Following the path of well-known U.S. brands like Ann Taylor and J. Crew and the U.K.'s Topshop and Topman, the international retail invasion continued in earnest this week with several marquee names opening their first-ever Canadian storefronts.
Microsoft launched its first international location at Toronto's Yorkdale Shopping Centre on Friday, featuring the software giant's range of phones, PCs, tablets and gaming systems.
Other new-to-Canada retailers opening at the mall included Tesla Motors, men's and women's clothier Ted Baker London and luxury apparel and accessories brand Kate Spade New York.
The new store launches were part of Yorkdale's new retail expansion, representing an approximate 10 per cent increase in square footage and a 15 per cent spike in the number of stores at the shopping centre.
Retailers have realized the hurdles of coming into Canada are less onerous then they perceived, and international companies have seen Toronto in particular as a viable market to grow, noted Yorkdale general manager Anthony Casalanguida.
"Once they have an understanding of what that appetite looks like in terms of sales, I would have to say that the majority of them accelerate their expansion plans by, I would say, a full year, as opposed to going to one market and saying, 'Well, let's be there for two years and we'll assess.'"
Kate Spade CEO Craig Leavitt said the company has seen its international business grow steadily for a number of years and they've been looking at the Canadian market for some time.
Kate Spade has partnered with Holt Renfrew to retail its products in Canada for about two years to "great success"; but as brand awareness continued to build, they felt it was an appropriate time to open a freestanding store, Leavitt noted.
Leavitt said the company's expectation would be to further expand in 2013 and 2014, with an eye towards opening new stores in Toronto and Vancouver and exploration of other Canadian markets down the road. It is also investigating the possibility of a Canadian-specific e-commerce site, but doesn't have any current plans in place, he added.
"We can tell that from the shipping that we do from the U.S. e-commerce site that the Canadian consumer is engaged with us, and we see that from social media; so that was certainly one aspect," Leavitt said from New York on the subject of its northern expansion.
"But also ... Canada has continued to have such a vibrant economy, so we're excited about our prospects there."
It was a double whammy at Yorkdale for Ann Inc. with the New York-based parent company seeing the opening of a second Ann Taylor store north of the border and the debut international location for its casual womenswear brand, Loft.
Loft president Gary Muto said Canada hasn't faced the level of economic woes and crises that have existed in the U.S. and now Europe.
"I think there's a lot of stability; and because there's a lot of stability, it's still a growing market," he said in an interview at Loft's new Canadian location.
Muto echoed Leavitt's sentiments on brand awareness saying there are number of Canadian consumers already exposed to Loft, notably through shopping trips south of the border.
"I think that helps. But I think more importantly there's probably a whole host of Canadian women who don't know who we are but we are extremely relevant to them; and I think that's where the exciting opportunity comes into play."
Muto said the company plans to open new locations in the first three quarters of 2013, and is also planning to further expand within the Toronto market. Loft would also like to launch international shipping sometime next year, he added.
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