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Hudson’s Bay Company is looking at buying Saks Fifth Avenue

In three months, HBC has promoted luxury guru Bonnie Brooks, opened Canada’s largest women’s shoe store, hinted it wants to partner with Uniqlo and announced a Toronto Kleinfeld Bridal boutique. Now, the company is reportedly looking to purchase Saks Inc., which owns 40-odd Saks Fifth Avenue stores across the U.S. We like the potential benefits for both HBC and Canadian shoppers: Saks’ relationships with luxury designers could bring Hudson’s Bay more high-end brands and converting some existing Bay locations into Saks stores would make better use of HBC’s real estate. The acquisition would also net prime American retail locations for HBC’s Lord and Taylor banner. Still, it’s probably a little too early to get excited. Several U.S. private equity groups are rumoured to be interested in Saks and similar talks between HBC CEO Richard Baker and Bloomingdales never ended up yielding a deal. [Women’s Wear Daily]

The Goods

Stores

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Bonnie Brooks ends her five-year reign as HBC president

(Image: Bonnie Brooks)

Bonnie Brooks, the luxury retail whiz who led Hudson’s Bay’s revamp from dowdy department store to high-flying retailer, is stepping back from day-to-day leadership with a new job as vice-chairman. After becoming president in 2008, Brooks dropped hundreds of underperforming lines, like Liz Claiborne and Bill Blass, and brought in buzzier brands, like Top Shop and Coach, along with a high-end boutique that regularly draws socialites and celebrities. CEO Richard Baker says the promotion will allow Brooks to work on similar big-picture strategies for HBC’s other brands, which include 69 Home Outfitters stores and 48 Lord and Taylor department stores in the U.S. HBC chief merchant Liz Rodbell will take over as the new president. Brooks, however, will remain the public face (and voice, presumably) of the company. [Globe and Mail]

The Informer

Business

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Shoppers Drug Mart writes an awesome, dystopic response to a customer email

(Image: chapstickaddict)

Shoppers Drug Mart showed this week that, like Samsung Canada and Morton’s Steakhouse, it knows how to have some fun with its customers. When a Shoppers mailer addressed to a stranger arrived at Andrew Gardner’s Toronto house, he sent a tongue-in-cheek email to give the company a heads up.

I can draw one of two conclusions from this: 1) that Matthew is a previous resident of this address, and has not updated his address information with your system for over 3 years (the approximate time that I’ve lived here), in which case, please contact him about his up-to-date address information, and send no further mail to this address.

Or 2), and I may be going out on a limb here, Matthew is a future resident of this address, and seemingly against the laws of causation, your computer system has this information, and prematurely mailed an advertisement to him before he’s actually lived here.

In lieu of a boilerplate, “we apologize for any inconvience” reply, Shoppers wrote a return missive from the future with perfect deadpan tone (it even earned a stamp of approval from Toronto sci-fi author Cory Doctorow).

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The Goods

Stores

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A massive new outlet mall west of Toronto will have the first ever Hudson’s Bay outlet store

Construction is well underway (Image: Premium Outlets)

Real estate giants Simon Property Group and Calloway Real Estate Investment Trust are opening a huge outlet mall on August 1 in Halton Hills, about an hour’s drive from downtown. Along with the first Hudson’s Bay outlet store, Toronto Premium Outlets will also have the first Canadian discount locations of several big-name brands, including Kate Spade New York, DKNY and Restoration Hardware.  In all, the mall will have about 85 stores, with plans for a second phase of construction when some of the luxury brands just now arriving in Canada are ready to open discount offshoots. Between Halton Hills and Tanger Factory Outlets’s plans to expand their Cookstown outlet centre, Torontonians could soon see the end of a long-standing tradition of cross-border shopping. Below, the full list of stores.

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The Goods

Shopping

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Trend We Love: clothing stores charging the same prices in Canada and the U.S.

Cross-border shopping is getting less and less tempting. First, a raft of American brands opened stores in Toronto, and now a growing number of shops, including Loft, Ann Taylor, Express and Lululemon, are charging the same prices on both sides of the border. The majority of Aldo’s merchandise is also priced identically, while Abercrombie and sister brand Hollister have lowered Canadian prices from 25 to 30 per cent higher to just five to seven per cent higher (the company says duties account for the vestigial mark-up). The push for price equality can be traced to lower costs, near parity between the two countries’ currencies and that the Internet makes it possible for Canadians to find out easily if they’re getting bilked. Target, we hope you’re taking notes. [Globe and Mail]

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Business

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Bixi Toronto is having major financial problems

(Image: Peter Kudlacz)

Despite attracting thousands of subscribers, Bixi Toronto is still having trouble covering its operating costs two years in. The bike sharing program has only paid back $600,000 of its $4.5 million start-up loan and, since the city guaranteed that loan, city staff are recommending council restructure its relationship with Bixi. (Complicating matters, the Montreal-based company that owns Bixi is reportedly looking to sell off its franchises, including the Toronto one.) Bixi’s balance sheet problems probably won’t spell an imminent end to the heavy black bikes, though: several councillors, Karen Stintz and Mike Layton among them, have already reiterated their support for the idea of bike-sharing. They also repeated the oft-heard call for more bikes and more docking stations as a path to self-sufficiency—though Montreal has 411 stations to Toronto’s 80 and still racks up a $7-million deficit each year. [Torontoist]

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Features

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Memoir: after five years as a labourer, I learned how hard it is to climb into the middle class

By Mariusz Klapacz | Illustration by Cat Yelizarov

Memoir: CannedI was born in communist Poland and arrived in Canada when I was 12 years old. My parents came for the opportunities, the hope that I might one day get a decent job and build a home and family. By 2001, I was 27 and had spent the past decade in dead-end jobs. I wanted work that I could build a future on, and so I applied at a major grocery chain’s warehouse. They offered me a part-time job at $12 an hour. Thrilled at the idea of working for one of Canada’s most reputable companies, I accepted on the spot.

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The Goods

Stores

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Three Target stores are now open in Toronto

(Image: Kayla Rocca)

American superstore Target’Canadian invasion took a big leap forward today with the opening of 17 new Ontario locations, including those in Toronto’s East York Town Centre and Centrepoint Mall and Etobicoke’s Cloverdale Mall. The stores are still in soft launch mode, which means that, like during the launch of the chain’s Guelph store on March 5, a few snafus are to be expected. The Shoppers World Danforth and the Square One Shopping Centre locations will soft-open March 28, and the brand is promising a splashy grand opening in early April.

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Columns

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Editor’s Letter (April 2013): why the digital age requires new and unorthodox office spaces

Editor's Letter (April 2013)Shayne Hughes, the CEO of a California-based business consultancy called Learning as Leader­ship, recently put a moratorium on interoffice emails. He defended his experiment in Forbes magazine by explaining that he wanted to force his employees to communicate with each other in person. He’s the latest in a line of corporate leaders to encourage face-to-face interaction by prohibiting email. Over the last few years, executives at Intel, Deloitte and Veritas, among other companies, have all instituted versions of the same idea.

The trend is part of an ongoing attempt to address some of the alienating aspects of the digital age: the computer, an otherwise spectacular communication tool, often prevents us from actually talking to each other. Many open-concept offices have been rendered eerily silent as workers spend their days emailing back and forth. In my office, days go by when I don’t know if a colleague who works on another floor is even in the building.

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Real Estate

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A rent hike in the heart of Kensington Market could force out several long running businesses

(Image: Google Streetview)

The leases in a building at the centre of Kensington Market expire May 31, which could mean big changes for the eclectic area. The property on the northeast corner of Baldwin and Augusta and extending to 200 Baldwin Street houses five business, including the Casa Acoreana food shop and cafe, whose owner has already said that he can’t afford the landlord’s new rent. Realtor Philip Pick, infamous around Kensington Market for an unsuccessful attempt to bring in a Starbucks, is handling the deal and says he may once again reach out to large chains. “The decision is in the hands of the landlord,” he says. “I just expose it to the open market so that the landlord can make the best possible decision.” The landord had better choose well: a Second Cup that came to the area several years ago was met with such a frosty welcome from locals that it closed after only 6 months. [h/t Toronto Star]

The Goods

Stores

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Yorkdale Mall is getting 12 new stores in 2013, including AllSaints, John Varvatos and Zara Home

AllSaints is one of the international retailers coming to Yorkdale in 2013 (Image: Facebook)

Despite pricey renovations at Sherway Gardens, Vaughan Mills and Square One, Yorkdale Shopping Centre keeps strengthening its claim to the title of the GTA’s best mega-mall. In the wake of some high-profile store launches in 2012, six more global brands are opening their first Canadian location there in 2013. They include: American jeweller David Yurman; upscale menswear designer John Varvatos; British luxury brand Mulberry; U.S. womenswear giant White House Black Market; Zara Home, a home furnishings spinoff from the fast-fashion giant; and AllSaints, a fast-growing British retailer with mid-priced, sombre-coloured clothes for both sexes. Toronto’s first Ferragamo store is also slated to open at Yorkdale this year, as are new locations from Massimo Dutti, Honey and several others. See below for the full list of new and expanded retailers.

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People

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Farewell, penny: 10 oddly sweet articles about the coin’s demise

(Image: screenshot from Google.com)

The Royal Canadian Mint will stop distributing pennies to banks and businesses tomorrow, which means that, although the humble copper coin remains legal tender, businesses will now no longer give them as change. The day’s bewildering array of penny-centric articles suggests that Canadians have a strong attachment to the wee copper coin (as well as an awful lot of anxiety about the country’s ability to round to the nearest nickel). Below, the 10 weirdest—and yet strangely touching—send-offs.

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Features

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The Parlour Game: a behind-the-scenes tour of Toronto’s thriving rub ’n’ tug industry

The Parlour Game

Over the last decade, spas have proliferated across the GTA faster than Starbucks

Ivy glows like a 1930s starlet. She’s 27, with high, round cheekbones, rosebud lips and luminescent skin. She has worked at three erotic massage parlours, or so-called rub ’n’ tugs, in the GTA, where female attendants offer men “sensual release,” code for a session ending in a hand job. She agreed to tell me her story on the condition that I not reveal her true identity. For her customers, Ivy puts on a breathy Marilyn Monroe voice and wears retro baby doll nighties and stilettos. She mimics her high-pitched greeting for me: “How are you? I can’t wait to get started.” Her act appeals to her clients—typically white professionals who came of age when women like Ivy appeared in every car and scotch ad. Walk-ins can choose from the half-dozen women on shift, though many men pre-book Ivy based on her photo on the spa’s website.

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Real Estate

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Real Estate Cheat Sheet: demand for offices, condo bidding wars and the echo boom’s influence

(Image: Nhl4hamilton)

For the past six months, local real estate chatter revolved around Toronto’s cooling housing market. This week presented a refreshing change: three separate stories on how and why the city’s real estate sector is still alive and, in the case of commercial property, in hot demand. Below, we break down what the latest numbers mean. 

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The Goods

Stores

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Target’s prices in Canada are going to be higher than in the U.S.

A nearly-finished Target Canada store (Image: Facebook)

Bad news: when Target’s first wave of Canadian locations opens this spring, the merchandise will be more expensive than in U.S. stores. Target Canada president Tony Fisher told the Globe and Mail that prices will be set to stay competitive with other Canadian retailers, not U.S. ones. We’re not all that surprised; Canada’s steeper tariffs and fewer economies of scale mean local shoppers are used to paying a little more than Americans. That said, Target is already well-known as a discount store to legions of cross-border shoppers who’ve been exploiting the loonie’s near-parity with the U.S. dollar for years—which means they’ll likely get angry in a hurry once they notice discrepancies. Just ask J.Crew. [Globe and Mail]

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