My earliest memories of the Bay are best summarized by a forced visit with my mother or father, usually around Christmas time, to provide opinions on lumpy sweaters and sparkly broaches. As a child, it was a place I tolerated only for the promise of ice cream or a one-time allowance increase.
Years passed with virtually zero thought of the brand until news of Bonnie Brooks’ incoming leadership peaked my interest. Having spent some time in Hong Kong, I was familiar with her work at Lane Crawford and curious to see how she might rejuvenate a very treasured yet very tired Canadian brand.
With Brooks at the helm, would the Bay go the way of Eaton’s or would it find a new foothold amid the increasingly competitive retail market? Fortunately for Brooks, and unfortunately for my bank account, the latter vision has become reality…and here’s why:
- Fixing the product: Ms. Brooks is a woman who understands the importance of a high-low mix. To be fair, most fashionable women do…hence the ability to build a 50+ pair shoe collection while delivering the rent on the time. With Bonnie’s leadership began the overhaul of the Bay’s dated product line-up. Out were the lumpy sweaters of yesterday; enter relevant Canadian designers at all price points (think Pink Tartan, Moon and Erdem).
- Telling people about it: The Bay’s radio spots have become some of the most recognizable ads around, thanks in large part to the monotone yet incredibly memorable voice of Bonnie Brooks. I’ll admit to initially wrinkling my nose at their strange monotonous quality, but damn if those things do not break through. Not to mention the brilliant and almost digital-like radio execution around Christmas – a new radio spot every day to advertise limited time offers drove traffic to the stores and helped keep the brand top of mind. In a holiday season that appeared ruled by eCommerce, the Bay came out on top (well, I’m predicting they did…to be confirmed with the announcement of year-end results on April 11).
- Celebrating the brand’s nostalgia: The Bay, more than most Canadian brands, has earned its right to play the nostalgia card. And what I love more than the strategy here is the execution. It started not with a splashy ad campaign but with outfitting our country’s Olympians and, in tandem, the slow and steady introduction of those wonderfully striped heritage products. Having spent a few years building equity in their history, last week’s announcement of the company’s return to its old name and a more traditional looking logo just seemed right.
Five years later and I’d argue that the Bay is over halfway to bright. While the journey of the Hudson’s Bay turnaround is not complete, my confidence has been restored that the retailer will one day soon reclaim its rainbow stripes.