Hudson's Bay's Scandinavian pop-up.

Hudson’s Bay Co. in Canada, the oldest company is North America founded in 1670, is searching for brands and exclusivity beyond the customary markets for its Hudson’s Bay division.

Believing you can teach an old dog new tricks, Hudson’s Bay merchants have been prowling Sweden, Denmark, Brazil and Korea, as well as London, Milan, Paris and New York, for products to update its beauty, home and fashion businesses, incorporate a greater proportion of modern and contemporary offerings versus traditional and classic, and recapture lost market share.

Earlier this year, 300 brands were dropped and 100 were added to the Canadian chain’s  matrix. For spring 2020, 75 more are being added and another 300 vendors, many smaller apparel lines, will be dropped.

“We are repositioning to a more fashion-forward, slightly upscale model,” Helena Foulkes, chief executive officer of the Hudson’s Bay Co., told WWD. Most of the progress has been made in beauty and home whereas in apparel, the division needs to move faster.

“We are in the early stages of the change. We began the process in the beginning of 2019 and it really took hold this fall. Wayne and his team are taking it to the next level next spring,” Foulkes said, referring to Wayne Drummond, chief merchant of the Hudson’s Bay department store division of Hudson’s Bay Co.

The chain has been surviving but not thriving in a Canadian market that’s small (population approximately 35 million) yet turbulent and widespread. Retailers have come and gone. U.S. retailers, tapped out for growth in the States, crossed the border to expand, notably Nordstrom which entered Canada in 2014 with a store in Calgary and a year later opened a Vancouver flagship which has emerged as the retailer’s top door in all of North America.

The Rack, Kenneth Cole, Untuckit, Bottega Veneta, Casper and Bed Bath & Beyond also crossed the border and Canada’s Holt Renfrew is in the back half of a four-year $400 million (Canadian) strategy renovating and expanding stores, adding designer shops, upgrading IT and honing its luxury image.

Among those that vacated Canada — Target in 2015, Sears Canada in 2017 and HBC’s Home Outfitters this year.

Aside from adding better labels, the 89-unit Hudson’s Bay is correcting merchandise mistakes. “We went more downscale and more classic and that is really not what we are famous for,” explained Foulkes. “We’re famous for being slightly more fashion forward and slightly upscale but we got lured into going after the Sears customer and forgot who our core customer is.”

This year a mobile app was launched, thebay.com was re-platformed and the rate of digital sales growth nearly doubled.

At the stores, there’s been an accelerating number of pop-ups, events and service enhancements, in particular at the Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal flagships and 20 other top doors. BOPIS, open-sell footwear and jewelry departments, central checkouts, and additional selling staff during peak hours for greater service are among the innovations.

In fashion, “We really went globally with our point of view and for inspiration, beyond the fashion weeks,” said Drummond. “Scandinavia is a perfect example. The designers resonate very well with Canadians. The style, the price and the quality work. We introduced Ganni exclusively and the label resonated immediately. It’s in our contemporary women’s department. The look is clean and there’s a very accessible price point.

Mango from Spain was recently introduced as part of the program to update Hudson’s Bay fashion. 

Mango, the Spanish brand exclusive to Hudson’s Bay in Canada, was recently added to “speak to a new generation of shoppers,” Drummond said, adding with 89 stores across the country and a long history, “Our reach is a huge point of differentiation that gives us the ability around having exclusives and being first to market with a lot of brands.”

Transforming the assortment, Drummond said, is “definitely in the early stages, but I don’t believe this journey will ever end.”

For fall, Hudson’s Bay installed pop-ups at the Vancouver and Queen Street, Toronto, flagships featuring Scandinavian fashion brands Baum und Pferdgarten, Birgitte Herskind, Rotate Birger Christensen, footwear from Axel Arigato and Eytes, as well as Ganni.

London’s Harris Wharf, Les Coyotes de Paris from Amsterdam, sustainable-minded Maggie Marilyn from New Zealand, French-based Ami, Apparis and Coperni, and New York’s Area brand, are also among the global additions, many of which are exclusive, and for holiday “a layer of luxury” including Paul Smith accessories was added.

Additionally, collaborations with Hunter Boots, Heys luggage and Bluebellgray utilizing Hudson’s Bay’s signature stripe have been formed.

From South Korea, Pushbutton contemporary women’s wear apparel is being pumped up for spring, while The Volon handbags are sold. Other Korean brands will also be available.

In home, Anthropologie shops in select stores and online, as well as Arcade contemporary furniture and home decor, and Casper and Leesa mattresses, were introduced.

“We are leaning more toward brands that offer both classic and more contemporary styling. A feeling that Mango provides executes really well,” said Tyler Franch, fashion director for Hudson’s Bay and The Room, the store’s designer floor.

Franch also cited a new private label in men’s and women’s called EnThread, which bridges contemporary and classic styling with a “modern, clean sensibility.”

“On the designer level, logos are on their way out. We are looking to much more cleaner silhouettes that are feminine and with a simpler sensibility, one that is not complicated or overthought.”

Aside from Europe and Asia countries, Latin America is on the travel itinerary, notably Brazil for footwear.

“That’s the best part of the job — being able to launch something no one has ever heard of and believing in the product.”

“Really the focus is around telling a story and looking toward brands like Mango and EnThread with inclusive styling and something for everyone. In the past, our core brands leaned in the middle ground and alienated a customer that was a bit more contemporary or younger. But for spring, we have a lot of fashion with clear points of view and clarity of offerings that modernize our assortments. We are looking for fashion in everything that we buy.”

Ba&sh,  a brand new to Hudson’s Bay’s assortment, reflects the strategy of updating the fashion. 

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