Though his attention was focused on his firm’s newest store in Edmonton, Peter Simons made it clear late last month Ottawa wasn’t far from his thoughts either.
The CEO of the Quebec-based fashion retailer has had a lot on his plate lately – not least of which was the opening of a 90,000-square-foot outlet at Edmonton’s Londonderry Mall.
It’s the family-owned chain’s 15th location, and its second in the Alberta capital. But in an interview with OBJ from Edmonton, Mr. Simons said he was already getting excited about returning to this capital once things settled down out west.
It’s been just over a year since Simons opened its first Ottawa location at the Rideau Centre. Mr. Simons said he kept his expectations for the store’s first 12 months in check, knowing it would take some time for the brand to gain a foothold in the region.
So far, he said, he hasn’t been disappointed.
“We really felt we had to build our brand there and build our recognition. It’s exceeded what we wanted to do.”
“We’ve been super happy,” Mr. Simons said. “We really felt we had to build our brand there and build our recognition. It’s exceeded what we wanted to do. We still think there’s a lot of runway, and honestly I see the store more in a longer time frame of all the infrastructure developing in Ottawa and the light (rail) and everything. I’m looking forward to getting (the Edmonton) store finished, because I really want to come back and focus on what’s been lacking with the (Ottawa) store.”
That means making sure employees are up to speed with the company’s service culture and ensuring they’re getting the most out of technology such as an app that helps them verify inventory, provide product information to customers and access loyalty accounts.
“There’s a whole new generation of tools, and I want to just make sure – forget the technology – that just the values are in place in terms of taking care of those customers one at a time,” he explained. “I think that’s just a question of training.”
Simons’ much-anticipated Ottawa debut was the centrepiece of the Rideau Centre’s $360-million expansion and renovation project that also included a completely revamped food court and the addition of other new fashion retailers such as H&M, Nordstrom and Zara. Since then, the mall has welcomed a new bar and restaurant, JOEY Rideau, and a flagship Sport Chek outlet among others.
In total, the downtown shopping centre has added more than 25 new retailers and 230,000 square feet of space as part of its makeover.
Mall owner Cadillac Fairview doesn’t share its sales figures, but Rideau Centre general manager Cindy VanBuskirk told OBJ in an e-mail that customer traffic and spending totals have increased “significantly” over the past year, “driven both by the completion of the redevelopment project and Canada 150 and Ottawa 2017 events downtown.”
Ottawa-based grocery chain Farm Boy is set to add to the facility’s retail mix when it opens a store in the mall’s old food court later this year. Retail analyst Barry Nabatian said the Rideau Centre is an ideal location for the company’s first downtown Ottawa location due to its close proximity to thousands of condos built over the past decade.
“That’s a huge number of people, and they’re affluent,” he said. “Furthermore, they don’t like to cook. They want to have a lot of premade food, and Farm Boy is excellent at that. (The Rideau Centre’s owners) are pretty smart people. They do their studies and they came to the conclusion that they really need a food store.”
Mr. Nabatian, a director at Ottawa market research firm Shore-Tanner & Associates, said the Rideau Centre continues to rank among Canada’s top three malls with annual sales of nearly $1,000 per square foot – excluding Simons and Nordstrom, which don’t reveal figures for individual stores.
Still, he said he believes there’s room for growth as consumers become more familiar with some of the shopping centre’s newer stores and the Ottawa market absorbs the hundreds of thousands of square feet of new retail space that has been added to the city’s inventory in the past few years.
“Overall, Rideau Centre is doing well, but not as well as they had expected,” Mr. Nabatian said. “But they need time. Too many things came on the market more or less at the same time – Lansdowne, Cabela’s outlet in Kanata, they all opened more or less in the same time frame as the expansion of the Rideau Centre. But Rideau Centre is definitely on the (rise). Things are going to get even better for them.”
Eventually, he said, other regional shopping centres such as St. Laurent, which unveiled a major remodelling a few years ago, and Carlingwood will have to launch their own rejuvenation and expansion plans or they will fall further behind. But he suggests they wait a couple of years for the impact of the Rideau Centre expansion, Lansdowne’s opening and other recent retail projects to level off.
“They have to do something, because they’ll be losing market share for sure.”