Henry’s, a leading specialty digital imaging and camera retailer in Canada, continues to expand its physical store network even during the pandemic with plans to relocate its Toronto flagship store by this summer.
The retailer has 22 stores across the country which will grow in the near future with the addition of another store in Hamilton at the CF Lime Ridge Mall. The majority of the company’s stores are in Ontario.
It also has an e-commerce and a commercial business.
“The store network is important. For us, the physical location still has a lot of value. The service we provide is very experiential,” said Gillian Stein, the company’s CEO. “It’s hands on. You want to talk to somebody. You want to touch and feel the product and there’s a lot of value in that in what we see . . . People want to have that interaction.”
“So we’re firm believers in the store but I think the purpose that it serves now is very different than what it used to be. It’s not just about obviously stacking your shelves with inventory and watching it go off the shelf. It’s about having a space for interaction. It’s very important that the store is there to support the ecomm experience.”
Henry’s was an early adopter of ecommerce with a platform in place in 1997.
As for future new store openings, Stein said she wasn’t sure right now about that as the company always looks at the store network and what makes sense at the time – always evaluating leases in terms of what makes sense as the market shifts and changes.
Henry’s has been at the corner of Church Street and Queen Street E in Toronto for 57 years. It has been in its current building at 119 Church Street for 47 years. Originally, before that, Henry’s was at 135 Church Street for 10 years. It will be moving to 185 Church Street – one block north of its current location.
At the current location, the real estate footprint is about 10,000 square feet with corporate offices in three floors above the store. The new location will be about 5,200 square feet but only retail space.
“In this new store, we’re going to have a dedicated unique space for content creators. So people who use YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and Twitch and creating a space for them to be able to come and have more community involvement,” said Stein.
“The space itself is going to be our new format with a much more modern, much more inviting and welcoming feel and really celebrate the passion of photography and content as opposed to sort of a more traditional photography store that’s really about the gear.”
When Stein looks at the past two years as a retailer experiencing the challenges of the pandemic, what is the biggest lesson she’s learned?
“You always have to be able to be agile. We want to be agile but you actually have to make sure that you have a business that can support that,” explained Stein. “It’s about the way your team thinks. Do you have the capital for that? Do you have the infrastructure for that?
“I’ve been really impressed with our team’s ability to be adaptable and resilient and as agile as possible. For sure, there’s been elements of our infrastructure that we knew had to change to support us to be more agile and nimble in the future. So we’re making investments in technology to support that.”
Henry’s first opened its doors in 1909.
Recently, Stein went public with news that she had bipolar disorder, formerly called manic depression. At the time, no major CEO in Canada had publicly shared a personal mental health struggle of such magnitude.
“I really wanted to encourage others to share their stories about mental health and to be able to seek the help that they need to lead a normal and fulfilling wonderful life because I think that’s something that everybody deserves,” said Stein, who is part of the fourth generation leading Henry’s.
“I think it’s amazing that we see depression and anxiety have become more normalized. But I would say that in the business community it’s not the same and we’re really quite behind and as business leaders I find we don’t really talk about our personal struggles. There’s still a lot of stigma and shame around a much broader spectrum of mental health issues. If we don’t talk about it, I think we’re perpetuating the stigma. And so for me I felt that every time I don’t tell someone about my mental health situation, it’s an opportunity that’s dropped.”
The Stein family founded Henry’s Foundation in March 2020, which is committed to fighting against the mental health stigma and to helping Canadians get the mental health support they need. Gillian’s sister Amy Stein is the Executive Director.
“Our family has always been very deeply rooted in our community and have always really believed in giving back. But we felt it was really important for us to really focus our efforts on a single cause and felt mental health was really the key for us,” said Stein.
“Our family personally struggles with it. We know that it is something that impacts our employees and it’s something that impacts our community as well.”