By  on July 17, 2007

VANCOUVER, B.C. — Luxury chain Holt Renfrew has brought a cosmopolitan edge to this scenic city where the casual outdoor lifestyle rules.

The new three-level, $50 million, 137,000-square-foot Holt Renfrew emporium has the kind of international designer offering and architectural flair usually reserved for the world's premier shopping streets.

"You can plop this store down anywhere in the world and it would probably be the best-looking store in the city," Caryn Lerner, president and chief executive officer of Holt Renfrew & Co. Ltd., said during a tour of the store. "The luxury customer doesn't know borders. We have tried to tailor it to the Vancouver lifestyle, so there is a little more relaxed attitude. But that doesn't mean that this store is any less chic or elegant."

Holt Renfrew has expectations for bigger business here, with the 2010 Winter Olympics to be centered in Vancouver, and preceded by the extension of the Canada Line rapid transit train from downtown to the airport.

"This city is ready for it," said Gary Balaski, general manager of the store. "People here have been telling us for years they wanted this store. There is a casual lifestyle here, but the city is getting trendier, people are moving here from all over the world, and the Olympics is just one more piece of it."

Tourism is already booming in the city of 600,000, and from a larger perspective, the country's oil industry is generating enormous wealth. The nine-unit Holt Renfrew chain, based in Toronto, hit $540 million in volume in 2006 and is expecting to do well over $600 million in 2007. Holt Renfrew is the only major luxury player in Canada.

"We are on a journey," Lerner said. "Our Vancouver store is a very visible statement of what we have accomplished in the last three years, where we are today and where we see the future. We have the plans and the capital budget allocated for three to five years to expand and renovate every store we operate."

During Lerner's tenure, the company has stepped up remodels, particularly at the Bloor Street flagship and in Montreal; rebranded with a magenta and gray stripe design for packaging, signs, hangers, logos and advertising; taken ownership of its shoe business by phasing out the Brown Shoe license; returned children's wear to the offering after a 20-year absence, and solidified relationships with key designer brands including Chanel, Gucci, Prada, Akris, Giorgio Armani, as well as Ermenegildo Zegna, Canali and John Varvatos in men's wear. The Vancouver opening last month, Holt Renfrew's first in 10 years, is the crowning achievement.

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