Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I Believe - that there is no more Olympic merch left at HBC

Ka-ching! This way to Olympic merch.

Let's hear it for the Bay.

After years of stagnant sales and ill-advised marketing strategies, HBC finally struck gold with its Olympic merch: its red, wool mitts are selling for $30 on eBay, its website crashed from user overload, and the low supply is making demand grow, even after the Olympics have ended.

The success is due to the collision of pent-up patriotism and cool designs that celebrate the Olympics, but feature enough of HBC's classic heritage to avoid just being a souvenir. These are clothes that can be worn all the time, not just on Canada Day.

I'm glad for the Bay, because I've always been a fan. Every time a girlfriend dumped me - and that's hundreds of times, people! - I'd go to the Bay downtown for a malt and hot dog in the basement, and it made everything better. You hear that ex-girlfriends? I'm betttteerrrrrrr! Waaaah!

I'll have a malt and more, please.

I visited the Bay downtown today for a malt and a dog and - I admit it - I wanted to buy one of those kick-ass reindeer sweaters Team Canada was wearing at the closing ceremonies.

CreComm student Greg Berg tells me that the sweaters go for about $350, but since I'm Moneybags Larsen, no price is too high to be on the forefront of Canadian chic.

But when I arrived at the store, I was greeted with this, a pathetic display that still pleaded with me to "Believe" in light of all evidence to the contrary:

Even sadder was this baseball cap sitting atop these empty shelves, just begging for someone to add an apostrophe T to the end of CAN. I didn't - but I almost bought it to rescue it from its loneliness.

A lovely store employee named Louise told me that most of the Olympic merchandise sold out daily within about half an hour of the store opening.

"I got myself some of the mittens," she said. "But I had to do some sneaking around to get them."

More maple syrup, more often

Apparently, HBC gets it now. It's intending to launch a permanent Olympic-style fashion line and Canadian shop featuring maple sugar, syrup, trapper hats, blankets, coats, and canoes.

It's about time. I used to use the Bay as a rebranding assignment with third-year Graphic Design students, mainly because anyone who cared could tell that the Bay was headed down the wrong path and just begging to be fixed.

It didn't help that I could never tell that the "B" in the Bay logo was actually a "B." Just looked like a ribbon to me...

The assignment:
Rationale Assignment 2

Having traveled through Japan, I can say that having the Bay's maple syrup on your person is better than having actual currency. You can use it to get rides in cabs, stay at people's houses, and, I presume, to have anyone whacked that you like. When the syrup runs out, so do the favors, so if you're planning on doing the same: trade wisely.

The long-term impact

The Globe & Mail reports that HBC's Olympic sponsorship is expected to have a long-term impact on the brand. It says that consumer awareness of HBC is higher than any other Olympic sponsor, and the goodwill toward the games and Olympic paraphernalia appears to be rubbing off on the store and other merchandise.

Yay! But, more fundamentally - and as a lifelong Bay shopper - here's what I think the Bay should do to keep the momentum going:

1. Change its name back to the Hudson's Bay Company. C'mon: HBC is soooo KFC.

1. Stop hiding the checkouts. That cash register stencil on the floor with an arrow leads nowhere.

2. Stop understaffing the checkouts. Louise can't do it all, you know.

3. Stop the sales staff from telling me that the product I'm buying is cheaper elsewhere.

4. Stop the sales staff from telling me to come back on Saturday - "Bay Day!" - when the product will be cheaper.

5. Stop the sales staff from giving away the merchandise when they're not sure if an item is on sale.

6. More Paddlewheel Restaurant on more floors selling more chocolate pie.

7. More sweaters with more beavers, hockey players, trappers, mounties, and Neil Young.


  1. Also, if every public rest room could be as glamorous as the Bay downtown's upstairs ladies' room, Winnipeg women could feel like 1920s movie stars every day. And that mightn't be a bad thing.

  2. Customer service is horrible there. I've often felt that I could walk out of there with a big arm full of merchandise and no one would stop me--because no one is around. The grocery store is even worse.

    On the upside, the fact that it always seems as if they're going out of bizness keeps me looking sharp...I bought an awesome wardrobe there recently...all on clearance!

  3. Every Customer: "I'd like a malt please."

    Malts & More Lady: "Would you like a hot dog with that?"

    E.C.: "???"

  4. According to an e-mail I received from Bay executive Barry Bortnick, the popular red Canada T-shirts still being advertised are virtually impossible to find: "I am not confident that we will find anything in red... we are still searching."

    A VANOC Official Store representative helpfully suggested Roots. Well, sort of -- she was very careful not to refer to Roots by name as they're not an official sponsor, but the implication was clear.

    Indeed, Roots' Canada wear is arguably more stylish than the official gear, and competitively priced, too.

    Think of the killing that could have been made if The Bay had raised the price of all their Olympic merch 50 percent when they realized there were going to be severe shortages. Or if Roots had been more aggressive in using public discontent with The Bay and the VANOC Official Store to their advantage.


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