TORONTO — Esprit is embarking on a new chapter in 2016, beginning with its reentry into the Canadian market next spring with stand-alone stores.
Currently headquartered in Düsseldorf, Germany, and Hong Kong, the $2.5 billion brand has partnered with Montreal-based distributor Freemark Apparel Brands on the national rollout, which will present a revamped store experience to Canadian consumers.
“It’s been quite a journey for the company,” Lawrence Routtenberg, vice president of sales and co-owner of Freemark Apparel Brands, said. “After Esprit left Canada and the U.S. market in 2011 they went through several senior managerial changes which reset the company’s vision.”
In September 2012, José Manuel Martínez Gutiérrez — the former group director of distribution and operations at Inditex — became Esprit’s executive director and group chief executive officer. Other senior Inditex managers followed Gutiérrez to Esprit, which initiated a major “clean up” of the company, according to Routtenberg.
“Jose revamped Esprit’s design and supply chains. Now it is ready for this next phase of global expansion,” Routtenberg said.
Confirmed Canadian locations thus far include Alberta’s West Edmonton Mall, which will carry only the women’s collection, and the Metropolis at Metrotown Mall in Burnaby, B.C., which will carry both women’s and men’s wear. Both locations will launch in late March or early April.
A third location will open in fall 2016 at Square One Shopping Center in Mississauga, Ontario.
Demographics will determine whether Esprit’s future Canadian stores will carry women’s wear exclusively or offer a product mix for men and women, according to Routtenberg.
Also, a new “less is more” approach will dictate the size of Esprit’s Canadian stores. “In retrospect, one of the factors that contributed to Esprit’s exit from Canada was store size. They were too large,” Routtenberg said. “Now we want to create a smaller, boutique environment, so Esprit’s Canadian stores will be sized at approximately 2,000 square feet.”
Esprit will be positioned in the mid to better price-tier level.
Though Canada’s retail landscape has changed significantly since 2011, Routtenberg believes shoppers will return to Esprit because of its inherent brand value. “Esprit’s brand equity is still very strong,” he said. “Esprit also has a very successful loyalty program which we will embrace in Canada. That means customers in Edmonton or Hong Kong can be part of it and enjoy the benefits.”
At present, Esprit is refining details for an e-commerce site that will cater to Canadian customers. The brand will also invest extensively in social media, combined with print and outdoor advertising.
The company will pursue wholesale and retail avenues simultaneously as part of its omnichannel launch devised by Freemark.
Freemark has also worked extensively with such labels as Guess, Bench and Scotch & Soda. “Esprit’s supply chain and customer acceptance are great points in the brand’s favor. But the rapid decline in the Canadian dollar is something we will all need to note as we move forward,” Routtenberg said.
Esprit is carried in more than 40 countries with 900 retail stores worldwide.