By  on October 7, 2009

Seeking to secure its rule over Canada’s luxury market, Holt Renfrew is tripling its space in Calgary with a new $45 million store that opens today and introduces dozens of designer and contemporary labels to the city.

The 151,000-square-foot unit, situated in the revitalized Calgary Eaton Centre, also features a glowing exterior composed of hundreds of internally lit steel panels, dramatic atriums, skylights and floor cutouts for maximum natural lighting and extended sight lines. The new Holt Renfrew replaces an older one in the center and occupies most of a former Sears store.

While Canada has a casual reputation overall and has been hit by the global recession, Caryn Lerner, president and chief executive officer of Holt Renfrew, stressed it’s still an appropriate time to bolster the business. “Calgary is a sophisticated, grown-up town,” she said. “It’s the center of the oil industry in this country. There are a lot of banks and financial services here. It certainly has the casual aspect. It has the rodeo just like Dallas. But people also like to dress up and go out and have fun.”

She acknowledged that like other luxury retailers, “We have been trending down too. We have seen a bit of improvement as we started the fall season and into September. In part, I think that’s due to a lot of changes and newness in our assortments, pulling inventories back in control and because there seems to be a little more optimism among consumers, particularly in Calgary as oil prices have risen. We have seen some stronger numbers in British Columbia and Alberta [as well].”

She said inventories were reduced this fall about as much as U.S. retailers, which at luxury chains exceeded 20 percent. “But our sales decline was not as severe as the U.S.,” she said, without specifying. “The luxury and the higher ends of our business have been more severely impacted. The women’s and men’s contemporary businesses, parts of accessories and shoes have been less impacted.”

It’s rare for the nine-unit Holt Renfrew to open a store because of Canada’s small population, so when the occasion presents itself, the company is compelled to make the most of it and seize growth opportunities. The store, designed by Janson Goldstein, is detailed with polished and satin finished stainless steel and a wide range of glasses, woods, stones, leathers and lacquer finishes. “Some of the most dramatic areas are women’s shoes, which was 800 square feet. Now, it’s 6,000 square feet. Handbags had 1,500 square feet and now has 8,000 square feet, and men’s wear has grown from 7,000 to 19,000 square feet,” Lerner said.

Among the key brands new to the market are Hermès, Gucci, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana and Akris, which all have hard shops. The contemporary department has expanded from 2,000 to 7,000 square feet and features Elizabeth and James, Rag & Bone and Bird by Juicy, among other brands. Cosmetics includes BeneFit with its Brow Bar, and Shu Uemura.

The company is not expecting a sales increase this year, but with margins healthier than a year ago and renewed efforts to drive full price sales and build customer relationships, it expects to be more profitable. Lerner would not say whether the company was in the black or red last year.

Calgary, Holt Renfrew’s third-largest store in terms of square footage next to the Toronto flagship on Bloor Street and the Vancouver store, should post a 15 to 20 percent sales increase over the old unit, Lerner said. No further new stores are planned, putting the focus on renovations, expansions and beefing up certain categories that have been underdeveloped, particularly shoes, men’s wear and contemporary. The 170-year-old Holt Renfrew, owned by the Weston family, who also owns Brown Thomas in Dublin and Selfridges in London, has a total of nine stores which generate an estimated total of $600 million to $650 million in sales a year.

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