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International Retailers Continue to Enter Canadian Market Despite Pandemic [List/Analysis]

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Every year Retail Insider tracks international retailers opening stores within the Canadian marketplace. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 saw at least 13 international brands enter the country. While it’s the lowest number since Retail Insider began tracking international entrants in 2014, it’s still an impressive number given what has been a transformative year for the retail industry in Canada.

Some international brands had already set out plans to open in Canada prior to the pandemic, and some continued to do so despite concerns about a changing consumer profile and mass shutdowns. Some brands, looking to a future where the pandemic is over, opened stores with an eye to long-term growth despite current challenges.

In the previous years that Retail Insider published the international entrants lists, the number of first-to-market retailers has ranged from 20 to a whopping 50+ international retailers that entered the country over a 12 month period. In 2019, we reported that 30 retailers had entered the country by opening stores — about the same number as in 2018. In 2017, a record-breaking 50+ international brands entered the Canadian market by opening stores. In 2016, Retail Insider wrote a special edition piece for Retail Council of Canada’s publication Canadian Retailer, where we counted 21 international retailers that had come to Canada by opening stores that year.  In 2015 we reported that 28 retailers had opened their first freestanding locations in Canada that year and in 2014, we counted 20 international brands that entered Canada by opening stores.

In terms of geography, the breakdown of cities that saw first-to-Canada stores open in 2020 are broken down as follows:

  • Toronto/GTA: 8
  • Montreal: 2
  • Vancouver: 1
  • Winnipeg: 1
  • Regina: 1

The Toronto area is clearly the primary entry point for international brands opening stores in Canada, far surpassing any other market in 2020. The Yorkdale Shopping Centre, which for years has launched more first-to-Canada brands than anywhere else, saw two of the 13 retailers we tracked for 2020 open in the mall. Luxury brands Celine and Golden Goose were both expected to open at Yorkdale in late 2020 but were delayed due to the pandemic.

First Capital REIT-owned Yorkville Village, including the adjacent Hazelton Hotel, is home to three of the 13 international retail entrants — representing 23% of the total.

The Montreal area saw two of the 13 international entrants open there while Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Regina each saw one first-to-Canada retailer opening. The Vancouver market in particular has seen a slowdown since 2017-2018 when a relatively high number of first-to-Canada brands launched there.

The following is Retail Insider’s count of the international brands that entered Canada in 2020 by opening standalone stores. The list is chronological from earliest to most recent openings.

Exterior of ba&sh store in Yorkville
Exterior of ba&sh store in Yorkville. Photo: Craig Patterson

ba&sh: In March, French women’s fashion brand ba&sh opened its first Canadian storefront at the base of the Hazelton Hotel in Toronto’s Yorkville area. The 1,300-square-foot boutique was open for a couple of days prior to being shut down temporarily along with other ‘non-essential’ retail, opening again in the early summer until a second shutdown hit stores in November. First Capital REIT owns the Hazelton Hotel at 118 Yorkville Avenue as well as the adjacent Yorkville Village.

A second, much larger ba&sh location opened in September in Montreal’s wealthy Westmount area on Sherbrooke Street West.

Exterior of Aeropostale store
Exterior of Aeropostale store

Aeropostale: New York City-based casual fashion retailer Aéropostale made its return to the Canadian marketplace in March with a new-2,200-square-foot store opening at the CF Polo Park shopping centre in Winnipeg. Plans were in place to open about 15 stores in Canada prior to the COVID-19 store shutdowns in the spring and the expansion will continue into 2021.

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. 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.”

Exterior of YOYOSO store. Photo: YOYOSO
Exterior of YOYOSO store. Photo: YOYOSO

YOYOSO: In March, Chinese variety retailer YOYOSO is kicking off its entry into Canada with its first storefront at the Southland Shopping Centre in Regina. A second location recently opened at Cornwall Centre in Regina, with both stores being operated by a local franchisee.

The Southland store spans about 2,000 square feet featuring the retailer’s blue-green branding that is eye-catching. The retailer focuses on eight categories in its stores, including health and beauty/cosmetics, home accessories, fashion accessories, fashion bags, digital accessories, stationery & gifts, seasonal products, and imported food. A total of 5,000 products are available and YOYOSO says that 500 new items arrive in its stores each month.

YOYOSO was founded in 2014 and now operates more than 1,000 stores in 30 countries worldwide. Markets include China, Malaysia, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Bahrain, Brunei, Georgia, Kuwait, India, South Africa, Hungary, Mongolia, Brazil, the United States, Guatemala, Ecuador, France, Russia, and Iraq. South Africa is a new market for YOYOSO, according to its website.

Exterior of new Away store in Yorkdale Shopping Centre. Photo: Maxime Frechette
Exterior of new Away store in Yorkdale Shopping Centre. Photo: Maxime Frechette

Away Luggage: In late summer 2020, New York City-based travel and lifestyle brand Away — known particularly for its innovative luggage — opened its first Canadian storefront at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre. The Yorkdale Away location spans more than 2,880 square feet on one level, and features a unique design inspired by travel. That includes a double-height metallic facade with mock airplane windows above the glass storefront. The interior of the store includes light wood shelving and flooring that contrast with bright artwork such as large postcards on the walls. The direct-to-consumer brand is likely to open more stores in Canada as it also sells through its online channels and social media.

Exterior of QuanU store in Kennedy Commons in suburban Toronto. Photo: QuanU
Exterior of QuanU store in Kennedy Commons in suburban Toronto. Photo: QuanU

QuanU: In July, Chinese furniture retailer QuanU opened its first Canadian store at Kennedy Commons in suburban Toronto. The company will continue to expand further into Canada in 2021 with plans for as many as 15 stores this year. QuanU has more than 5,000 stores in China and was founded in 1986.

Entrance of new Ray-Ban store in CF Toronto Eaton Centre. Photo: Craig Patterson

Ray-Ban: In September, upscale sunglasses and eyewear brand Ray-Ban opened its first standalone store in Canada at CF Toronto Eaton Centre in Toronto. The 650-square-foot boutique features the brand’s trademark red facade and interiors, as well as hundreds of styles of sunglasses. More locations are expected to follow as Ray-Ban expands its direct-to-consumer operations in Canada.

Exterior of Pilgrim store in Place Montreal Trust. Photo: Maxime Frechette
Exterior of Pilgrim store in Place Montreal Trust. Photo: Maxime Frechette

Pilgrim: In the fall, Danish jewellery brand Pilgrim opened its first permanent storefront in Canada in downtown Montreal. It follows last year’s openings of two Pilgrim pop-up stores in the Montreal area that proved successful. The new Montreal Pilgrim boutique is located at Place Montreal Trust located on Ste-Caterine Street. The boutique is 504 square feet in a prime corner retail space. More locations are expected to open in the Montreal area and possibly beyond in 2021.

Exterior of Thom Browne store in Yorkdale Shopping Centre. Photo: Thom Browne
Exterior of Thom Browne store in Yorkdale Shopping Centre. Photo: Thom Browne

Thom Browne: In November, New York City-based luxury fashion brand Thom Browne opened its first Canadian store at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre. The 1,430-square-foot store features a range of men’s and women’s fashions, bags, accessories, footwear, and fragrances. The store’s interior is unique with high ceilings and a design reflective of a mid-century office with signature slat blind-covered windows, “fluorescent” LED tube lighting, polished grey and black terrazzo flooring, and banker grey Bardiglio and Carrara marble walls. Mid-century furniture by American and French designers is featured throughout. The expansion will continue in 2021 with a second standalone Canadian Thom Browne store that will open in Vancouver, details to follow.

AVON MAKE UP COUNTER. PHOTO: AVON
Avon make up counter. Photo: Avon

Avon: Beauty brand Avon officially launched a Canadian retail expansion in November with an initial plan to open three storefronts. The first of these opened in Montreal and locations in Toronto and Vancouver are also in the works. It’s part of an effort by Avon to create an immersive experience for consumers in dedicated spaces for the first time. The Montreal Avon flagship features a reception area, café and lounge space (with complimentary snacks and beverages), product displays, ordering stations, a ‘mini spa experience’, training area, and a conference room. The space encourages trial, sampling, and discovery through product knowledge training and beauty advice. Avon’s full range of skincare, colour cosmetics, fragrances, personal care items, and health and wellness items are carried along with Avon-owned brands.

The 3,200-square-foot Montreal ‘Studio 1886’ Avon location is at 5500 Trans-Canada Highway in suburban Pointe-Claire. The highly interactive retail space is contained within Avon’s Canadian headquarters. The open concept Avon space is a place where Avon’s independent sales representatives can meet with customers to showcase the latest products. It’s part of a multi-channel shift from Avon’s door-to-door sales which has been a core sales channel for the brand for over 100 years.

Interior of Yorkville Couple Diamonds store. Photo: Toronto Life
Interior of Yorkville Couple Diamonds store. Photo: Toronto Life

Couple Diamonds: New York City-based Lab-grown diamond brand Couple Diamonds opened its first permanent store at Toronto’s Yorkville Village shopping centre in the fall. The 900-square-foot boutique became Couple’s Canadian flagship store as part of a retail expansion for the brand. Couple specializes in lab-grown diamonds which it claims are identical to mined diamonds down to the atom. The raw diamonds are cut and polished and graded by the International Gemological Institute before undergoing a 12-step quality control process to ensure they meet an exceptionally high standard.

Exterior of the new Tudor boutique at Yorkdale Shopping Centre. Photo: Tudor

Tudor: In the fall, luxury watch brand Tudor opened its first standalone store in North America at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre. The 450-square-foot boutique is connected to and operated by Raffi Jewellers. The boutique was only open briefly before being shut down temporarily in November — the store has yet to reopen as Ontario’s lockdowns extend until at least January 23rd.

The Toronto store features red, black, and grey colour hues and houses a range of price Tudor time pieces. We’ll update this with a full article when the store has reopened hopefully later this month.

The history of Whoo storefront. Photo: The history of Whoo
The history of Whoo storefront. Photo: The history of Whoo

The history of Whoo: In December, South Korea-based LG Household & Health Care chose Canada to open the company’s first multi-brand retail store under ‘The history of Whoo’ banner. The retail space at CF Richmond Centre near Vancouver is part of a growth plan that will see LG’s beauty brands expand further into the Canadian market. The history of Whoo’s retail space at CF Richmond Centre spans 475 square feet. Included are Gani marble floors, mirrored ceilings, gold-plated fixtures, and a one of a kind custom chandelier. The store acts as a way to share the story of the brands carried within The history of Whoo, including The history of Whoo, Su:m37 and O HUI. More Canadian locations are expected according to the company.

Exterior of Polestar in Toronto. Photo: Craig Patterson
Exterior of Polestar in Toronto. Photo: Craig Patterson

Polestar: In late December, Volvo-owned electric car brand Polestar opened its first location in North America at Toronto’s Yorkville Village shopping centre at 55 Avenue Road in Yorkville. The bi-level space includes a street-facing facade on busy Avenue Road as well as an entrance from within the mall. One-on-one appointments are permitted though the space is otherwise shut due to provincial lockdowns until at least January 23rd. Grand Touring Auto runs the Toronto space, as well as a new Montreal Polestar location (at 1255 boulevard René Levesque West) set to open this year. A Vancouver location under a different operator (at 827 Seymour Street) is also set to open and the company will open service centres in Victoria, BC and Waterloo, ON.

Retail Insider will continue to track international retailers entering Canada in 2021. This year is expected to see more than 2020, and we have already reported on several of them. That includes French luxury brand Celine and Italian luxury brand Golden Goose that will both open at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre, The Webster which will open in Toronto’s Yorkville area in the spring, and Italian luxury brand Isaia which will open on Yorkville Avenue in April. We’re aware of several others that we’ll report on in due course when permitted.

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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