Helena Foulkes, chief executive officer of Hudson’s Bay Co., left CVS last year with a prescription for the Canadian department store giant: dump the distractions and focus on strengths.
In a Code Commerce session during Shoptalk on Sunday night in Las Vegas, she laid out how that thinking played into a string of recent moves — including the fire sale of e-commerce site Gilt Groupe. After two years, the $250 million acquisition wound up being sold for less than $100 million in a deal struck in June.
“I could see why we bought it. It was this idea…if you’re in the apparel business, you should try to have something that’s online only,” Foulkes told Recode’s Kara Swisher. “I think it may have been a really good idea that was probably not well executed. And when I came in, what I saw was a massive distraction…”
Likewise, Hudson’s Bay off-loaded its controlling interest in German department store Galeria Kaufhof and shuttered its Home Outfitters business in Canada. Meanwhile, in the U.S., Lord & Taylor’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York went dark.
Foulkes didn’t start the process that led to the flagship’s sale to WeWork, but the deal was carried out and completed under her watch. And 10 additional L&T locations are planned for closures.
As a 350-year-old business itself, Hudson’s Bay seems to have some empathy for the legacy department store business and the tricky spot it finds itself in now.
Lord & Taylor is in a sort of limbo that’s “neither the high-end luxury, where you can really own it, nor is it the low-cost, deep discount retailer,” Foulkes said.
The ceo was quick to add that current president Vanessa LeFebvre is doing a great job at bringing innovation to the business. But it’s “handicapped by its positioning in the marketplace,” she said.
Foulkes believes the way out is to get personal and local. “You have to say, I’m in Westfield, N.J., and I’m going to be incredibly relevant for this market that I serve,” she said. “I’m going to bring in new services, stylists and do things that really matter to the people who live in this community.”
For growth, the ceo seems more focused on other parts of the business — especially Saks Fifth Avenue.
Although Saks Off 5th has been struggling, she’s still optimistic that it can turn things around. And Saks Fifth Avenue, with its chain of 40 stores, is “a very healthy business” that’s poised to grow significantly, she said.
The newly remodeled Fifth Avenue flagship in New York certainly adds to the name’s caché. It features a more open space, windows that stream sunlight in, an escalator designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and a new restaurant called L’Avenue, which harks back to the original in Paris.
The store was designed with 15 different rooms for facials and other services. People can stop in for a coffee at Fika or get a cellulite reduction, a manicure, a facial or even an appointment at the brow bar.
“My favorite is one called Face Gym,” Foulkes said. “You can go and have your face worked out for 30 minutes.”