five thousand dollars on a purse!!!!!!!
    Needless to say im done with Holts. It wasnet always this way their customer service things started to decline around 2011, now I save my money for Seattle….

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