Saks Fifth Avenue Hits Toronto’s Queen Street

Who needs Fifth Avenue shopping when you have good old Etobicoke? The moment that Canadian shopaholics have been salivating over is finally upon us, as Torontonians are stepping into the first two Canadian locations of Saks Fifth Avenue.

The U.S.-based luxury department store’s move into Canada is comes three years after it was snapped up by the NRDC Equity Partners for nearly US$3 billion. The same private investment firm owns the Hudson’s Bay Company, so … synergy.

Toronto is seeing two franchises of the department store open in late February. A location at the downtown nexus of Yonge and Queen streets (inside an existing HBC store) has already welcomed its first customers. The Toronto Star described a ribbon-cutting ceremony replete with “wait staff serving hors d’oeuvres and drinks in champagne flutes, and an ensemble of classical musicians.” A second location, at Sherway Gardens mall in the western suburb of Etobicoke, is preparing to debut on Feb. 25. Five more Canadian stores are planned to follow. (The Holt Renfrew at Sherway is set to close, meanwhile, which will avoid a luxe department showdown on the Queensway.)

For customers in other Canadian locales, Saks is already shipping to Canada and serving online customers in Canadian dollars. Have a snoop at the goods here.

Saks’ international expansion comes during a reinvention of sorts. In 2015, the company began a three-year, US$250 million restoration of its Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan, which opened its doors in roaring 1924. The Toronto locations will feature one of the key elements of that revamp: Saks at Your Service, a program that offers up a sample of items can be brought to customers’ offices, homes or hotels.

Some other goodies: The Fifth Avenue Club will pair men and women with consultants for a shopping lesson in dress and style. Other services include private jewellery rooms, personalized makeovers and makeup classes. Finally, for those who have shopped the massive subterranean “food halls” at department stores in other countries and wish they could find more $70 honeys closer to home, take heart: The Toronto locations will each feature a food emporium courtesy local gourmet grocers Pusateri’s.

Other luxe American retailers harbour similar ambitions for the Great White North. After opening stores in Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa, Nordstrom is launching two Toronto locations of its own in the fall of 2016, including one in the Eaton Centre, just steps away from the new Saks’ Canadian flagship.

If it all sounds promising enough, so did the entry of Target into Canada.

One difference is the speed of approach. American retailers may sometimes live by the words “go big or go home,” but this time they’re acting a little less impulsively. Target all but blitzed Canada by opening a bevy of stores practically all at once. But both Saks’ and Nordstrom’s ventures are a little more calculated. Nordstrom tested the shallower waters of other major Canadian cities before courting the biggest, while Saks is opening in the same building as its parent company and aiming for seven total franchises, as opposed to Target’s 130-plus.

On the other hand, Global News reported Saks president Marc Metrick as saying: “It would be a terrible miss if we started to make Saks different for Canada … (However,) some of the offerings will be tailored to the regional clientele, he said, as they are in various U.S. cities.”

But is “two countries, basically one inventory” really the wisest course for U.S. companies venturing onto Canadian soil? Are Queen Streeters the psychographic who go in for $360 T-shirts with gold swirls? As retail observers will recall, a failure to appreciate cultural differences between the two countries was one of (several) oft-mentioned reasons for U.S. discount retailer Target’s spectacular failure.

Saks Fifth Avenue Hits Toronto’s Queen Street
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