Hudson’s Bay Co. chief executive Jerry Storch says bringing the iconic department store brand to the Netherlands wasn’t his original plan, but feedback from local shoppers suggested the country could use more Canadiana — and a few of those Bay blankets.
When the retailer opens its doors on Tuesday in Amsterdam it marks the first time in its history that Hudson’s Bay stepped outside Canada’s borders with its flagship name. Nine more locations will canvass the region before the end of the month, with five more set to open next year.
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It’s an aggressive push into new territory, Storch acknowledges, but the opportunity to pick up attractive local space from bankrupt Dutch chain V&D was too good to ignore.
“There was a big gap in the Dutch market between a very high-end luxury player and the discount chains,” he said.
“We looked at all the markets in the country.”
Putting up signs in the Netherlands for a 347-year old Canadian business that started as a fur trading company wasn’t quite as obvious at first, he said.
Originally executives felt it made sense to simply migrate Inno, a Belgium chain they acquired two years ago, across the border assuming that consumers shared some familiarity with the brand.
However, they quickly learned that not everyone in the Netherlands favoured the idea of a neighbouring country setting up shop on its home turf.
“The Dutch people kept telling us, ‘We don’t want the Inno brand,’” Storch said.
“We couldn’t believe it. Even the guys at the hotel restaurant would tell us, ‘No, bring Hudson’s Bay here.’”
So HBC, which owns a number of other banners including Saks and Lord & Taylor, chose to make Hudson’s Bay its top priority in the region. Another two discount stores under the Saks Off 5th name will open before the end of the year.
Storch is confident that a dose of Canadian spirit to the Netherlands will be greeted with open arms.
The two countries have a number of historic connections, most notably near the end of the Second World War as the Canadian Armed Forces liberated the Dutch people.
Ottawa also sheltered the country’s Princess Juliana during the Nazi occupation, which later inspired the Netherlands to gift thousands of tulips to the nation’s capital. The tradition continues each year with the Canadian Tulip Festival.
Storch said department stores that were cherry picked from the 60 closed V&D locations will open fully renovated and stocked with items familiar to Canadians, like the famous wool blanket. More than 100 Dutch brands and a variety of national and global labels will also fill the shelves.
But Storch said the retailer won’t spend much time reflecting on the history of the Hudson’s Bay brand in Canada.
“We’re focused on how exciting and forward looking the brand is,” he said.
David Friend, The Canadian Press