The Strong Get Stronger: The New Canadian Retail Giants

Thirty years ago, Woodward’s, Eaton’s, and Zellers were some of the most renowned retailers in Western Canada. Now they’re merely part of history as, one by one, they were forced to close their doors. In 1990 The Hudson’s Bay Company bought out Woodward’s, which had operated for more than 100 years, while Eaton’s, which had been a Canadian staple since 1869, filed for bankruptcy in 1999. At its peak, Zellers had 350 stores across the country, only to officially close on March 31, 2013.

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Photo: Zellers Canada/Facebook

The Financial Post reported that in the last three years, 1,114 stores closed their doors for good. With Target leaving the country and other once prominent brands like Jacob, Mexx, and Smart Set no longer in business, it may seem like Canadian retailers can no longer hold their own.

The retail industry is notorious for its challenges. In the past decade, consumers have significantly shifted their buying behavior, gravitating towards online shopping rather than brick-and-mortar purchases. Other obstacles include big American retailers such as Walmart crossing the border and offering much cheaper price tags in one-stop-shop box stores. The way companies market their brand is also key. Using social media to effectively relate to the powerful millennial generation is another crucial factor that retailers needed to adopt quickly – or get left behind.

Despite these challenges, there are a few companies that are not only competing, but exceeding their sales and profits year after year. One of these is TJX Canada, who owns Winners, HomeSense, and Marshalls Canada. Starting out with just eight stores, they’ve now grown to 380 stores across the country and $3.3 billion in sales.

The Canadian Tire Corporation Limited is also dominating the retail world, owning and operating Canadian Tire, Partsource, Gas+, FGL Sports (Sport Chek, Hockey Experts, Sports Experts, National Sports, Intersport, Pro Hockey Life and Atmosphere), Mark's, and Canadian Tire Financial Services. With nearly 1,700 retail and gasoline outlets across Canada, they employ approximately 85,000 people.

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Photo: Wikimedia

According to a recent article in The Huffington Post, plenty of retailers in Canada are still making money. The International Council of Shopping Centres reported sales at Canadian malls averaged $673 per square foot of retail space over the past 12 months, up 5.8% from a year earlier. That compares to US$475 per square foot in the U.S., which means Canadian retailers sell about 12% more than American retailers per square foot.

Along with Canadian Tire and TJX, homegrown brands like Lululemon, Artizia, and Joe Fresh have expanded their stores across international borders. Part of their success can be attributed to their ability to adapt to the evolving demands of consumers. Offering a competitive ecommerce component as well as a unique in-store experience, retailers will have to stay ahead of the trends to stay on-trend in this challenging industry.

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