It seems for those of us who are serious retailers, the Canadian marketplace sure seems to be getting smaller every day. Not that it was ever large to begin with. In the days of Dylex, Comark, Woolco, Bretton’s, Eaton’s, Cotton Ginny, Beaver Canoe, Coconut Joe, Aikenhead’s, Freedom, Kettle Creek etc., it seemed that there was a diverse, healthy and creative retail industry thriving in “our home and native land”.
Today, all of the abovementioned retailers are gone except for Comark which is now a shadow of its former self. Most retail chains today are either owned and operated by foreigners or of the “cheap and cheerful” variety like Stitches, International Clothiers or Urban Behavior. Roots has lost its iconic status, Hudson’s Bay Company just lost its latest U.S. born owner, Sears is owned by a U.S. Hedge Fund manager, Club Monaco is owned by Ralph Lauren, and Gap, Abercrombie, American Eagle, Zara and H and M now seem to dominate the landscape.
It makes things difficult for those who want a career in retail in this country to find a path. With most home offices south of a border or across an ocean, it doesn’t promote the kind of well rounded development an aspiring retailer should possess in order to create new concepts or drive exisiting ones to new heights. It is one thing to gain operational and “on the floor” experience in the field (which is crucial especially when one is just starting out), but then to be able to be exposed to what happens functionally behind the scenes in merchandising, design, marketing, human resources, visual, distribution, planning and allocation is almost impossible given the state of the industry in Canada and one is forced to re-locate to the U.S. to gain that type of experience, which causes a talent or “brain drain”.
I would love to hear what your thoughts are on this topic as it is critical for Canada’s retail industry and the industry’s creativity as a whole, that we continue to nurture and develop and encourage young people to choose a career in retail as opposed to luck into one, like I did.
What can really be done about the state of the retail industry? For every Lululemon, there are 10 Best Buy/Future Shop, Wal Mart/Woolco, Home Depot/Aikenhead’s or Michael’s stories in Canada. American Apparel, which is opening stores in this country is actually an American company owned and operated by a transplanted Montrealer, out of L.A.
Does that really how it has to evolve in Canada? It needs a concerted effort to nurture and foster creativity and career orientation amongst all Canadian retailers to change this trend. It’s time to wake up and get busy.