The Bay sharpens marketing focus

Department stores are increasingly niche-oriented, say experts, partly in response to specialty retailers who now house both homes and fashion under one roof....

Department stores are increasingly niche-oriented, say experts, partly in response to specialty retailers who now house both homes and fashion under one roof.

The latest to glom onto precision targeting is The Bay, which just launched a ‘more focused’ marketing campaign, according to Neil Fedun, executive VP of marketing.

‘In the past, we had a number of directions we were going in,’ he says. ‘We’re much more focused as a company now, which is better for customers because they can interpret a direction through all departments.’

Created by Toronto’s Wolf Group, the new effort features two spots punched up with ’70s-inspired graphics. The first is very Charlie’s Angels and stars four women in cheerful spring hues, while the second is its male equivalent. Fedun says the retro tone also comes through in print ads, direct-mail fashion books and store displays. The commercials are a continuation of The Bay’s repositioning strategy from last fall, which included the introduction of two private-label brands, ToGo and Mantles, as well as a TV campaign with the tagline ‘Shopping is Good.’

Richard Talbot, president of Unionville, Ont.-based retail consultancy Talbot Consultants International, isn’t surprised by the strategy.

‘Department stores are getting it – they can’t be all things to all people,’ he says. ‘It’s been the message from the Eatons lesson, as well as that of countless US retailers.’

Certainly, the news is grim south of the border: general merchandiser Montgomery Ward recently announced it will close all 258 stores; JCPenney will chop 47 venues; and Sears Roebuck & Co. will pull the plug on 89. But in Canada, where there are fewer players, The Bay has an opportunity to position itself between Sears, which targets a lower middle-class consumer, and the now more upscale Eatons, says Talbot. ‘With old Eatons acting more like a Kmart with its discounts and sales, it was difficult for The Bay,’ he explains. ‘Now you can see a fairly defined hierarchy in the department store categories.’

Meanwhile, Eatons appears to be zoning in on contemporary, brand-conscious consumers with its ‘aubergine’ ads, according to John Torella, a retail consultant with Toronto-based J.C. Williams Group. But, he says, it still needs to bite a chunk out of The Bay’s business. ‘You need a lot of volume to support a one-million-square-foot department store,’ he explains. ‘You need to think about the core, but also the classic department store customer.’

Department stores also need to cut in on specialty stores and a more focused marketing campaign can help accomplish that, he adds. ‘They can use the leverage of one-stop shopping, selection, credit cards – all these things are in their marketing arsenal.’

In March, Sears released a new campaign starring animated stick figures that communicates a one-stop shopping experience, says Susan Gillmeister, group account director at Toronto’s Ammirati Puris, which created the trio of 30-second commercials. ‘The spots recognize that women have a lot on their plate,’ she says. ‘One talks about the range of services at Sears and how they make life simpler.’

The core customer is the busy, working mother, 25 to 54, points out Rick Sorby, Sears’ executive vice-president of marketing. One of the challenges that faced Sears when it acquired Eatons, he says, was the need to make the two department chains distinct. Sorby thinks the marketing strategies help achieve this, because while Sears speaks to its patrons about ‘loyalty programs, broad services and comfort,’ Eatons targets urban, professionals who are ‘a lot more stylish.’

However, the sheer size of department store chains makes it difficult to maintain consistency because it’s a challenge to keep in touch with people at ground level, points out Colleen Fleming, president of Toronto-based C. Fleming & Associates, which specializes in marketing planning and integration for retailers. ‘Sometimes size or drive for improving their share price forces them into short-term thinking,’ she says.

Brand-building is less complicated for smaller retailers who can carve out specific niches through merchandising and presentation. For example, newcomers Caban, an off-shoot of Club Monaco and Vancouver-based Bruce (winner of this year’s Cadillac Fairview Achievement in Retail Concept Award) have successfully targeted certain demographics in modern, department-store formats, points out Talbot.

Talbot says: ‘It’s a constant tug-of-war between specialty retailers and departments,’ he explains. ‘Department stores have generated freestanding home stores in power centres to compete with specialty retailers, while the Cabans are on the next wave of counter-attacks [by offering homes and fashion in one venue].’

Toronto-based chain Roots has been operating department-style stores in Montreal and New York’s trendy Soho for the last couple of years. Aimed at upper middle-class consumers aged 25-plus, the Montreal space divides departments over three floors. While Rima Biback, director of homes at Roots, says there are no plans to open new stores, she doesn’t rule out the possibility: ‘Plans could change tomorrow. The one-stop shopping concept has really worked.’

For his part, Campbell McDougall, owner of eight-month-old Bruce, calls his formula the ‘anti-department’ store. ‘Whereas departments tend to be all things to all people, we’re all things to one specific person,’ he explains. The 7,000-square-foot shop sells to trendsetters who turn to Bruce for the latest high-end products, ranging from clothing and eyewear to CDs and magazines. ‘We have 25 CDs and they sell like hotcakes. People know we have a particular taste level.’

McDougall, adding that venues in Toronto and Montreal may follow, says he hasn’t advertised, nor does he plan to anytime soon. Instead, he relies on a reputation built through word-of-mouth in the tourism and film industries.

Meanwhile, Caban, Club Monaco’s 20,000-square-foot lifestyle shop that houses fashion, bath accessories, kitchenware and furniture, opened four venues in Toronto and one apiece in Montreal and Vancouver last fall. Like Bruce, departments are mixed up and divided into themes, such as Lounge, where jersey dresses are sold next to plush terry towels. The retailer employs mainly print and outdoor advertising, but most of its promotion is done in-store, according to Charmaine Gooden, director of public relations for Club Monaco in Canada. ‘We have regular in-store demos by visiting chefs and florists,’ she says. ‘Shopping Caban is an experience.’

The concept is brilliant, believes Torella. ‘It could cut in on department store sales because it has the right look and [medium] price point,’ he says, while noting Caban doesn’t have access to the vast marketing resources available to department stores.

Some industry experts, however, question whether retailers such as these aren’t too narrowly focused. ‘I wonder if they are sustainable because the target market is so small,’ says Fleming. ‘Plus, it is a fickle market that moves on pretty fast.’