MONTREAL — The Hudson’s Bay Co. has introduced three new exclusive lines at its Bay department stores across Canada aimed at the all-important demographic of middle-income women, ages 35 to 55.

Executives at the Toronto-based retailer hope the new lines will lead to more women’s wear sales. Its women’s business has declined in recent years due to increased competition from specialty stores and mass merchandisers like Wal-Mart Canada and Winners, owned by TJX of Framingham, Mass.

The Bay’s women’s apparel market share lags behind cosmetics, lingerie and home goods, according to the company, which has revamped its entire women’s department. It has spent years solidifying its high-end and low-end selections, offering well-known brands like Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Jones New York, as well as its own moderate house brands, while its midprice selections were not attracting shoppers.

According to market research firm Trendex North America of Toledo, Ohio, apparel sales at the Bay had an 8.1 percent share of the estimated $6.8 billion women’s wear market in Canada last year, or about $550.8 million. That’s down from 8.8 percent in 2001. (U.S. dollars are converted from Canadian dollars at current exchange rates.)

The Bay had sales of $1.7 billion last year from 99 stores across Canada.

The retailer wants to increase its market share by 5 percent over the next three years. That would put it just below Sears Canada, the largest women’s apparel retailer in Canada, with about a 15 percent market share.

“We weren’t happy with the way the division was working or with the assortment or look,” explained Brian Burgess, divisional merchandising manager for women’s apparel, who moved from the men’s wear department in January 2002. “In the past, all the brands we carried were also carried by our competitors, so we wanted to look at exclusivity.

“There was also a disconnect between our regular and petite departments, so we merged them with one buyer buying for both.”

The Bay called in all its brands to discuss exclusivity and those not targeting the key age group and asked for the best proposals. It realized most brands were aimed at the 55-plus age group.As a result, the retailer dropped underperforming midprice lines including Haggar, Tan Jay, Villager, Alfred Dunner and Emma James. They were replaced by Melrose, a contemporary informal wear-to-work dress line; Mac and Jac, a career and casual line from Vancouver, and Maxfield, a younger, trendier line developed exclusively for the Bay by Buffalo jeans designer David Bitton.

The new lines also complement INC and Style & Co. from Federated Department Stores, brands the Bay started carrying last fall.

The new lines are being backed by heavy TV and radio rotations and supported by print advertising and by the Bay’s own fashion book.

“The new brands give us a fashion component at a competitive price,” said Burgess. “We know we have the 35- to 55-year-old customers who shop at the Bay for cosmetics and lingerie. Now we have the products to attract them to our clothing.”

Retail consultant Adam Cooper at J.C. Williams Group, Toronto, said the Bay has a tough road ahead in trying to win back customers who have a specific image of the retailer carrying stale merchandise.

“It is important that the Bay not be viewed as offering everything for everybody and the TV campaign is a good strategy as it focuses on the particular segment of the market that they’re going after.”

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