Things Engraved Makes Major Shift in Retail Strategy

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Gift store chain Things Engraved is undergoing a transformation of sorts as it changes its store mix and expands its retail offerings.

Shawn Brock, the company’s CEO since March, said the company is squarely in the gift sector of the marketplace and that’s where it will stay.

“I think the business over the last 35 years has been focused on maximizing that engraving value proposition that we’ve always delivered. But these days there’s a lot more ways to personalize and deliver on what I think is a broader value proposition to our customers which is unique and personal gifts and gift giving experiences,” he said.

“So we’re looking at expanding well beyond sort of the engraving boundaries looking at laser etching, foiling, getting into embroidery, embroidered product. We’re looking at digital products as well as again that sort of broader scope of unique and personal, looking at our product line and our assortment as much more on-trend, on-brand and unique product, unique gifts.”

The company, which has been in business since 1982, has 87 stores across the country in every province.

“Our store footprint has shrunk slightly over the last 12 months. We actually closed down a few of our unprofitable locations. About five over the last 16 months. Largely just unprofitable locations,” said Brock. “Coming on board here it was important that we continue on a pathway of looking at a model where every store is managed locally not managed like a corporate chain like the old days. But really making sure that every store is profitable, every store’s in tune with its local community, local economics.

“We’ve actually been looking to reduce the store footprint to get rid of that unprofitability but strengthen the stores that we keep open.”

He said two new stores will open this fall at Square One in Mississauga and one in McAllister Place in Saint John, New Brunswick.

“We’re not necessarily following the old model that more stores equals more revenue or more profit. But really to as we close less profitable we’re being very tactical in looking for the right new locations to open up. I think over the next year we’ll probably have around that 85 to 90 store mark between the net openings and closings,” added Brock.

He said today’s world doesn’t necessarily look at personalization the way it did 30 years ago.

“Today it’s taking lots of other things and making it your own. Putting your unique spin, putting your own brand on it. Making it feel like it’s part of your own identity,” said Brock. “So if we look at our value proposition a little more broader based than just things you can engrave we can embrace the YouTube generation and the digital native that’s out there.”

“We want to keep beefing up the experience in our online store including having things like having online only products where our brick and mortar stores become great curated showrooms for our online offering and by person so that our online customers can do things like pick up their orders in store, know if they want or need extra help there’s a store virtually near them no matter where they’re at in the country,” said Brock.

“We’ve been in business since 1982. Although the company had its roots in key cutting and accessories, the new business model was really about finely curated unique and personalized gifts, which, initially, was relatively easy to encapsulate as ‘engraving’. But times have changed, so we’ve adapted by adding to our personalization techniques with 3D lasering, etching, foiling, and embroidery.

He said the retailer is also looking at dye additions, sublimation, digitalization, signature and exclusive products and designs.

“Up until now, we’ve largely stuck to traditional branding and marketing, in just about every sense of that phrase. But going forward, we are going to expand our message and start tapping into action and emotion, aspiration and identity, in everything we do – including product.

In my mind, if we’re not moving the customer, we’re losing the customer. And we’re evaluating every touchpoint we have to ensure we’re consistent and clear,” said Brock.

Things Engraved Inc., headquartered in Kitchener,  is owned by Serruya Private Equity Inc., a Toronto-based global investment firm that invests in a broad range of asset classes.

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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