Zellers Stores to be Revived by Hudson’s Bay Company [Exclusive]

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The Hudson’s Bay Company will be reviving its Zellers brand by opening stores and a dedicated ecommerce website. Zellers as Canadians knew it ceased to exist in March of 2013 after the Hudson’s Bay Company sold most of the store leases to Target and shuttered a majority of the stores — the remaining two Zellers-branded stores shut in 2020.

Included in the new rollout will be physical Zellers stores within existing Hudson’s Bay department store locations in Canada, as well as a website that will include a marketplace component.  

The new physical Zellers concept stores will open in early 2023 according to the Hudson’s Bay Company. And it appears that the store expansion will involve opening Zellers locations across Canada. In a statement, Hudson’s Bay said that it would leverage its “nationwide network of prime brick-and-mortar Hudson’s Bay locations as it expands its footprint in major cities across the country.”

One of the goals of the new Zellers concept is to create a “digital-first shopping journey that taps into the nostalgia of the brand Canadians know and love” while at the same time, a “refreshed identity” will be presented for the new Zellers. A “unique and exciting product assortment for families at everyday value” will be part of the mix, indicating that pricing for the Zellers stores will be at the lower-end similar to the previous Zellers stores that Canadians know from years ago. 

Image: mycareer.hbc.com

With that, a value-driven private-label brand will be launched at Zellers that will be “design-led” according to the Hudson’s Bay Company. The new Zellers will sell housewares and home décor, furniture, small appliances, toys, and pet accessories. Apparel will also be introduced along with other categories as time goes on with an assortment of products added to stores as they are developed. 

“Where the lowest price is the law” was a calling card, which has helped Zellers establish itself as more than a retail destination, but a place to build and support community,” says Adam Powell, Chief Business Officer, Zellers. “Zellers is a brand deeply rooted in the Canadian experience. Spanning generations, people hold distinct connections to Zellers through shared experiences with family and friends, and we look forward to building on that in the future.” 

The Zellers.ca website will also be launched and is expected to include a marketplace component, as per a trademark application several months ago. And if the website portal takes off, it’s possible that the Hudson’s Bay Company could eventually spin off its online Zellers business into its own business as has been the case with ecommerce sites for Hudson’s Bay (TheBay.com), Saks Fifth Avenue and Saks OFF 5TH.

Zellers at Hudson's Bay Burlington Mall
Zellers at Hudson’s Bay Burlington Mall – Photo by Sean Tarry

Trademarks for Zellers stores were also registered, prompting a reader to notify Retail Insider months ago that something was at play with the Hudson’s Bay Company. Hiring was also starting to take place including various Zellers management roles. 

Last year the Hudson’s Bay Company opened a Zellers-branded pop-up store at the Burlington Centre near Toronto, with Retail Insider reporting exclusively on the announcement. A second Zellers-branded shop-in-store subsequently opened within the Hudson’s Bay store at CF Galeries d’Anjou in Montreal. 

The Zellers shop-in-stores featured a range of products including Canada-themed apparel and home goods. Red floor tape indicated the boundaries of the Zellers spaces within the Hudson’s Bay stores.  

About a year ago a family in Quebec attempted to revive the Zellers name on its own, separately from the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Moniz family opened a small Zellers-branded storefront in Sorel-Tracy Quebec. In the litigation with the Hudson’s Bay Company that resulted, the family said that because the Zellers trademark had lapsed that the family was entitled to use the Zellers name. The same family also opened a K-Mart branded store in the same community, being another retail brand once owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company in Canada with stores that operated here for a number of years. 

Image: Zellers.ca website

Zellers became an iconic retailer in the eyes of many Canadians while it operated in its previous format. That included Zellers mascot Zeddy which was for years part of the retailer’s marketing, and it likely won’t be part of the new Zellers relaunch. In 2012 Zeddy was ‘adopted’ by Camp Trillium after fans voted in Zellers’ final Facebook campaign EVERYTHING MUST GO!, marking an end to almost three decades with his Zellers family.

The Hudson’s Bay company operated a network of Zellers stores across Canada for decades. In January of 2011, the Hudson’s Bay Company announced that it would sell the leases for up to 220 Zellers stores to Minneapolis-based Target for $1.825 billion dollars. HBC retained 64 locations initially and liquidated the chain in early 2013. After a disastrous run in Canada, Target exited its Canadian stores in early 2015 amid billions of dollars in losses. 

The Zellers name wasn’t dead in Canada following the Target sale however. The Hudson’s Bay Company operated two Zellers stores in Ontario until early 2020, and those locations acted more as clearance centres for products from Hudson’s Bay store.  

At its peak in the 1990s, Zellers had over 350 stores in Canada. The entry of Walmart into Canada is said to have impacted Zellers’ sales particularly in the early 2000s which resulted in the retailer losing significant market share. 

In the 1980’s, Zellers’ marketing slogans included “Only you’ll know how little you paid” and “Shopping anywhere else is pointless”. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the popular “Where the lowest price is the law!” was used in Zellers advertising. Included were animated commercials featuring Batman and Robin with the villains like the Joker, the Penguin, Catwoman and the Riddler.

In the 1990’s, Zellers adopted the slogan “Truly Canadian”. Between 1997 and 2000, “Better and Better” was a slogan and “Everything from A to Z” was part of the retailer’s marketing messaging between 2000 and 2013. 

Value-priced Zellers was founded by Walter P. Zeller in London, Ontario, in 1931. 

The Hudson’s Bay Company acquired Zellers in 1978. The Zellers logo, visible on the last two remaining stores, was adopted in 1975. In 1976, Zellers thrived with sales in excess of $400 million annually and in the same year, discount chain Fields acquired the Zellers chain. Joseph Segal, who at the time was president of Fields, became president of Zellers as part of the transaction. Segal died at the age of 97 in May of this year.

In 2008, the Hudson’s Bay Company and its subsidiaries, including Zellers, came under the ownership of NRDC Equity Partners, which was headed by Richard Baker. Hudson’s Bay’s namesake stores were positioned as more upscale under the creative direction of retail veteran Bonnie Brooks, while Zellers was seen as a drag on the business. 

We will update this article when we have more information on the Zellers relaunch in Canada. 

Article Author

Craig Patterson
Craig Patterson
Located in Toronto, Craig is the Publisher & CEO of Retail Insider Media Ltd. He is also a retail analyst and consultant, Advisor at the University of Alberta School Centre for Cities and Communities in Edmonton, former lawyer and a public speaker. 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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9 COMMENTS

  1. I hope Hudson Bay realizes the number of boomers with lots of disposable income that would love to return to Zellers, especially since the demise of Sears. I don’t know if Hudson Bay is still a Canadian company, but Canadians still THINK of it as Canadian, just like Sears, so we are hungry for a store that is NOT WALMART! I can tell you that my circle of friends are already talking about the return of Zellers. There’s almost a sense of comfort in the thought of shopping at Zellers, like the return of an old friend, especially so in this world going to hell.

  2. will it be expensive like the bay or can regular people shop there . not all of us can afford the bay and walmart is getting out of happy customers even dollarrama. we would just like a reasonable place to shop not another price out of range for normal people!!

  3. In Winnipeg I can totally imagine a Macy’s Backstage like Zellers zone on the 2nd floor of the St Vital store incorporating the full toy department and entry level price point merchandise from all department such as Core Life (fashions) and I AM (home goods). Three or so years ago Hudson’s Bay and Home Outfutters previously carried the private label Essential Needs (for the home) which would have fitted nicely in the Zellers zone.

  4. A great article. It’s encouraging to see HBC thinking about creative uses for its physical and intellectual property, and it will no doubt be interesting to see how this plays out in stores and online next year. Zellers has wide nostalgic appeal with Canadians and this could be a great way to bring new consumers to Hudson’s Bay.

  5. The reason that Target did not work for some Canadians is that it was too Canadian. I can buy Canadian, but would also like the choice of many of items that are just sold in the US. i have turned to shopping on Amazon simply because that I can purchase unavailable goods here. There is far too much intrusion with our political policies, of having a large percentage of Canadian made goods in what and what not, can be sold here. The only problem there seems to be with that kind of retail, is that we do not produce that much in Canada anymore, and it leaves us fewer choices and quality products.

  6. Please bring back the Brand, the concept but don’t forget to include the restaurants within the store serving real canadian classics. It would be a hit.

  7. My mother used to shop at these oh so wonderful stores: Zellers, Woolco, Simpsons , Sears! She would also go into K-Mart and BiWay.😀 I was much younger at the time and would shop at other stores catered to the younger crowd…Smart Set, Suzy Shier, ale Chateau – all great stores, if you are the younger crowd. As I became older, I wasn’t liking too much the ‘younger’ clothing styles, I found myself wanting things of comfort. So one day I thought I’d go into a Zellers store. It felt like a warm blanket walking in. I hadn’t eaten yet that day, and the aroma coming from the corner alerted me to a wonderful cozy restaurant, which my mother used to tell about during her shopping hours at Zellers! I ordered a plate of their great fries with gravy! Then I shopped to my hearts content. Zellers became my ‘go to’ shopping place. I loved it! The store was packed with all kinds of stuff. Shelves were stocked full! It had a full feeling not a half empty feeling…which made you want to stay and browse to your hearts content. The older generation love this sort of thing…spending money responsibly, browsing, and having a restaurant to finally sit down and have a ‘yummy’ old fashioned meal! I hope instead of ‘pop up’, Zellers will make a roaring comeback, with its own independent stores, and a new mascot: Roary the Lion 🦁!!! Amazing reporting, thanks for the article! There is hope, as I have stopped going to WM and now have no choice but to navigate Amazon which is great, but the older folk need the see, touch, feel shopping experience, plus it’s a walk down memory lane! Cheers and Happy New Year. See ya in 2023 Zellers 😉

  8. Personally, I don’t think the new Zellers launch in the Bay will work. Best guess, I give it 3-4 years before it’s gone. There are too many confusing messages from HBC over the years—they want to be high end carrying designer brands and simultaneously a discount outlet all rolled into one. In the beginning there will likely be a peeked interest with the Zellers launch, but I believe it will fade quickly.
    Overall, I support HBC and I’m a regular shopper, but this idea doesn’t make any sense to me.

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