The new owners of Hudson’s Bay Company have hired former Holt Renfrew top marketer Bonnie Brooks as president and CEO of the Bay.
Brooks was most recently president of the Lane Crawford Joyce Group based in Hong Kong, and before that was she was executive vice-president, general merchandise manager and senior vice-president of marketing at Holt Renfrew.
The move supports HBC’s stated intention to take its 94-store Bay chain upmarket.
“Her retail acumen will assist her as she elevates the Bay to a new position within the Canadian retail landscape,” said HBC president and CEO Jeffrey Sherman , in a release. “The Bay will be a premiere department store experience with better brands and service.”
The iconic HBC department store chain was bought last month from the widow of former owner Jerry Zucker by New York-based NRDC Equity Partners, the owner of Lord & Taylor and other retail companies.
Sherman is leading plans to rework the 338-year-old company’s operations from the bottom up.
It makes a lot of sense for HBC to take the Bay brand upmarket and, based on her experience, it seems Brooks would be a good fit to lead that move, said Ed Strapagiel, a retail expert and executive vice-president with Kubas Consultants, in Toronto.
“There really is more potential up market because the middle and the lower is terribly crowded,” he said.
The fashion retail market has changed in recent years with the introduction and expansion of low-cost high-fashion brands like H&M and Zara, he said.
“But there is a lot of market space between the Bay currently and higher end [brands] like Holt Renfrew,” he said. “If the Bay can manoeuvre into that space and move away from competing with Wal-Mart and Sears, that might not be a bad idea.”
Brooks’ most recent employer Lane Crawford Joyce Group has more than 500 locations in nine Asian countries and includes the Lane Crawford department stores and Joyce Boutiques. At Holt Renfrew, Brooks had responsibility for strategic planning, all marketing functions, all merchandise buying, and designer brand acquisition. Before that, she also served as editor-in-chief of fashion magazine Flare.
“The role to transform the Bay from its existing format to world class was too compelling to pass up,” said Brooks, in the statement. “Building exceptional retail destinations is not only my profession, it’s my passion. I look forward to working with Jeff and the leadership teams at the Bay and HBC to acquire new prestige brands, many of whom I have had strong partnerships with for several years.”
The announcement comes just days after HBC confirmed it hired Mark Foote to lead its discount chain Zellers.
Foote was most recently at Loblaw but made a retailing name for himself with the changes he made as president at Canadian Tire.
“[His] strength is in non-food categories,” said Strapagiel. “He is a good operator. Canadian Tire has been good at operations and Zellers could certainly use some of that.”
Making the two key hires so soon after taking over the company suggest the new owners have a clear vision for HBC, added Strapagiel.
“It does seem like they have a strategy in place already and have hired accordingly.”