Roots Relaunches Iconic ‘Beaver Canoe’ Brand to Mark 40 Years: Interview with CEO Meghan Roach

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Iconic Canadian retailer Roots has re-introduced its historic Beaver Canoe brand to celebrate the brand’s 40th anniversary.

Meghan Roach, President and Chief Executive Officer of Roots, said Beaver Canoe was launched in 1982.

“The brand was associated with Roots for a very long time. We have our 40th anniversary this year and so from that perspective as we were looking at our archives and our heritage and thinking about what do we want to bring back and what are customers in love with today, one of the things is Beaver Canoe,” said Roach.

“If you think about the trends in the marketplace today from a retro logo perspective and also just from a resale perspective, we were seeing tons of people out there who were borrowing Beaver Canoe from their parents or buying them in the secondary market. So we knew there was a lot of demand for it. And so when we thought about what we wanted to bring back, Beaver Canoe was one of the top things.”

Roots Canada on Bloor Street (Image: Craig Patterson)
Roots Canada at CF Toronto Eaton Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

The last time the product line was in a Roots store was around 2012/2013. It was also in Target stores in 2014 into the beginning of 2015 when Target exited the Canadian market. It had a very large business in Target of about $20 million in its first year, said Roach.

Meghan Roach

Roach said as part of the retailer’s normal product development process it always has conversations about what it has in its archives, what’s meaningful and impactful to the brand potentially, and how does it bring those things back at the right time.

“A lot of that contributed to our decision to bring it back now,” she said.

“Our business is a brand that’s always been known for being at home with nature. What you’re going to see from a digital perspective is you’re going to see a lot of exciting manifestations of nature in our windows. You go to some of our bigger stores – our Eaton Centre store, Yorkdale – you’re going to see the Beaver Canoe sign with the clothing, mossy, grassy ground. Those types of things that really bring to life the concept of this brand base associated with the outdoors and associated with the things Roots is associated with.”

Roots Canada at CF Toronto Eaton Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

In the store, Beaver Canoe will be shown as part of the overall Roots brand and infusing it with everything it does in a physical location.

Roots Canada at Brookfield Place (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

“Beaver Canoe is across our portfolio. The other thing that’s really unique about Beaver Canoe is that it’s entirely organic. We’re shifting as a brand to have more organic and sustainable materials in our clothing. As we get to the Fall, the majority of our items will be made with sustainable materials. So this is kind of another launch,” said Roach.

Karuna Scheinfeld

The historic Beaver Canoe brand was started by canoeist Omer Stringer, who was born on Canoe Lake, Algonquin Park, in 1912 to an Algonquin Ranger.

Karuna Scheinfeld, Chief Product Officer, joined the company in July 2020.

“Beaver Canoe has had a strong and loyal following since it was launched in 1982. As we looked at our iconic heritage logos, we felt there was an opportunity for Beaver Canoe to be the focus of our summer collection, not only because it is so well loved, but also because of its authentic association with summer activities, from canoeing to cottaging to camp. We saw the 40th anniversary of Beaver Canoe as the perfect time to reintroduce the label, to offer great product for people who have loved it for years, as well as share it with people who are experiencing it for the first time, the response has been even more overwhelming than we anticipated,” she said.

Roots Canada at CF Toronto Eaton Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

“As we brought this into store and started to shoot the product, it just reinforced the universal appeal of Beaver Canoe – all the people on the shoot became obsessed with the product, finding new ways to wear it, or just discovering it as their new favourite. The minute it was available we saw everyone at home office and our store staff buying and wearing it right away, always a key sign for a positive result. We allowed it to flow into stores as a soft launch prior to the official release, and the response was immediate as it jumped to the top of our weekly bestsellers.”

She said the photoshoot and windows both reflect the history of outdoor craftsmanship, shot in the Canadian wilderness of northern Ontario.

Patrick Davis, Director – Creative Marketing, said the Beaver Canoe campaign was an opportunity to go beyond just celebrating the brand with those who have known it for 40 years.

“As we honour and contextualize the four decades of the beloved brand, we also want to capture a contemporary feel for a new era,” he said.

“The faces of the campaign are not just people but friends that we built relationships within our community. Tamara & Peter, with their individual fond memories of being camp instructors and wearing the original crew. Also, millennials Alex & Nick hold a connection with nature and love the collection’s aesthetics. This sense of community goes even further by partnering with Black Canadian photographer, Liam MacRae, and Toronto-based artists, Trevor Wheatley and Cosmo Dean. We believe this new Beaver Canoe collection is for everyone.”

Roots Canada at Brookfield Place (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

Roots has 120 locations, including 11 pop-ups. It plans to open another four – three of them pop-ups – this year.

 In the first quarter of this year, sales for the retailer grew 15.3 per cent  year-over-year to $43.1 million. But net loss of $53 million was up from a net loss of $4.9 million in Q1 2021.

“Roots delivered solid first quarter results with sales increasing 15.3 per cent year-over-year mainly due to greater customer traffic. Our performance for the quarter validates our omni-channel growth plan and renewed strategy focused on optimizing our product portfolio, elevating our brand image and driving overall demand. While industry-wide supply-chain disruptions remain present, our team continues to stress operational excellence by diligently seeking optimal logistics solutions,” said Roach.

“Through high-profile collaborations with artists, celebrities and influencers, we continue to promote brand awareness to a broader global audience and leverage our highly attractive customer demographics. Over 70 per cent of our customers have been loyal to Roots for more than 10 years, while our brand has resonated across the marketplace for nearly 50 years. We also recently joined the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, reflecting our commitment to reducing our environmental footprint and promoting social justice throughout the global supply chain. Based on our enduring brand affinity, premium product offering and ongoing operational efficiencies, we plan to stay the course with a focus on our long-term, profitable growth strategy.”

Roots Canada at Brookfield Place (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

Gross profit reached $26.2 million in Q1 2022 compared to $21.5 million in Q1 2021, representing an increase of 22.1 per cent. Gross margin improved to 60.9 per cent in Q1 2022 from 57.5 per cent in Q1 2021. 

“We really have focused on being a strong omnichannel brand,” added Roach. “We’re continuing to invest in that area as a brand to make sure we provide ourselves with a lot of flexibility.”

Roach said the brand learned through the pandemic how to be adaptable. 

“Really thinking a lot about what’s the brand ethos. What does it mean to our consumers. How do we continue to develop and bring products to the forefront that our consumers are really seeking, excited about,” said Roach. “We have a really strong core business. And if  you think about the market going forward and how challenging the last couple of years have been, the fact that we’ve had a really strong product portfolio and a core product portfolio has served us really well.”

She said the company has learned through the pandemic to be prepared during disruption. Disruption is a new normal in the retail industry.

“I think the concept of things going back to normal is not really going to happen. I think there is a new normal that’s been established. As a brand and as a retailer we have to prepare ourselves and build that muscle to respond to disruptive situations on a go-forward basis. So a lot of what we’ve been focusing on internally is how do we create ourselves to be very adaptable, how do we give ourselves the room to pivot. We really think about how do we deal with future macro situations by creating a lot of flexibility internally and being willing to pivot around as much as possible.”

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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