TORONTO — Canadian retailers face tough times in the years ahead — and so might those heading north of the border for the first time, according to a new study.
In his 2015 Canadian Apparel Yearbook, Trendex North America president Randy Harris forecasts that 15 percent to 20 percent of Canadian retailers, most from Quebec, will go out of business in the next 20 years.
“The clouds are there. In fact, I would say there is a perfect storm brewing,” Harris said.
According to the data compiled, the continued growth of foreign retailers in Canada, coupled with the surge of off-price retailing in the country, is expected to impact every level of the country’s apparel industry, as Harris projects.
In addition, as upscale players like Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue stake their ground in Canada and introduce consumers to off-price concepts like Nordstrom Rack and Saks Off 5th, Winners, Marshalls, Hudson’s Bay Co. and others will feel the pinch because of the product and prices these U.S. retailers will offer.
“There’s a misperception in Canada that consumers are trading up and down. That’s not true. They’re trading sideways,” said Harris.
“In today’s retail landscape fast-fashion giants like H&M are competing with specialty stores. We see H&M and Zara offering clothes at cheaper prices than consumers would find at Sears or The Bay. What is interesting, however, is that Canadians are not rushing to Wal-Mart to find deals,” he explained. “If that were true, we would be seeing some growth in the Canadian side of Wal-Mart’s apparel business, which isn’t happening. What we are seeing, however, is people’s willingness to go to the off-price retailer looking for quality items at the right price.”
That observation is correct, according to Ed Strapagiel, an independent retail consultant based in Toronto.
“In the long run, cheap equals lower quality. People are getting wise to that. It’s now part of how the consumer buys,” said Strapagiel.
As a result, Harris predicts “a massive explosion” coming in off-price retail in Canada, which is an area of the fashion industry that is underdeveloped.
Moreover, as foreign luxury retailers saturate the Canadian market, this overexpansion will test high-end businesses like Holt Renfrew, Harry Rosen and others, as well as new entries like Nordstrom, Harris forecasts. “When Nordstrom decided to launch in Canada five years ago they made the right decision based on the facts they had at the time. However, this model is no longer valid,” said Harris.
“Five years ago we didn’t know Saks would be coming to Canada or have any clue that there would be this boom of luxury retailers coming into the country,” he added. “But there just aren’t enough people here to support this overexpansion. Therein lies the problem.”
“It’s true,” said Strapagiel. “Several years ago the luxury market was underserved in Canada. Today, however, there are more horses at the stable and not enough customers to keep them going.”
Other factors coloring Harris’ projections include the threat of an economic downturn, the rise of the Internet and the slowness of Canadian retailers to embrace e-commerce. Indeed, all these factors, compounded by the growth of off-price and luxury retail, will present enormous challenges in Quebec, where businesses are “holding on by their fingertips in a province engulfed by an economic and political malaise,” according to Harris.
“Quebec retailers are still operating as though it were 2005, not 2015,” he said. “They have that same ‘if you build it they will come’ mentality Kevin Costner had in ‘Field of Dreams.’ They believe they can build a store in Rimouski and people will come to shop. But these larger companies headquartered in Quebec have too many stores. Just look at Le Château and Laura. They got themselves into trouble and started closing stores. However, they were unprofitable before they filed for bankruptcy. They should have begun downsizing before that happened.”
Once a fashion capital in the 1970s, Montreal’s industry currently accounts for 30,000 jobs in Quebec and 45 percent of all employment in the Canadian fashion sector. Montreal is also the third-largest center for clothing manufacture in North America behind New York and Los Angeles, posting sales of 7.6 billion Canadian dollars, or $5.6 billion.
Montreal does have its success stories: Shoe company Aldo boasts locations in 95 countries. Gildan Activewear Inc., Logistik Unicorp Inc., Peerless Clothing Inc. and Groupe Dynamite are also performing well in today’s tough market.