By Craig Patterson
It’s the end of an era for UK-based fashion brand French Connection in Canada, which is closing its last remaining Canadian store this month. Last week the company shut its Canadian e-commerce site and social media pages as it prepares to exit its Canadian operations after more than 20 years in business.
French Connection’s downtown Montreal store at 1181 Ste-Catherine Street West, which is the last store for the brand in Canada, is currently being liquidated as it prepares to close on March 31. The company’s Canadian Instagram account, which had more than 8,600 followers, is no longer active and leads to a dead link.
The once popular brand, known for its cheeky ‘FCUK’ logo that stands for ‘French Connection United Kingdom’, entered the Canadian market when it opened its fist store on Robson Street in downtown Vancouver in 1998. The company progressively opened nine stores Canada-wide as it gained a foothold in the market, selling fashions for both men and women.
That included a network of stores as well as wholesale distribution in multi-brand retailers such as Nordstrom and in years prior, at Holt Renfrew. French Connection had stores in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.
Last fall we reported that French Connection had closed its store at CF Sherway Gardens in Toronto, which was the brand’s second-last store to be operational in Canada. At the time, an associate in Montreal said that the brand would continue to operate its online store as well as its storefront on Ste-Catherine Street.
Between 2013 and 2018, French Connection shuttered six Toronto area stores, including a two-level flagship at 11 Bloor Street West as well as storefronts at CF Toronto Eaton Centre, Yorkdale Shopping Centre, Vaughan Mills, 360 Queen Street West, and most recently at CF Sherway Gardens. The Bloor Street store closed in 2013 and the CF Toronto Eaton Centre store shuttered about a year later.
The company has also been shutting stores globally over the past few years. French Connection currently operates two stores in the United States, including a store in Soho in New York City as well as at the Miracle Mile Shops in Las Vegas. The company continues to struggle. In October of 2018, the company’s two major shareholders, Sports Direct and founder/CEO Stephen Marks, said that French Connection was in the early stages of looking for a buyer. Mr. Marks was said to be looking to sell his 42% stake in the company.
Stephen Marks founded French Connection in 1972 and at its peak in 2004, the company was worth nearly £500-million. As of October of 2018, the company’s worth was estimated to be just £41-million as the brand was said to have lost traction with younger consumers.
French Connection is the latest brand to exit the Canadian market, which is seeing unprecedented competition from new international entrants, as well as homegrown brands that continue to resonate with consumers. A record-breaking 50+ international retailers entered Canada in 2017 and in 2018, about 30 international retailers opened stores in Canada. This year could see even more international retailers enter Canada than last year, according to sources, even though consumer spending is down at a time of unprecedented personal debt levels, increased cost of living and changing consumer tastes in this country. Several more international retailers could be exiting the market, according to some sources.
At the same time, Canadian shopping centre landlords are reporting increasing sales productivity at their centres, as measured by annual sales per square foot. Consumers still flock to malls in many larger markets, though retailers such as Walmart are gaining market share in some ‘less fashionable’ parts of the country. We’ll continue to monitor retailer movements in Canada and will report back with new developments.
Now located in Toronto, Craig is a retail analyst and consultant at the Retail Council of Canada. He's also the Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for the past 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees. He is also President & CEO of Vancouver-based Retail Insider Media Ltd. Email Craig: firstname.lastname@example.org