Aéropostale was in Canada a few years ago but left the market in the spring of 2016 after the bankruptcy of its US division. The company had 41 stores in Canada at the time.
But it made its return to the Canadian market in time for Black Friday last fall with its first collection of products appearing in 75 Bluenotes stores across the country.
The ‘shop in shop’ stores were part of an overall plan Aéropostale has to establish a number of freestanding new concept stores in Canada from coast to coast this year.
Shane Butner, Director of Marketing & Brand for Bluenotes, Aéropostale Canada and Thrifty’s, said the company chose Winnipeg as its first entrance back into the market because the Manitoba city “was a strong market for Aéropostale when they were last in Canada and a great market to learn from before we open a store in Toronto.”
“Winnipeg, along with our upcoming openings at Place Rosemere, Montreal and Mic Mac, Halifax, gives us a nice diverse mix of customers to learn from before we open a lot more locations,” he said.
The CF Polo Park location is 2,200 square feet.
“Right now we’re looking at probably 15 stores this year,” said Butner. “Fifteen is the initial. We’ll see how the marketplace is responding to it. You’ve got a combination of the freestanding Aéropostale plus you still have the ‘shop in shop’ inside Bluenotes. That’s already putting us at about 90 stores by end of year as far as that market footprint goes.
“We don’t want to oversaturate where you’ve got an Aéropostale in every single mall. We want to be smart and strategic about it. See if the customer responds. See where we’re doing the best. Expand into those areas and learn from it. It’s different from a Bluenotes’ customer. We’re definitely learning that. There’s two different sets of customers shopping it. There are those that have the nostalgia of remembering Aéropostale and coming back to shop it again and then you have a whole new younger generation that knows Aéropostale in this new format and doesn’t remember the prior.”
Butner said the new store design is really fresh, clean and simple. More lighter woods and white brick. A more digital experience has been introduced with a video screen. The space has been kept open and spacious. The retailer didn’t want the store to feel too crowded and too overwhelming of product.
“But still a high unit, intensity store,” he said. “Obviously when you get a lot of product you get a lot of the sales there.
“From merchandise and promo, we’ve kept it very sharp pricing. The Aéropostale merchandise on average is about $5 to $10 more than the Bluenotes product. We’ve got a little bit more of a quality finish in it which gives the customer value for the dollar difference. When Aéropostale was in Canada the last time there were a variety of different promos and the prices were very inflated and then they take a big deep discount on it. We’re not taking that approach. We’ve gone sharp with the price points and then have every day promo on top of it.”
The Halifax store is scheduled to open at the end of April or early May. The Montreal store will also open about the same time. Those stores will be about 4,000 square feet each.
Butner said the retailer has seen a good response from consumers to the new Winnipeg store and the brand’s return to the Canadian market.
“If you think about it, there hasn’t been a new retailer, at least in our demographic, for quite a few years now. So it’s definitely something new and exciting for the customers,” he said.
In an interview with Retail Insider last year, Michael Roden, CEO of Bluenotes and Aéropostale Canada, said the Aéropostale main age demographic can be as young as 15 years old up to the early 20s – high school to early college and university.
“We’re very excited. We’ve been working on this for quite some time. We’ve been working with the merchandising group and we’ve been going back and forth to New York learning about the brand, learning what works,” he said.
Bluenotes has been a Canadian company since 1942 with the original store called Thrifty’s at the corner of Queen Street and Church Street in Toronto. Bluenotes is known as one of the top denim retailers in Canada.
Bluenotes is the exclusive licence partner of Aéropostale in Canada. The merchandise is designed in Canada in partnership of Aéropostale USA making it an exclusive collection to the Canadian stores.