Damned Yankee

But once we all get over the sale of HBC to an American, we should wish Jerry Zucker luck.

The hand-wringing began not long after the board of Hudson's Bay Co. announced its approval of a buyout offer made by–egad!–an American. Apparently, or so the newspapers tell us, the delivery of our beloved HBC into the hands of Jerry Zucker is inspiring nationalistic angst across the land.

If that's an accurate representation of the nation's mood, I wonder where all the patriots have been hiding–while HBC's retail operations have limped along, turning in such lacklustre performance that they've made essentially no money in years.

Consider this tale. A few weeks ago, my daughter's winter boots went missing, in the way a two-year-old's clothing just does. We'd bought them last year at Target in Buffalo, on the way back from vacation. My daughter really liked them; so did my wife. So, on a recent weekend, we loaded up the wagon and dragged the kids along on the hour-and-a-half trip to Buffalo to get exactly the same pair of boots at Target.

Never mind we could have found them closer to home, maybe even at the Bay or Zellers–the fact is, the boots were an excuse to indulge what's become a family affair with Target (properly pronounced “Tar-jay”). We like shopping there. It is not just big but well-stocked; prices are low; service is excellent; proprietary-branded wares are attractive and of high quality.

Target works because it has successfully positioned itself against Wal-Mart as an upscale discounter–it owns the “upper-low” end of the market. That's where HBC should have been long ago with its Zellers stores, and probably the Bay, too. Instead, Zellers is an inferior discounter to Wal-Mart, and the Bay is stuck in the middle, where nobody wants to be.

Given HBC's troubles, what's remarkable isn't that the buyer is an American, but that there's a buyer at all. Zucker, for the record, plans to rejuvenate the stores. If Canadians care half as much about this retail icon as they are supposed to, then they should wish him luck.

Change, in other words, can be good. If you need further proof, just log on to Canadian Business Online at canadianbusiness.com.

You'll find there our revamped and relaunched site–complete with breaking news, stock quotes and original content, including commentary from our regular writers and contributors. In the past week, columns by Jeff Sanford (on the few options presented voters in the recent election), Erin Pooley (on the next big business in food fads) and Zena Olijnyk (on Loblaw's recent disappointing quarter) have appeared on Canadian Business Online. Check them out.

In coming weeks, look for more online columns by our writers–including Andy Holloway, whose inaugural On Sport column appears in this issue. This time around, Andy looks at the challenges facing the NHL–another operation beloved by Canadians, but sorely in need of a fix.