BUSINESS

Hudson's Bay says it's not just a retailer, but a hangout for shoppers

06/19/2013 04:50 EDT | Updated 08/19/2013 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Hudson's Bay Co. says the only way its business will continue to thrive is for it to move away from being seen as just a department store.

"We believe we need to be in more than the business of selling commodity items," chief executive Richard Baker said at the company's annual general meeting Wednesday.

"We're in the entertainment business. We don't just offer products. We deliver an experience."

Baker said Hudson's Bay (TSX:HBC) is focused on being a destination for shoppers but also a place where people can come and hang out.

For example, he said this may include a family heading to one of their flagship stores to eat lunch, browse home products, buy shoes or take an espresso break at the bar.

"Every customer touchpoint is an opportunity to stimulate, to excite, to be memorable," he said. "Creating this holistic experience entices customers to our stores as much as the merchandise itself."

Speaking to a room full of shareholders, Baker said the country's largest department store chain knows the importance of growing its online business to reach industry levels, typically 10 per cent of a retailer's overall business.

Online sales from Hudson's Bay made up about two per cent of overall sales last year.

Newly-installed president Liz Rodbell said the chain needs to continue to push its online and mobile presence "as quickly as possible."

Rodbell, 55, has been executive vice-president and chief merchant at HBC since February 2012. She joined its U.S.-owned chain, Lord & Taylor, in 1985.

On Tuesday in a surprise announcement, Rodbell was named to the top job after high-profile president Bonnie Brooks was promoted to the position of vice-chair.

Brooks, 60, has been credited with successfully rebranding the national retailer into an upscale department store specializing in apparel, shoes, accessories and other merchandise since taking the helm in 2008.

The industry veteran, who has worked at Holt Renfrew and was a former editor-in-chief of Flare magazine, has also been the face and voice of the company and is well-known for her regular on-air radio spots.

Hudson's Bay said that Brooks will continue in that role, and Rodbell was quick to laugh off suggestions that she might fill those shoes.

"I do have a bit of a raspy voice to follow behind her but, no, she's going to be handling that," said Rodbell.

Baker reiterated that the change at the top doesn't mean Brooks is going anywhere.

"We want to leverage (Brooks') great capability over a greater area in the things that she does very well and take away some of the responsibility," he said.

"It's too much for one person and it's better suited with Liz and Bonnie splitting those things up."

The executive shuffle comes at a time when several competitors begin expanding into Canada, including upscale U.S.-based retailer Nordstrom and Quebec-owned clothing chain Simon's.

Baker said the arrival of Nordstrom in the fall of 2014 is nothing but good news for Hudson's Bay.

"Hudson's Bay is a promotional retailer where everyday there is a different kind of promotion going on, and that's what drives our business. Nordstrom is a full-price retailer with a sale twice a year," he said.

"We actually believe that in the locations where Nordstrom is coming right next to us, that's going to have no impact on our business, or increase it a little bit because they will be drawing more traffic to the location."

Baker said HBC will is looking forward to welcoming their new neighbours.

"I prefer to have either one of them (as a neighbour) over a Sears," said Baker.

"It's our kind of customer. It's bringing better retail to the mall. We want to be in great malls. We want to be where there is exciting retail, we want to be where the customer wants to be."

Founded in 1670 as a trading company, HBC currently has 90 Hudson's Bay department stores and 69 Home Outfitters housewares stores across the country. It also owns 48 Lord & Taylor department stores in the United States.

The company went public in November. Its shares closed down 23 cents at $16 Wednesday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.