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Holt Renfrew Sets Out Plan to Reopen Stores with COVID-19 Safety Protocols

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Luxury multi-brand retailer Holt Renfrew has a game plan to reopen its stores across the country after all were shut in March due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. Three of Holt Renfrew’s stores are set to open again this month, including stores in Calgary and Vancouver, as well as the new Holt Renfrew Ogilvy store in Montreal which has been under a multi-year expansion/renovation. The company’s other stores, all located in the Greater Toronto Area, will open at a later date which will likely be in June. The openings come at a time when some consumers may pull back on luxury spending as has been seen with other recession periods.

“The health and safety of our employees and customers continue to be our top priority during these unprecedented times,” said Mario Grauso, President of Holt Renfrew. “Now, more than ever, we must maintain open communication with our customers, employees, and communities.” He went on to say, “We have put additional measures into place to help provide safe environments, striving to update our stores and experiences to reassure our customers and employees.”

The Calgary Holt Renfrew store will be first to open again on Thursday, May 14. The store spans more than 120,000 square feet on three retail levels (excluding a non-retail fourth level) in Calgary’s downtown core, which has been hit hard with low oil prices as well as an almost two-month retail shutdown. According to an internal document obtained by Retail Insider, the store’s operating hours until further notice will be 11:00am – 5:00pm Monday through Saturday, and 12:00pm – 5:00pm on Sundays.

HOLT RENFREW IN VANCOUVER. PHOTO: FRONT
HOLT RENFREW INTERIOR IN VANCOUVER. PHOTO: TOURISMVANCOUVER

Holt Renfrew’s 190,000-square-foot downtown Vancouver store will open on Tuesday, May 19 according to the retailer’s website. The four-level store, housing a vast selection of luxury brands, was the company’s top performer last year according to sources. The store was heavily reliant on Vancouver’s Asian population as well as tourists, and it remains to be seen when borders will be opened up again for travellers to come to Canada. Store hours for the Vancouver store will be 11:00am – 5:00pm seven days a week until further notice.

In Montreal, the new 250,000-square-foot Holt Renfrew Ogilvy store will officially open to the public on Monday, May 25 according to the staff document obtained by Retail Insider. The spectacular showpiece will become one of the finest luxury stores in the world, spanning six retail levels in the historic Ogilvy department store building which saw a significant expansion as well as the addition of an adjacent Four Seasons Hotel that has yet to reopen. About a year ago, Holt Renfrew Ogilvy unveiled a 25,000-square-foot concourse level beauty hall as well as a 40,000-square-foot menswear floor, as well as several of the luxury concessions on the store’s main level. When the store reopens this month, 11 luxury boutiques will occupy the street level luxury hall and in total, 99 brand concessions will be contained in the massive Holt Renfrew Ogilvy building on Ste-Catherine Street West. Temporary hours of operation will be 12:00pm-5:00pm Monday-Saturday, and the store will be closed Sundays (as per law).

Construction of the Holt Renfrew Ogilvy store was nearing completion before its March temporary closure. Construction resumed on Monday of this week, according to our Montreal correspondent Maxime Frechette.

CALGARY MEN'S FLOOR. PHOTO: JANSON GOLDSTEIN
CALGARY STORE. PHOTO: JANSON GOLDSTEIN

The smaller Holt Renfrew store at 1300 Sherbrooke Street West, which has been there since 1937, is set to open on May 25 as well according to internal company documents. That store is expected to close permanently shortly after — plans were in place for the Sherbrooke Street Holt Renfrew store to close once the nearby Holt Renfrew Ogilvy was completed. Hours for Holts Sherbrooke Street would be the same as Holt Renfrew Ogilvy for however long the Sherbrooke Street store remains operational.

Holt Renfrew hasn’t yet announced the opening dates of its other Canadian stores, all of which are located in the Greater Toronto Area. That includes the 190,000-square-foot Holt Renfrew flagship store at 50 Bloor Street West which will soon unveil a new facade and renovated main floor, a standalone 16,500-square-foot men’s store at 100 Bloor Street West, a 130,000-square-foot store at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre, and a 140,000-square-foot store at Square One in Mississauga. The COVID-19 infection rates in the Toronto area have been going down and are far fewer than that of the Montreal region.

Hours of operation for both Bloor Street stores will be 11:00am - 5:00pm seven days a week. The Yorkdale Holt Renfrew store will operate from 11:00am - 5:00pm seven days a week and Square One will operate from 11:00am - 4:00pm until further notice.

The company has announced plans and protocols to facilitate the store reopenings, including housekeeping, hygiene, in-store circulation, and new services which Holt Renfrew says are part of a strategy for adapting to changing customer behaviours.

SQUARE ONE HOLT RENFREW PHOTO: HOLT RENFREW

Sanitation will be taken seriously by Holt Renfrew as it opens its stores again. “Prior to re-opening, each store will undergo a deep cleaning of all front and back of house areas. Increased daily sanitizations will occur throughout the day including sanitation of all high touch areas including pay stations, all conveyance, railings, door handles, washrooms, fitting rooms, and more, after each use,” the company said in a statement. “Additional porter staffing will be hired for all stores and the speciality retailer is committed to providing training for all employees for new health and safety efforts and policies.”

Hygiene protocol will include hand sanitization stations which will be made available throughout the stores including at all entry points. Employees and customers will be required to sanitize their hands upon entry into Holt Renfrew stores. “All store team members will wear disposable gloves and masks while in the stores, and disposable gloves and masks will be made available for all customers who wish to receive them,” said Holt Renfrew in a statement. All high touch surfaces, including point of sale, PIN pads, and phones, will be sanitized after each use, as will fitting rooms in the stores. The in-store beauty halls will become “touchless” and for the foreseeable future, Holt Renfrew’s store associates will not accept cash payments.

Physical distancing measures will be implemented in an effort to create safe in-store circulation. All of Holt Renfrew’s seven stores will operate on reduced hours once they reopen. “Pending the architecture of the respective building, entrances will be limited and there will be greeters and stanchions to welcome a controlled number of guests accordingly, to ensure safety,” said a statement. Stores will feature signage indicating a minimum of two metres physical distance for all front of house areas including fitting rooms, payment desks, escalators, elevators and other store components. In-store elevators will be restricted to only those who require them for assistance. Employees will be trained on the in-store circulation measures both on the sales floor as well as in the back of house areas.

HOLT RENFREW BLOOR’S UPDATED FACADE RENDERING: GENSLER

New customer service options will be implemented across the chain. Holt Renfrew said in a statement that it is “tailoring shopping experiences so that customers can shop their preferred way, whether that’s in-store or from the comfort of their home.” That includes the option to utilize curbside pickup at valet stations for stores that have them. A newly launched Salesfloor widget will allow customers to connect with an associate for virtual assistance or to set up an in-store one-on-one appointment. The ‘Holts by Appointment’ service will be revived where customers call a store concierge to book a time to meet with an associate before coming into the store. Holts’ return policy will be extended as well.

Tailoring and alterations will only include “basic services” according to Holt Renfrew, and the in-store restaurants will open when permitted and likely at a lower capacity than in the past.

The store reopenings come at an unprecedented time when many consumers will be re-evaluating spending patterns. Many of the world’s top luxury brands are carried in Holt Renfrew stores, and the company is considered to be the national leader with concession brands such as Chanel, Hermes, Gucci, Prada, Fendi, Balenciaga, Tiffany & Co., and many others. As with other recessions, consumers may look to shop for less flashy brands that lack prominent logos after an extended period of job losses, a reduction in stock valuations and low oil prices. The lack of tourists visiting Holt Renfrew stores is also expected to contribute to a temporary sales decline until borders are reopened.

At the same time, closed borders could end up benefiting Holt Renfrew as its stores begin reopening this spring. The markets where Holt Renfrew operates, including Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal, are home to many wealthy consumers who might otherwise travel abroad to buy. If those consumes are inclined to again start shopping for luxury brands, they may visit their local Holt Renfrew store or otherwise shop online. Holt Renfrew Ogilvy in Montreal could see a boost given the number of millionaires and billionaires who reside in the city — luxury sales in Montreal have typically lagged in comparison to those in Toronto and Vancouver, and the Holt Renfrew Ogilvy store will need to see strong sales to justify the nine-figure cost of the store's renovation and expansion.

Article Author

Craig Patterson
Craig Patterson
Now located in Toronto, Craig is a retail analyst and consultant at the Retail Council of Canada. He's also the Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for the past 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees. He is also President & CEO of Vancouver-based Retail Insider Media Ltd.

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