At the Vancouver Winter Olympics, Jeffrey Sherman, an American running the Toronto-based Hudson’s Bay Trading Co., rooted for the Canadians to win — and to shop a lot.
The Canadians won 14 gold medals, the most ever in a Winter Olympics by any country, and Hudson’s Bay had a hit with its exclusive Olympic-related merchandise.
“Almost everything is selling,” said Sherman, HBTC’s chief executive officer. “The highlight is the wool red mittens. They really captured the spirit and attention of Canadians and people from other countries. They’re easy to wear, easily identified as Canadian with the red maple leaf and cost just $10 [Canadian] a pair. Everybody wants to own them as a symbol of the Games, and they know 100 percent of the net proceeds go back to the Canadian Olympic Committee. We will sell 3.5 million pairs,” providing in excess of $12 million to the committee, which granted HBC the rights to sell the merchandise.
In The Bay, Zellers and Home Outfitters, all divisions of HBTC, there are replicas of official Canadian Olympic attire, including scarves, parkas, hoodies, wool tooks, T-shirts and quilted jackets, all adorned with the Olympic rings, maple leafs or Canada sprawled across. HBTC also provided Canada’s athletes with leisurewear and outfits to parade in the stadium and wear on the podiums, as well as uniforms for the 12,000 torchbearers and 30,000 volunteers. While that was Canadian-made, the mittens and other merchandise for public consumption came from China and elsewhere.
For HBTC’s Olympic merchandising, “There’s a lifespan way beyond the 16 days of the Games,” Sherman said, noting the merchandise will sell through mid-March at its stores across the country, notably the 25,000-square-foot Olympic store on the main floor of The Bay’s flagship in Vancouver. Past Olympic stores were tent setups. He expects business to be spurred by the Paralympics in Vancouver, which will take place March 12 to 21, and the affordable prices. With parkas and quilted jackets, priced $150 and $100, respectively,the products are 20 to 25 percent less than the merchandise at Torino, Italy, where the last Winter Olympics was held, Sherman said.
He declined to specify the sales volume on the Olympic goods, other than saying it’s “significant,” with results tracking five times the volume of Torino.
Next year, “we won’t have the velocity, but we have posed this as a challenge to our design team for when we are up against [strong] numbers. A great success one year becomes, ‘How do I repeat it next year?’” said Sherman.
HBTC is also using the Olympics to reintroduce the corporate logo — a crest with colored stripes invoking the retailer’s history as the oldest company in North America — and aggressively market the Hudson’s Bay signature line. “Wewanted to capitalize on the fact that we have been part of the fabric of the country. It’s been an opportunity to reposition and market the company,” Sherman said. “There’s value in this that’s far greater than just the merchandise. Hudson’s Bay is reconnecting with Canadians and bringing back its rich history.”
The strategy entails new products, respacing and redesigning stores, and relaunching the Hudson’s Bay signature line emphasizing product iconic to the company and Canada, such as throws, blankets, coats, sweaters, trapper hats, maple syrup, canoes and point blankets reminiscent of the fur traders. “This will have legs way into the future,” Sherman said. While some of the products have already been offered at the Olympic store, “as we develop the product, it will be given permanent space in all the stores, with identifiable shops in high traffic areas.”
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