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Indigo CEO Heather Reisman Discusses Retail Chain Amid National Honour [Interview]

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Well-known Canadian retailer Heather Reisman recently received a promotion to Officer of the Order of Canada.

The CEO of national bookseller Indigo, Canada’s largest book, gift, and specialty toy retailer, and co-founder of Kobo, a leading global eReading company, was honoured by the Canadian Governor General “for her contributions to Canadian book publishing and children’s literacy, and for her transformational philanthropy.”

Reisman, who is also founder and Chair of Indigo, said “it’s an incredible honour to get the Order of Canada for sure.”

“It’s one of the country’s highest honours and it’s an incredible group of people who have been included in this award,” she said.

PHOTO OF HEATHER REISMAN AND HER HUSBAND, GERRY SCHWARTZ. PHOTO: UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO

Reisman first received the Order of Canada about seven years ago and in late December was elevated to the position of Officer of the Order of Canada.

The Order of Canada was created in 1967 and is one of our country’s highest honours. It is presented by the Governor General of Canada and the federal government says it honours people whose service shapes our society, whose innovations ignite our imaginations, and whose compassion unites our communities. Close to 7,500 people from all sectors of society have been invested into the Order of Canada.

“It’s an opportunity for the government to acknowledge the contribution that those people make, and I think also in telling the stories of what people have done it can inspire others to strive to make a contribution. And that’s always wonderful,” said Reisman.

Reisman has been an inspiration in the retail industry for many years.

“In general, business is probably not the frothiest it’s ever been. There’s parts of the country, for example Alberta, that are still a bit under pressure economically. There are other spots in the country that are a bit under pressure as well. Customers are being very careful about how they spend their money these days. That always puts a certain amount of pressure on,” said Reisman.

“For those retailers who really have something of value to offer, they are getting their share and there is pressure on everybody to really step up their game.”

A look inside the new Indigo store on Robson Street in Vancouver. Credit: Janis Nicolay [PNG Merlin Archive]

Reisman said Indigo’s focus has always been 100 per cent on the customer. At every opportunity the company had to bring better quality to that customer experience as well as being careful on prices.

“There’s always a need to be investing in the ability to serve the customer digitally because we are in a world where the customer is as happy to do their shopping online in many cases as in store. Ensuring you can invest into the digital side of the business is very important,” she said.

“In our case, we’ve also been investing in our stores to create more richer experiences. So on both sides it is important – investing in your retail infrastructure and in your digital infrastructure.”

She said the company has renovated or relocated about 25 stores in the past two years. In the past year, Indigo began the launch of programming in its stores. The retailer is running different learning programs in the stores, doing everything from calligraphy to wine tasting to health.

“It’s still in its test phase but it’s had a very interesting response because  customers I think feel like there is a need for just a basic social interaction that happens when you’re together doing something of shared interest in a class. That’s quite an interesting initiative we have going on,” said Reisman.

Heather Reisman – Photo Toronto Star

“We also launched a new digital application called Thoughtfull which is an online gift application. That allows people to gift people experiences as well as products. And experiences of all kinds – baking, and tours, and flying, and experiences in going up in helicopters. That’s a new initiative for Indigo.”

Reisman said Indigo has an extensive retail footprint, covering the country from one end to the other. So it’s not looking to expand. From time to time, it does choose to change locations and it is constantly assessing its portfolio.

“But in general we do not think that we need a lot more retail – physical space – in the next couple of years,” she added.

Reisman is the recipient of several awards including the WXN Top 100 Most Powerful Women; Waterloo Entrepreneur Hall of Fame, University of Waterloo; International Distinguished Entrepreneur Award, University of Manitoba; John Molson School of Business Award of Distinction, Concordia University; and the Desautels Management Achievement Award in recognition of her outstanding contribution to Canadian business and society. She is the recipient of Honorary Doctorates from Ryerson University (2006), Wilfrid Laurier University (2009), Mount Allison University (2010), St. Francis Xavier University (2013), McGill University (2017), and the Weizmann Institute of Science (2017). Reisman was inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame in 2015.

Article Author

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 National Business Journalist with Retail Insider in addition to working on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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