The Hudson’s Bay Company announced Tuesday that retail veteran Liz Rodbell will be returning to the role of President and CEO of Hudson’s Bay department stores. It follows the revelation on the same day that Sophia Hwang-Judiesch would be leaving the role for a new opportunity.
The announcement comes on the heels of a challenging time for the Hudson Bay Company’s retail division, which recently was behind on payments to vendors and has since seen a cash injection from the sale of some real estate assets.
Rodbell rejoins Hudson’s Bay on Friday of this week. She was most recently a consultant with LHR Advisors, a firm that she founded — prior to that she was president of retail at Steve Madden from 2018 to 2022. Rodbell led Hudson’s Bay and Lord & Taylor from 2013 until 2017. She began working at Lord & Taylor in 1985 as a dress buyer, according to her LinkedIn. The Lord & Taylor chain closed in 2020 after HBC sold it to Le Tote.
Richard Baker, Governor and Executive Chairman of HBC, said in a statement, “I am delighted to welcome Liz back to the HBC family, and I am certain she will drive the continued transformation of Hudson’s Bay to deliver the most exciting shopping experience for Canadian customers.” He added, “When she was last with the company, Liz drove 22% sales growth for Hudson’s Bay.”
Sophia Hwang-Judiesch is stepping down from her role as head of Hudson’s Bay to pursue another opportunity. Hwang-Judiesch announced her departure on LinkedIn on Tuesday afternoon. Hwang-Judiesch was appointed as President of Hudson’s Bay stores in September of 2022, while Iain Nairn held the role of President and CEO of the then-separate ‘The Bay’ digital division. The divisions were merged back together in early 2023, coinciding with Nairn’s departure.
“Sophia has been a driving force and steady hand at Hudson’s Bay, and we are grateful for her many contributions in leading us through a very challenging time in our industry. We wish her continued success,” said Governor Baker in a statement.
“My gratitude for the team at Hudson’s Bay is immeasurable, and I could not be prouder of the people that work tirelessly to serve our customers, in our stores, DCs and offices across the country. I wish Liz and the entire Hudson’s Bay organization much success,” said Hwang-Judiesch in a statement.
Rodbell has a goal of making Hudson’s Bay stores better — something no doubt necessary at a time when stores are struggling. “My focus, first and foremost, is on the customer – ensuring we have the most relevant assortment, strong brand partners, and an overall experience that is inspiring and relevant to our shoppers,” said Rodbell in a statement.
Last week Richard Baker announced that the HBC parent had raised US $340 million from selling real estate assets in Canada and the US. Money would be used to fund its retail operations after falling behind on payments to its suppliers, both for Hudson’s Bay as well as Saks Fifth Avenue which is also owned by HBC.
For months, vendors were reaching out to Retail Insider saying that HBC was late in making payments. One well known brand told us in October that it was owed hundreds of thousands of dollars and had been waiting for payment since June, and that it was considering pulling its products from Hudson’s Bay stores entirely. Some vendors at a conference attended by Retail Insider were speculating on the future of the company, given the delinquent payments and other gossip.
Other vendors told Retail Insider that they were still sending some product to HBC in the “hopes of getting paid”, and that the situation was becoming challenging.
In Canada, Hudson’s Bay’s stores have in some places been looking more ‘tired’ as of late. Recent visits to some stores included non-functional escalators and in some cases, a lack of music being played in stores. One source that contacted Retail Insider said they thought that the non-functioning escalators were an attempt to save money, although a recent visit to some locations such as in Nanaimo, BC, showed a store with functioning escalators and ample music being played.
That store in Nanaimo, which can be seen in photos in this article below, is indicative of the condition of many Hudson’s Bay department stores in Canada. The rather uninspiring interiors and product assortment are partly to blame for the retailer’s current challenges.
To try to bring some excitement back into its stores, last year HBC relaunched the Zellers brand which opened an initial 25 shop-in-stores within Hudson’s Bay stores. Now all 83 of Hudson’s Bay’s Canadian stores have some sort of Zellers activation following the introduction of pop-ups in its remaining locations. The Zellers concept was made possible by a partnership deal with Kmart Australia to stock Zellers shop-in-stores with Kmart’s in-house brand Anko.
Hudson’s Bay likely needs a lot more excitement to make its stores relevant to modern consumers. The dated interiors of many of its stores, coupled with limited customer service and a range of mid-market brands has resulted in a situation where many shoppers have shifted spending elsewhere. That includes to online channels as well as to the brands themselves, with many of the more popular brands carried at Hudson’s Bay now also having their own physical and online stores in Canada. Major investment would be required, along with a strong experiential strategy, to regain the interest of many Canadians to shop in Hudson’s Bay’s physical stores.
A similar situation is playing out in the United States, where Macy’s has over the past couple of decades become the dominant department store chain in that country while offering a lacklustre experience. At the same time, in Europe and Asia, department stores are thriving with a mix of interesting product, beautiful interiors and strong customer service. These stores tend to skew more high-end, however, with margins justifying the extra expense of creating a strong retail experience that also usually includes a strong food and beverage component – something almost non-existent at Hudson’s Bay stores in Canada, save for some traveling food trucks that were part of the Zellers launch in the spring.