By  on August 28, 2014

Holt Renfrew, seeking to strengthen its luxury niche in advance of mounting competition, is putting the focus on top doors in larger markets, entering e-commerce and closing two locations.

Disclosing new details of its previously revealed $300 million program of upgrades and expansion, Holt Renfrew on Thursday said the Bloor Street flagship in Toronto will be enlarged and renovated to include a new facade, the Apartment private shopping concept and enhancements to the beauty, accessories and footwear areas.

The Vancouver and Calgary stores will establish Apartments, cafes and expanded footwear and leather goods departments. The Edmonton and Montreal locations will also be getting improvements.

In addition, Holt Renfrew is developing an omnichannel program including e-commerce for the first time, which should launch sometime next year.

Two smaller stores, each 35,000 square feet, in Ottawa and Quebec City, will close at the end of January. The Ottawa store has 72 employees; the Quebec City store has 85. Holt Renfrew currently operates 10 luxury stores and two off-price stores called hr2, and has over 2,600 employees. The company said it expects overall employment to grow through 2017 to support the expansion.

As previously reported, the $800 million Holt Renfrew plans to grow square footage by 40 percent, to more than 1.2 million square feet from about 800,000. The goal is to achieve $1 billion in revenues by 2017. Holt is headed for its toughest market share battle in its history, with the much larger Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue chains invading Canada with multiple locations. Nordstrom makes its debut in September and sees up to nine full-line locations. Saks sees seven full-line stores and makes its debut in fall 2015 by carving out space inside the Hudson’s Bay flagship on Queen Street in Toronto. The Nordstrom Rack and Saks Off 5th outlet chains are also coming to Canada, with dozens of sites expected.

With the changing landscape, “We are focused on Holt Renfrew’s unique position as Canada’s specialty luxury retailer,” said Mark Derbyshire, president. There’s been “a comprehensive strategic analysis of the Canadian marketplace and prospects for its luxury business model,” he added.

Asked how Holt’s business is performing, Derbyshire told WWD: “Growth year-to-date versus last year is continuing at a strong double-digit pace.” He didn’t specify further. The ongoing enhancements to the luxury chain “are the most significant in its 177-year history, and are fueled by continued strong performance,” Derbyshire said.

Holt officials said enhancements are concentrated on “flagship markets in Western Canada, the Toronto area and Montreal, and based on an elevated luxury flagship store model.” Holt’s 120,000-square-foot Yorkdale store, which this year completed a renovation and expansion, is considered the prototype.

Yorkdale is also the birthplace for The Apartment, a special setting for wardrobing, personal styling, trunk shows and parties. The 1,000-square-foot residence-in-the-store, designed by Janson Goldstein, has a living room, a kitchen and an en suite bathroom, and for each booking, fresh flowers and food at the client’s bequest are brought in. Future Apartments will be based on the Yorkdale set up.

Other key elements of Holt’s expansion include:

• Holt’s first men’s-only store opening at 100 Bloor Street toward the end of September.

• The opening of a 120,000-square-foot store at Square One in Mississauga, west of Toronto, in spring 2016.

• A new vision for Montreal where the Ogilvy store, owned by Holt, will be transformed into the retailer’s largest unit, growing from 140,000 to 220,000 square feet.

Holt Renfrew is part of Selfridges Group Ltd., which also operates Brown Thomas in Ireland; de Bijenkorf in The Netherlands, and Selfridges in the U.K.. W. Galen Weston is chairman of the family-owned Selfridges Group Ltd.

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