Saks Fifth Avenue opening drums up luxury retail competition in crowded market

TORONTO – Canada’s crowded luxury retail market keeps expanding despite a dwindling economy, raising questions if there’s enough room for all the players trying to flex their muscles.

Saks Fifth Avenue is the latest entrant, with its flagship Canadian store opening in Toronto on Thursday. The high-end fashion retailer believes it can distance itself from the competition with its offerings.

“If we deliver the right level of service and fashion and the right edit, people are going to come and they’re going to want to shop,” said president Marc Metrick.

The company’s second Canadian location at Sherway Gardens is poised to open next week.

Even ahead of these two openings, though, shoppers are spoiled for choice when it comes to buying designer goods.

Nordstrom opened its first Canadian brick-and-mortar store in Calgary’s Chinook Centre in 2014, and followed it with two more locations in Ottawa and Vancouver. By fall 2017, the company is planning to have three more locations in Toronto, including two at the same malls where Saks Fifth Avenue will reside.

Holt Renfrew already operates several stores in Canada, and will open a 130,000-square-foot store at Mississauga’s Square One Shopping Centre this summer.

Simons, which already runs several stores in Quebec, Alberta and B.C., plans to open more stores in Ontario.

One of Saks Fifth Avenue’s lines of defence to separate it from the competition is its shoe collection. The Eaton Centre location boasts 1,000 different pairs of ladies shoes — that’s 250 more footwear options than Boston shoppers are afforded —and 15,000 in a stockroom that Metrick calls every woman’s dream.

The company is “very, very committed to having a powerful footwear business in this market,” Metrick said.

He believes men’s footwear will be an “explosive growth category” for the company, as will men’s clothing.

“Men are the new women,” he repeats a line used by Saks Fifth Avenue executives for the past eight or nine months.

While it’s starting with only two locations, Metrick doesn’t feel limited to stay within those bounds. If the right opportunity presents itself in Canada’s market, Metrick said the company would consider expanding beyond Toronto.

Already, the company aims to open as many as 25 of its discount fashion outlets, Off 5th, across Canada by 2019. Four locations — one in Alberta and three in Ontario — are already in the works. Not to be outdone, Nordstrom announced Wednesday it plans to open its discount arm, Nordstrom Rack, in Toronto’s Yorkville shopping area in 2018.

Saks doesn’t plan to differ its new Canadian stores too much from its American locations.

“It would be a terrible miss if we started to make Saks different for Canada,” said Metrick. Some of the offerings will be tailored to the regional clientele, he said, as they are in various U.S. cities.

Already, the company’s entrance into the market seems to have impacted its competition.

Holt Renfrew announced last week its plans to shutter its Sherway Gardens location later this year. Instead, the company will focus on its Square One store opening. The announcement came the same month Saks will open a store in the mall.

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