Icebreaker GM Discusses Canadian Store Expansion

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New Zealand-based merino wool outdoor and sport clothing designer and manufacturer Icebreaker plans to grow its Canadian store count, following successes in its wholesale division and at its current Canadian locations. Today, the company’s fourth flagship opens in Calgary and according to its Canadian General Manager, more locations will follow. 

Icebreaker is the world’s largest merino outdoor apparel company. Founded in 1994, the company is privately held and headquartered in Auckland. It’s products are now carried in over 5,000 outdoor and sporting goods stores in 50 countries around the world. Its international network of 25 ‘TouchLabs’ includes 13 North American locations. Of those, three (and soon four) are in Canada. 

Icebreaker at CF Chinook Centre

‘TouchLabs’ are Icebreaker’s free-standing stores, distinguished from its shops-in-stores which it calls ‘TouchPoints’. Today, a 1,380 square foot TouchLab opens at Calgary’s Chinook Centre. The store’s design will be contemporary yet rustic and will launch the brand’s new ‘Body Fit Bar and Shop’ concept — a space dedicated to profiling the brand’s collection of base layers. The Calgary TouchLab will feature Icebreaker’s complete line of merino wool apparel including outdoor, run, fitness, kids, underwear and travel and lifestyle collections, along with socks and accessories — all made from merino wool sourced from the Southern Alps of New Zealand.

“As a brand that strives to inspire adventures in nature, Icebreaker is excited to bring our fifth Canadian retail location to Calgary, a city in close proximity to mountain resorts and outdoor recreation where people share our passion for the outdoors,” says Justin Walford, General Manager of Icebreaker Canada. “Canada is one of Icebreaker’s highest performing countries, largely due to the premium Canadians put on investing in high quality outdoor apparel. This flagship store will amplify Icebreaker’s tremendous network of existing retail partners who offer the Icebreaker range in Calgary, and introduce thousands of new winter and summer sports enthusiasts to the brand through our prime Chinook location.” 

Icebreaker at CF Chinook Centre

We interviewed Mr. Walford on Icebreaker’s Canadian store expansion. Currently, the brand has three Canadian TouchLabs — two in Vancouver and one in Montreal, as well as an outlet at the Toronto Premium Outlets. Mr. Walford says that the brand is interested in opening free-standing TouchLabs across Canada, but that it will do so carefully. The company has an excellent relationship with its Canadian wholesale vendors, to the point that some vendors have opened TouchPoint shops-in-stores to profile Icebreaker’s extensive product assortment. To be respectful to wholesalers and to maintain its excellent relationships, Icebreaker will selectively review opportunities for free-standing TouchLabs, seeking retail space in the 1,200 to 1,500 square foot range. Stores may locate in malls or on busy streetfronts, as opportunities may arise. Mr. Walford stresses that this growth will be careful and will only take place if the situation proves strategically beneficial. 

When some brands see success in markets where their product is carried by wholesalers, they may choose to open free-standing locations — possibly to the detriment of the very wholesalers who helped create brand identity in the local market. Speaking to Mr. Walford, it’s clear that Icebreaker’s strategy is less about dominating markets with freestanding stores, and more about maintaining relationships with all parties involved. Icebreaker’s new TouchLab locations will therefore compliment existing wholesale distribution, wherever possible, and be primarily built to attract new customers and amplify the brand’s awareness among Canadians. 

Icebreaker at CF Chinook Centre
Icebreaker at CF Chinook Centre

Mr. Walford explained how Canada is one of Icebreaker’s top markets — so successful, in fact, that the brand operates a Canadian headquarters in Vancouver with about 25 employees. Canadians appear to appreciate the brand’s value proposition, spearheading its tremendous growth. Calgary is specifically a strong market for Icebreaker, according to Mr. Walford. Its population is young, affluent and enjoys a ‘work hard play hard’ mentality which warrants a flagship. Chinook Centre, itself, presents an excellent opportunity for the retailer — not only is the mall one of North America’s most productive, it also boasts environmentally friendly features (including LEED certification) as well as an exceptional co-tenancy which includes Canada’s first Nordstrom store. 

We’ll keep you updated on Icebreaker’s Canadian store expansion. 

Article Author

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.

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