Holt Renfrew to expand Vancouver flagship, open restaurant

Howe Street entrance to mens section and rooftop apartment for personal shopping among enhancements

Mark Derbyshire has more than doubled sales at Holt Renfrew's Vancouver store since becoming president of the company in 2010

Holt Renfrew plans to significantly expand its Vancouver store while opening a dedicated menswear entrance on Howe Street, opening a restaurant and going even more upscale by launching new luxury personal shopping options.

Most of the expansion is the 40,000 square feet of additional space that the Toronto-based chain is taking by expanding northwest along Howe Street. That would give it a total of about 190,000 square feet after the expansion. 

Its April 24 announcement comes about five months in advance of competitor Nordstrom's planned opening of a 230,000-square-foot store a couple blocks south. Saks Fifth Avenue has also been rumoured to be interested in opening a store in the area.

Holt Renfrew’s Howe Street frontage will expand from about 30 feet to around 200 feet thanks to it taking over FGL Sports’ current sporting goods store, which is branded both SportChek and Atmosphere.

FGL will then move those brands to the corner of Robson and Howe streets in space that Chapters has occupied since 1998 but will leave by the end of June.

“We’ll start construction this summer and the shop will be completely done by the end of 2016,” Holt Renfrew president Mark Derbyshire said April 23, while taking Business in Vancouver on a tour of his store.

Above the 20,000-square-foot menswear area will be a 3,500-square-foot, 80-seat café that overlooks Howe Street. A "vendor partner" and Holt Renfrew products will be on display in the remaining 16,500-square-foot second level of the former FGL Sports location, he said.

Some sections of Holt Renfrew will be substantially larger post-renovation.

The leather goods section, for example, will triple in size to about 30,000 square feet. The footwear section will also triple in size: to 10,000 square feet. The beauty and cosmetics section will expand by 50% and many top brands, such as Chanel, are also expected to be substantially larger.

Rumours have swirled that Chanel wants to have a streetfront entrance to its boutique within Holt Renfrew but Derbyshire said his store is in the process of determining its redesign.

“Anything is possible,” he said. “It’s not that I’m just not telling you. We’re still working our way through all that.”

One thing that will definitely not happen is the rumoured launch of a high-end grocer.

High-end Italian grocer Eataly tiptoed into North America by launching stores in New York in 2010 and Chicago in 2013.

It then inked a deal in October to open in Holt Renfrew’s sister company Selfridges on Oxford Street in London. Billionaire Canadian Galen Weston owns both Selfridges and Holt Renfrew.

Luxury apartment pushes private shopping to next level

Perhaps the biggest innovation comes as part of the store’s evolution to become even more upscale by building a 1,000-square-foot apartment, accessible via an express elevator, on what will be a fourth floor and roof area that also has a private patio.

Holt Renfrew will then invite specially selected customers to enjoy the apartment as part of what it calls a “rewards and recognition” program.

Guests can request that the apartment is equipped with their choice of flowers. They can also get a facial and hair blow-dry. They could shower, play X-box, read a book or pretty much anything else they desire. Everything is complementary.

“You can come alone or with 10 friends,” Derbyshire said.

“You can have an on-model runway show. You could bring your children and they can read or colour or do arts and crafts while mum is trying on clothes and dad orders a great burger from the Holt’s Café.”

No one will be allowed to stay overnight and the invitations are for a one-year period, based on availability.

“Determining who we invite is a blend of an art and a science,” Derbyshire said.

“We may invite some customers who may not yet today be great customers but that’s the way they like to shop.”

Holt Renfrew’s current scaled down version of that offering includes having four “suites” that are about 100 square feet each on the store’s third floor. After the renovations, there will be five suites with some of them being about 200 square feet.

“Holt Renfrew is putting on it’s ‘A’ game in Vancouver,” said Craig Patterson, who is a retail analyst and owner of Retail Insider Media Ltd.

“It’s creating an elevated luxury experience that Canadian department stores haven’t traditionally offered.”

Strong sales

Patterson believes that the Vancouver Holt Renfrew store is currently the top-selling location in the seven-store chain. The only other Holt Renfrew location that could match the Vancouver store’s sales is on Bloor Street in downtown Toronto, he said.

Derbyshire would only say that the Vancouver store is “among the best.”

He would also not disclose total sales for the 2,700-employee chain that has 187 sales associates who generate at least $1 million each in annual sales.

Derbyshire returned April 22 from a corporate trip where he took each of those 187 people to Beverly Hills to express appreciation for their strong sales.

The number of Holt Renfrew sales associates that annually sell at least $1 million worth of Holt Renfrew merchandise has increased “15-fold” in the past five years and some of the chain’s top sellers sell substantially more than $1 million, he said.

One final thing on the horizon is ecommerce.

Holt Renfrew has so far watched its sister company, Selfridges, navigate online sales. Another sister company, Brown Thomas and Co., started selling via the Internet last year.

“Holt Renfrew will start ecommerce this fall,” Derbyshire said. “That’a a story for another day.”•