Holt Renfrew Appoints New President & CEO

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Toronto-based large-format luxury multi-brand retailer Holt Renfrew has announced that it has appointed a new President and CEO. Industry veteran Sebastian Picardo will replace Mario Grauso, who has led Holt Renfrew on a path of significant change over his four-year tenure with the company. It comes at a time of stress for retailers following an extended period of store closures as well as shifting consumer sentiment at an unprecedented time.

The new Holt Renfrew President and CEO, Sebastian Picardo, most recently held the position of Deputy President and Chief Operating Officer at Hong Kong-based luxury department store chain Lane Crawford. Over the eight years, Picardo led the company to invest in fashion and technology to further make Lane Crawford a leader in its markets which include operations in China. Before joining Lane Crawford, Picardo held senior leadership positions at Burberry, Net-a-porter, and Alexander McQueen.

At Burberry, Picardo was instrumental in transforming the digital side of the business into the most advanced of its kind within the luxury sector. Picardo is also a chartered accountant and holds a degree in business management as well as a masters degree in international finance. He was born in Argentina and has worked in Buenos Aires, London, Barcelona, and Hong Kong. As part of his position with Holt Renfrew, Picardo’s new home is Toronto and he officially takes on the President and CEO role on June 1st.

Mario Grauso became President of Holt Renfrew in July of 2016. He was instrumental in leading Holt Renfrew along a new path which included newly renovated and expanded stores, an enhanced concession model, and an expanded e-commerce site with thousands of designer products.

“It has been a privilege to lead Holt Renfrew and I am proud of what we have accomplished and the great team and beautiful environments we have built,” said Grauso. “The company is in a great place and it is the right time for me to move to my next challenge. I want to wish the business continued success and thank everyone for their support.”

Since Grauso took over the reins of Holt Renfrew, the company has spent hundreds of millions of dollars renovating and expanding its stores. That includes a substantial renovation and expansion of the Vancouver flagship Holt Renfrew store at CF Pacific Centre, which grew to more than 190,000 square feet and to this day is adding new vendor shops as part of ongoing updates. In Toronto, the Yorkdale Holt Renfrew store expanded by about 10,000 square feet last year, adding flagship-sized concessions for luxury brands Gucci, Fendi, and Dior. Other parts of the store were also renovated to create a series of ‘world of’ concessions featuring ready-to-wear and other categories for brands such as Burberry, Brunello Cucinelli, and Loro Piana. At 50 Bloor Street West, Holt Renfrew’s 190,000-square-foot flagship is in the process of a renovation that will soon include a new facade as well as an ongoing interior renovation.

In Montreal, an expanded Holt Renfrew Ogilvy store on Ste-Catherine Street West will reopen next week, spanning 250,000 square feet with many of the world’s leading luxury brands contained within. An existing Holt Renfrew store on Sherbrooke Street West will close once the nearby Holt Renfrew Ogilvy store is fully completed. During Grauso’s tenure, Holt Renfrew made the difficult decision to shutter its downtown Edmonton store as the company shifted its strategy to embrace big brands with their own dedicated spaces.

That concession model has seen large boutique spaces, run by brands themselves, in Holt Renfrew stores across the country. It’s something that brands have demanded amid a shift to direct-to-consumer selling which has seen Holt Renfrew increasingly becoming a landlord as well as a retailer.

Grauso also led the expansion of Holt Renfrew’s e-commerce site after a lag, adding apparel, footwear, bags and accessories to the mix. The site’s comprehensive launch had been delayed and until last year, only featured an assortment of beauty products. A massive IT push helped Holt Renfrew grow online sales while its stores were shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, Holt Renfrew’s Calgary store reopened and on Tuesday of this week, the Vancouver store reopened. On Monday May 25, the two Montreal stores will open and the Toronto-area stores will open at an unspecified date in the next while as well.

The company says that Grauso will move back to the United States along with his partner Serkan Sarier who is a notable artist.

Holt Renfrew is part of the London UK-based Selfridges Group umbrella of stores which also includes Selfridges in the UK, Brown Thomas and Arnotts in Ireland, and De Bijenkorf in the Netherlands. All chains are upscale, feature a robust concession model and are considered to be market leaders.

“I want to thank Mario for his significant contribution to Holt Renfrew these last years,” said Anne Pitcher, Managing Director of Selfridges Group. “Under his leadership, he transformed our stores into the luxury destinations we have today, enhancing the business and its iconic status as a world-class retail brand and a leader in the Canadian market. We wish Mario every success and all the best in his future endeavours,” she added.


Pitcher went on to say about the new hire, “There are few senior leaders of Sebastian’s pedigree and proven track record of success in the luxury retail space, and we are delighted that he will bring his extensive experience to Holt Renfrew. Throughout his career leading some of the world’s most successful brands, Sebastian has demonstrated an ability to see retail as an all-channel experience and to continually innovate and empower his teams to exceed customer expectations. We look forward to exciting new opportunities under his leadership”

Holt Renfrew’s expansive investments have come at a risky time for the company. The retailer has relied heavily on shoppers from China and with a crackdown on money leaving the country, some Chinese consumers have had less to spend in luxury retailers in this country. Now with an extended period of store closures due to COVID-19, consumers may be hesitant in returning to physical stores. As discussed last week in Retail Insider, Holt Renfrew has set out a strategy for its store reopenings which includes reduced hours, hygiene and sanitization, and physical distancing measures.

As with previous recessions, some consumers may decide to save money rather than spend it, and there may also be a movement away from flashier designer brands that feature prominent logos. Lost wealth from job losses, stock market declines and oil price losses is creating a further financial strain for some Canadians. At the same time, some affluent Canadians may choose to shop in their own country rather than travel internationally. That would be good news for Holt Renfrew which operates in the Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, and Vancouver markets, all of which are home to multimillionaires and some billionaires.

Article Author

Craig Patterson
Located in Toronto, Craig is the Editor-in-Chief of Retail Insider and President/CEO of Retail Insider Media Ltd. He is also a retail analyst and consultant, Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton, and consultant to the Retail Council of Canada. 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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