Store Wars from PROFIT Magazine, November 2011
Retail in Canada is changing faster than ever before, with new players in the market, new technology in the hands of customers and new sales channels to navigate
When Brian Lindy learned that U.S. retail conglomerate The TJX Companies was launching a Canadian version of its HomeGoods chain a decade ago, he didn’t wait for the big, bad Americans to take a bite out of his business before biting back.
Lindy, president of Stokes Inc., a Mount Royal, Que.-based kitchen and tablewares chain, sent a team south to study HomeGoods’ product selection, prices, quality and, even, its suppliers. He used the information gleaned to move away from suppliers that worked with HomeGoods so Stokes could sell a unique product and avoid competing on price with the discount giant, whose Canadian outlets operate under the HomeSense banner.
Ten years on, Lindy has added 30 Stokes locations to the 100 in operation before HomeSense arrived, and he sees the challenge as an asset: “It actually made us stronger, because it encouraged us to start developing our own in-house brand, which today represents 70% of our sales.”
Another wave of U.S. retailers is marching north, among them J.Crew, Crate & Barrel and Target, the last of which plans to open its first Canadian outlets in 2013. If increasing competition from such well-known and respected U.S. brands aren’t enough for Canada’s retailers to worry about, there are also the issues of falling consumer confidence, high consumer debt and a dwindling supply of retail real estate that’s pushing up the rent. (We won’t dare mention the other R-word.)