Guest Editorial: The Power of the North

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The Market Share Battle Up North

By Rony Zeidan

How to define Canadian style? The mix of French and Anglo Saxon cultures has created a fusion of European sensibilities with North American practicality. In general, Canadians are consumers who value design, quality, heritage, style and memorable retail experiences.

Recently, I had the privilege of branding and building a new image for the first Holt Renfrew Men store in Toronto, based on the concept of “A New Tradition.” Having explored our Northern neighbors quite extensively, I am intrigued by the retail evolution up North. In recent years, the American economic downturn has offered Canadian investors a fertile territory for the acquisition of top American luxury retailers like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Holt Renfrew Men-1

Canada’s luxury men’s retail landscape is currently dominated by only two big players: Harry Rosen and Holt Renfrew. I believe Canada is ripe for expansion of the new American acquisitions, which will create an even more competitive landscape. As is the nature of a competitive market, everyone will up their game and the battle will be challenging.

When I worked at LVMH a while back, it was conventional wisdom that several luxury brand portfolios could coexist in the same vicinity to maximize exposure to the same pool of luxury clientele. We now see this happening in Toronto with the opening of the Holt Renfrew Men store across from Harry Rosen’s flagship. One would think that Rosen’s business might be cannibalized, but I have reason to believe the competition has proven beneficial for both stores. Customers choose according to product offerings, exclusives, loyalty programs, special events, service and many other intangibles. In other words, with variety comes choice and consumers decide the winners. The good news: with the new American stores hitting the ground this year, Canadians no longer need to hop over to NYC for shopping weekends and the pool of shoppers grows accordingly.

Harry's Looks

Clearly, Canada’s current purveyors of luxury menswear are working hard at protecting their local turfs. Although there’s some overlap in merchandise and target markets, it seems Rosen and Renfrew have sufficiently defined their niches. Harry Rosen is the quintessential classic men’s store with 16 stores across eight cities, and a very loyal clientele. And that’s what they’re capitalizing on: intensifying their loyalty programs and upping the service quotient, which was already exceptional. At the same time, they’re investing in store upgrades and expansions, providing their customers even better and broader category offerings in key cities. A men’s-only store from the beginning, Rosen understands what men want and how men shop. With their formula down to a science, they’ve got a strong advantage over the newcomers.

Holt Renfrew, on the other hand, positions itself as the designer/luxury destination with 12 stores across 9 cities, owned by the Selfridges group. They have heavily invested in their first men’s flagship store in Toronto across from Rosen, offering a modern assortment that caters to a fashion-conscious consumer, preemptively tapping into an audience that might gravitate towards the American luxury department stores (especially Saks) upon their arrival. The store, opened on October 1st , has invested in a strong print and OOH campaign, crafting the message of A New Tradition. The campaign features two very masculine-looking guys in several looks: evening, casual, suiting and outerwear , showcasing various style options. This is Holt Renfrew’s first ever male-focused push in an attempt to solidify themselves as the go-to destination for the modern man.

Saks Fifth Avenue (owned by Canadian Hudson’s Bay) and Nordstrom have plotted their own courses to enter the Canadian market via Toronto. Yes, there will be curiosity among Canadian luxury shoppers seeking to explore the new options. But with such strong emotional connections to their hometown stores, consumers (especially men) are not likely to leave their comfort zones. Harry Rosen and Holt Renfrew should be feeling fairly confident.

Rony Zeidan is the founder and chief creative officer of RO NEW YORK. His other Canadian projects include rebranding Samuelsohn and developing campaigns for Aldo.

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