Henry’s, a Canadian specialty technology and camera retailer, has relocated its Toronto flagship to 185 Church Street from a storefront nearby. The new location is a city block away from where the flagship stood for nearly five decades.
Church Street has been the home of the brand since the 1960’s, with an early location at 135 Church, and then relocating to the previous flagship at 119 Church Street.
“I can’t imagine a part of the city we’d rather be in,” says Gillian Stein, CEO of Henry’s. “This area has deep roots in the photographic community. Change is inevitable when you’ve been in business for 113 years, and we’re excited about the new space, but Church Street is still where Henry’s belongs.”
The Flagship is Home
Future planning for the flagship’s relocation has been on the table internally for years and the opportunity to relocate came when the lease was coming up for renewal.
“We’ve been eager to find a new location that supports our newer store format for years. We have rolled out our new store concept out across half our chain, which provides a significantly better customer experience. Unfortunately, the new format didn’t physically fit in our quirky older space, We did our best with that store, but it was time to give it the update our customers deserve. The new location is a brand new, big open space – it was a blank canvas for us to work with.”
“The previous location had been surrounded by construction for a few years with a number of real estate development projects underway. It had been increasingly difficult for customers to access the store and find parking. When you factor in that the intersection of Church and Queen Street is subject to the Ontario Line subway construction, and new development proposals on three of the four corners, the future was going to unclear for the coming years.”
“Knowing the time to move our flagship was approaching, we had been watching the market closely. When we saw this spot, we jumped. The timing was perfect as it coincided with the end of our lease in our old space.”
185 Church Street
Located at 185 Church Street, the new space allowed for the introduction of Henry’s updated store concept to the downtown core while not giving up the neighbourhood.
“I love the fact that it’s only a block away from our previous location. Henry’s was there for 47 years, and we know in retail that moving a customer from an old location to a new location isn’t easy. We also wanted to be central – still close to Yonge, accessible to public transit, close to the downtown core and within a short walk to the CF Toronto Eaton Centre.”
The new location also provides a familiar touch.
“We have a corner with incredible frontage – the exposure is fantastic with high ceilings and high windows and we’re actually closer to the CF Toronto Eaton Centre now than we were before.”
185 Church Street is half the size of the previous Henry’s retail space a block south.
“Because the store is open and in a modern space without all the nooks and crannies of our old space, it’s a much more efficient layout and fits the new format. Even though it’s smaller, it feels bigger. The building also has Green P parking underground and we know that the surrounding buildings can’t be knocked down.
“Three of the four corners of the new location are historical landmarks or completed developments, which means that the store is coming in at the right time instead of being at a corner that will be a construction mess for years to come. Construction affects traffic and people will avoid downtown Toronto construction – but when you say ‘downtown Toronto with parking underground’, it’s very different.”
Henry’s Head Office Relocation
With the move of the flagship, the brand had a decision to make about the head office and on-site functionality of the long-standing tradition of having the head office at the Flagship.
“We started this conversation long before COVID. Even then, we outlined our criteria for our new retail flagship store it was never contingent on satisfying our office needs. We committed to finding the best retail location for our customers first, and if it happened to have office space, that would be a bonus.
“By the time that we found this location, we were already a year into working remotely and the role of the office was already in flux. We spent a lot of time talking to our home office employees to understand their needs, in terms of work space. We proved that we were very successful working remote, so we made the decision to be ‘remote first’.
“We all agree that it’s important to see each other in person regularly to build relationships, build the culture, work through complex problems, do strategy – but we don’t need a big, permanent office to do that and it doesn’t need to be downtown. We also asked our staff ‘if you’re going to meet, then where?’ We do have warehouse facilities in Vaughan, which has some office and meeting space– everyone preferred to meet there as it’s a much easier commute.
“We are very fortunate to have flexibility and we can always adapt as the work environment changes over time.”
Customer Expectations and Community Development
With a new flagship comes changes, but what will customers experience with the new store?
“The same exceptional Henry’s experience with the best selection of gear that photographers, videographers and content creators have come to expect from us, in a modern space for the modern Henry’s brand.”
“The updated store format is designed to be more open and welcoming, bringing store associates out from behind a counter and allowing for more personal conversation and interaction with customers. It is a more collaborative and consultative experience. Our cabinets are accessible on all sides, so now you’re able to walk the store together. In the past, you would have sales associates that were trapped behind the sales counter because of the design.”
“It’s a more enjoyable shopping experience. We have so much natural light, inspiring imagery (video and still). It’s a far more inspiring environment.”
The new location has a community space, named @185, operated in partnership with Buffer Festival where photographers, videographers and content creators can work together, collaborate, learn, record, use the equipment and make content.
“We had been playing with the idea of a community space, which started with a podcast studio in our Vancouver store. When we toured the space, we got very excited about one spot in the store that was just perfect for this. It has great visibility from the street, it reminded us of the old Speaker’s Corner booth that had such a fun, contagious vibe.
“The most important goal of the space is to get people in. We want people to use the space. We want people to see the action. I want you to walk by, see someone recording and say WOW, that’s really cool!. The more people use it, the more people will learn how to improve their content and how the right gear is critical.”
More information for the hub will be available on Henrys.com
Investing in Retail
“We are investing in physical retail. Today’s retail customers want digital and social channels to work hand in hand with physical spaces to support their needs. Henry’s believes strongly that physical retail has an important role to play in delivering that overall customer experience, and having a dynamic, engaging flagship store is a central part of that strategy.”
“It’s important for customers to have a physical space where they can come in, touch the product, play with the gear. More importantly is to have people that they can connect with, share the same passions and inspire them.”
“Specialty retail plays an important role in Canada’s retail industry. Specialty businesses offer a unique experience that Amazon and other big box retailers can’t, particularly as the digital imaging category moves up market. There is a lot of new, exciting technology and more uses for it. We’re the only national digital imaging retailer, so we are in a unique position where we offer the benefits of specialty with scale and 100+ years of credibility and loyalty.
The Future of Henry’s
“We’re making huge investments in technology right now. It’s really important that we ensure we’ve got the infrastructure supporting our stores and our digital growth. Digital is a very important part of our strategy, to align our digital customer experience and with the physical journey.
Henry’s just implemented a new ERP, point of sale system and website. The brand continues to invest heavily into the social strategy.
“Content is critical to our business, and we have to have the best content out there to maintain credibility with our customers.
The brand is also looking at the physical retail strategy going into 2023.
“The economy continues to be volatile, so we are constantly evaluating the market to identify opportunities to grow and look at where it makes sense to consolidate efforts.
“Our goal is to have a presence in all major markets across Canada and we have a few different models to achieve that. How that happens – it depends. We’ve got stores like our Flagship in urban cores and plaza locations outside the core. We’ve also recently opened our first smaller-format store at CF Limeridge Mall in Hamilton, which has been widely successful. This new format allows us to get into other regional markets which currently don’t have any stores. Of course, the retail network is heavily supported by our online business.”