Top 10 Retail Insider Articles of 2018, with Updated Information [Feature]

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By Craig Patterson

We’re providing some updates to our top 10 most-read articles in Retail Insider in 2018, and what a year it was. Sears Canada closed its remaining Canadian stores, several retail chains exited the market (and in some instance their entire operations), and dozens of new international retailers entered Canada (this month we’ll provide an updated list on brands that entered the country in 2018, as well as a 2019 forecast for the industry). 

Given that some of our own exclusive reporting differs from larger mainstream news publications, our most-read articles are rather unique. We endeavour to break stories first where we can, and we sometimes defer major story reporting to other publications through our daily Canadian Retail News from Around the Web where we aggregate articles from other news sources on a summary page.

Below is a list of our top 10 most-read exclusive news stories of 2018, and with that we’re also providing some updates on these as we push forward into 2019. Our story on the possible bankruptcy of Miniso Canada, for example, has some updates after some current and former staff reached out to us with new and in some cases concerning information. 

10: Groundbreaking Development in Niagara Falls to be First-of-its-Kind in Canada: In October we reported on a proposed development called ‘Paradise Walk’ in Niagara Falls. The ambitious project, which is part of the bigger ‘Riverfront Community at Niagara Falls’, would be unlike anything in Canada to date. A European-inspired outdoor retail centre would include international restaurants, a boutique hotel, hotel condos, and even a wedding facility. 

The experience-based commercial area would feature a series of outdoor pedestrian streets with zones dedicated to different tenant types. Included will be several attractive public spaces with central areas that will house attractions such as street performers and a rideable carousel. About 50% of the commercial mix would be for food and beverage offerings, reflecting a similar mix seen in commercial centres in major markets globally.

One of the reasons the article got so many readers is that the proposal is controversial, with some locals standing up against a development that would see significant modifications to a natural habitat. As a result, it’s unclear whether or not the development will ultimately be approved, though in May of 2018 the local government gave it the green light to move forward — we’ll be watching this story and will provide updates. 

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9: Jollibee Discusses Canadian Expansion Plans: Popular Filipino restaurant chain Jolliebee is expanding its operations in Canada, with plans for about 100 locations. The company entered Canada in November of 2017 via Winnipeg, and it has since expanded into the GTA, where openings saw substantial lineups. 

Jolliebee provides the Filipino community “a chance to experience the Philippines again”, as quoted by journalist Mario Toneguzzi in the article which ran in Retail Insider in January of 2018. In June, Mr. Toneguzzi followed up this story with the revelation that Jolliebee is planning a sweeping expansion of its business. Jose Minana, Jollibee Foods Corporation’s North American Group President, told Retail Insider that the company’s massive expansion plans in Canada are “realistic.”

“It’s a matter of having the ability to ramp this up and as we look at our organization and our capabilities, 100 stores would be something that’s very realistic for us to do,” he said.

Jolliebee is opening standalone units as well as within Filipino grocery chain Seafood City, which is also launching a major expansion. The food is said to be great and we look forward to trying it this year. 

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8: Avalon Mall to Renovate and Expand by Repurposing Sears Space: Thousands read our article in July on the multi-million-dollar, three-year redevelopment project that launched to enhance St. John’s Avalon Mall’s position as the dominant enclosed mall in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The 137,000 square foot Sears box will see some changes, according to Regional Property and Leasing Manager Marcel Elliott. “We’re chopping off about 60,000 square feet on the end and creating more parking and then we will be build out in front of it. We’re subdividing space and adding new space to create smaller units and mid-size to big-box units,” said Elliott.

About 36 new tenants will be added and remarkably, despite challenges to the economy and industry, the centre has had a zero vacancy rate for the last decade. Elliott said, “adding 36 sounds like a lot but we’ve got a waiting list”. 

Retail Council of Canada just released its 2018 Canadian Shopping Centre Study (authored by Retail Insider’s Craig Patterson) and the St. John’s mall is the leader in terms of annual sales per square foot in Newfoundland. In the Maritimes, only the Halifax Shopping Centre boasts higher productivity. 

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7: Will ALDI and Lidl Enter Canada and Disrupt the Grocery Industry? In January, Grocery Business submitted an article by Michael Marinangeli with a discussion on whether or not German discount grocers Aldi and Lidl would enter the Canadian market. Either of them would disrupt Canadian grocery retailing, which is already hyper-competitive and with relatively low profit margins. Both German retailers are known for their low prices and efficient operations, and both have been expanding into the United States (Aldi also owns US chain Trader Joe’s, which would be a great addition to Canada as well). 

The article notes that Lidl has been opening stores rapidly in the United States and Aldi, with 1,600 stores in the US, is spending $1.6-billion to expand/remodel 1,200 of them, while opening an additional 400 stores. Between 2003 and 2013, Lidl and Aldi have grown to 20,000 stores in Europe from 8,000 — in Germany, the two have about 50% market share. 

We don’t have any concrete information as to whether or not either will be opening in Canada in the near future, though some in the industry have been predicting it for some time. Loblaw’s Galen Weston told the Globe & Mail in April of 2017, “from a planning perspective, our expectation is that at some stage they will come to Canada. I always say in three years, but I've been saying three years for a while.”

If anyone has further information as to if either Aldi or Lidl will enter Canada, please email me: craig@retail-insider.com

Image: Simon Property Group

Image: Simon Property Group

6: Toronto Premium Outlets Announces New Luxury Retailers and Expansion Wing: In September we reported on the expansion of the Toronto Premium Outlets in Halton Hills, which added a new wing housing more luxury brands than any similar outlet centre in Canada. In November we attended the grand opening of the new wing, and were shocked at the long lineups at the Gucci outlet in particular.

Other luxury brands in the new wing include Montblanc, Saint Laurent, Prada, Max Mara, Jimmy Choo, and Armani, among others. The centre is also home to the first Aritzia outlet, which is said to already be a hit.

Interestingly, Toronto’s luxury gain was Montreal’s loss. Recently, Gucci and Max Mara exited the Premium Outlets Montreal after opening in Toronto Premium Outlets — both malls are owned in partnership by  Simon and SmartCentres

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5: 2018 Canadian Retail Forecast: In January of 2018 we put together our annual forecast of what we expected in Canadian retail for the year. We predicted a robust year of store openings, which was certainly the case — this month we’ll reveal a list of international brands that entered Canada by opening stores, as well as our 2019 forecast of what is ahead. 

You can read your 2018 forecast here, which provides an overview that discusses international retailers, shopping centres, luxury brand expansion, off-price retail, ‘grocery wars’, cannabis retail, and the rapid growth of e-commerce (which Amazon continues to dominate). We also discussed the possibility of bankruptcies and store closures, some of which unfortunately came to fruition last year.

Photo: Endy

Photo: Endy

4: Canadian Mattress-in-a-Box Brand ‘Endy’ Announces Expansion Amid Explosive Success: Competition has never been fiercer for ‘mattress-in-a-box’ retailers — the concept has been around for only a few years and it is already disrupting the bedding industry globally. Endy says that it is the top-selling mattress of its kind in Canada, surpassing competitors such as Casper. Endy’s growth is rapid, boasting 300% year-over-year gains, not to mention a lot of five-star ratings from purchasers. 

Endy recently opened a Western Canadian distribution centre near Vancouver to keep up with the demand. When we reported on Endy in June, CEO Mike Gettis said that a standalone store expansion could be in the works — that follows on the heels of Casper, which last month opened its second standalone Canadian store

Canada’s biggest bedding retailer, Sleep Country Canada, acquired Endy for about $89-million in November. While both will operate independently, it’s likely at some point that we’ll be seeing some sort of brand partnerships, given the success and growth plans for both retailers.

PHoto: Craig Patterson

PHoto: Craig Patterson

3: Nordstrom Announces First 3 Canadian Nordstrom Rack Opening Dates: In September of 2017 we announced the opening dates of Canada’s first three Nordstrom Rack stores, and it appears that thousands were interested in reading about the news. Although the story wasn’t published in 2018, search engine optimization led to the massively high readership last year.

Canada’s first Nordstrom Rack opened in March of 2018 at Vaughan Mills in suburban Toronto, which was followed by stores in Calgary and then a glass-enclosed flagship at the corner of Yonge Street and Bloor in downtown Toronto in May. Three more stores have since opened in Ottawa, Edmonton and in Mississauga.

Our article showcasing Nordstrom Rack’s Vaughan Mills store was also our 14th-most read article of 2018. Canadians must be fans of the off-price retailer.

Nordstrom Rack delayed the opening of its first Canadian stores, which were to have debuted in 2015 with an Ottawa store. Target’s struggles in Canada were said to be partly to blame. 

Nordstrom Rack currently operates six stores in Canada, and more are said to be on the way. While not confirmed by Nordstrom, marketing materials for the Lougheed Town Centre in suburban Vancouver indicate that Nordstrom Rack could be a future tenant at the overhauled mixed-use centre. 

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2: Miniso Canada Claims to have Reached Preliminary Agreement After Bankruptcy Application Brought by Chinese Parent Company: We experienced an explosion in readership when we announced last month that the Chinese parent company of Miniso Canada had applied to put the Canadian division into bankruptcy, following claims of fraud on the part of the Canadian operations.

Miniso Canada issued a statement on social media claiming that it had reached a ‘preliminary agreement’ and that things would be ok. We followed up repeatedly with the company and never got a response. 

Several former (and current) employees have since reached out to us with their stories about Miniso, which are concerning. One individual, who recently left the company, explained how stress in the workplace had caused them to start taking sleeping pills and anti-depressants. Some are said to have sleeping bags in a warehouse because of long hours, and the rapid pace of store openings has been taxing on everyone involved. 

Another concern is the lack of proper French-language labelling and signage in Quebec. Miniso Canada has been put on notice by the Office québécois de la langue française, or the ‘Language Police’ as some call them. If the issue isn’t properly addressed, Miniso Canada could be required to forfeit its revenue in the province from the time that the first store opened there. Quebec became one of the fastest-growing markets for Miniso globally, which means it could be fined millions of dollars. That’s especially concerning, considering that there are also multiple lawsuits from contractors who claim that they are owed money for building Miniso’s stores.

IMage: Simon Property Group

IMage: Simon Property Group

1: Edmonton Airport Outlet Mall Announces 70 Tenants: We were surprised that such a local story saw so many readers in 2018. In March, we announced about 70 retailers that would be opening at the Premium Outlet Collection at Edmonton International Airport, which opened in May. Landlords Ivanhoé Cambridge and Simon Property Group managed to keep tenants a secret (for the most part) and the Edmonton outlet mall is the first pure ‘designer outlet centre’ in Alberta (Calgary’s CrossIron Mills is considered to be a ‘hybrid outlet’ according to International Council of Shopping Centres). 

The centre was first announced in December of 2013, followed by an announcement that the centre would be larger than anticipated at about 428,000 square feet. The centre cost about $215-million to build and is unique in that it is an enclosed outlet centre — In Canada, most are open to the elements. 

We speculate that one of the reasons the article was so widely read was, due in part, to some disappointment over the tenant mix, which was initially rather unremarkable. New tenants have since been added, though the Edmonton centre lacks the brand offering of centres such as Toronto Premium Outlets. 

Other top stories in 2018 included the following:

11: Uniqlo Announces 4 Canadian Stores as it Ramps Up National Expansion: The Japanese fashion retailer is picking up the pace with its Canadian expansion, with plans for as many as 100 stores in Canada in the coming years. Remarkably, the company almost doubled its Canadian store count over a two-month timespan over the summer.

12: Inside Yorkdale’s Impressive 70,000 Square Foot RH Restoration Hardware Gallery: Clearly there are a lot of home decorating enthusiasts in Canada, or at least people were interested to see the jaw-dropping new RH store at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre, which opened in November of 2017. Interest continued into 2018 and we expect that our search engine optimization helped with that, with tens of thousands continuing to read the article months after the store opened.

13: World’s Largest Sporting Goods Retailer ‘Decathlon’ to Disrupt Canadian Retail: In April we reported that French sporting goods retailer Decathlon was entering the Canadian market, which could shake up the hyper-competitive sports retail space that is dominated by big players such as Sport Chek, MEC, SAIL and others. Decathlon’s first store in Canada opened at Mail Champlain in suburban Montreal, and more stores have been announced for Quebec City, as well as at the expanded Montreal Eaton Centre (in a space that was originally supposed to house a 45,000 sq ft Saks OFF 5TH store).

Conclusion: This month we’ll be revealing a list of brands that entered Canada by opening stores, as well as our 2019 industry outlook. We’ll also be diving deeper into editorial topics in 2019 as we grow in strategy as a publication. Happy New Year. 

Craig Patterson, now based in Toronto, is the founder and Editor-in-Chief Retail Insider. He's also a retail and real estate consultant, retail tour guide and public speaker. 

Follow him on Twitter @RetailInsider_, LinkedIn at Craig Patterson, or email him at: craig@retail-insider.com.  

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