Saturday, 11 May 2013

Review: Toronto Shopkeeper Shops hr2 Vaughan Mills

Holt Renfrew introduces hr2 and promises affordable luxury.

Location: hr2 Vaughan Mills (1 Bass Pro Mills Drive, Concord, ON)

Holt Renfrew has described its new hr2 chain as Canada's first premium off-price concept store which promises to deliver quality brands at tempting price points.

The first hr2 opened in the Montreal area last month, and up to 10 are planned Canada wide. Holt Renfrew is in expansion mode having announced the intention to increases its retail square footage by 40% in the coming years. A new flagship Holt Renfrew store at Square One, and the launch of hr2 are part of that strategy.

Unlike a typical outlet store, hr2 carries new in season merchandise (though at discount prices). Holt Renfrew has leveraged its established relationships with vendors to obtain a rotating assortment of high-end brands. Think of an online flash sale come to life, the assortment will be forever changing and enticing shoppers to make frequent return visits though will not overlap with Holt Renfrew's product mix.

Design: Undoubtedly hr2 is a vast improvement over its previous life as a Holt Renfrew Last Call outlet store. The concrete floors are about the only thing that hasn't changed. Inside the 25,000 square foot selling space is divided into distinct zones like women's handbags, shoes, etc. Tall display units break up the space with mini walls creating the feel of a mini department store. Thin digital screens line shelves and broadcast featured brand names. The lighting is bright and flattering and the feel of the store is almost loft-like. Bold multi-coloured mural-like walls create continuity and interest, appearing along the accessory wall, behind the cash wrap, and along the fitting room corridor.

Product is displayed on feature tables along aisles rather than plonked solely on racks. The main aisle has waist-high counters with jewellery and men's accessories and tiered units that display handbags and shoes.

Merchandise: The product assortment has a contemporary edge and will have weekly arrivals of new stock. As you enter from the mall you encounter women's accessories with bags by Burberry and Mulberry from $475. Women's Michel Kors sandals were being snapped up at $66, as were Hunter boots from $98. A feature table of bright women's denim had skinny cut jeans from 7 for All Mankind and J Brand. Two walls of sunglasses (one for men and one for women) featured brands such as Prada, DVF, and Ray Ban.

In the men's department hr2 private label suits made from Loro Piana wool were $675 with a nearby wall showcasing colour blocked dress shirts and ties. More casual options were available with True Religion jeans starting at $139 and collections from Superdry and John Varvatos Star USA. Three-packs of Emporio Armani underwear were going quick at $19.

Service: Toronto Shopkeeper visited during the busy opening weekend and was pleasantly surprised to be approached for help while browsing a jam packed accessories department. A helpful associate offered to go check the back for additional merchandise and even later approached me in shoes asking if I needed any additional help

While waiting in a very long line for a cashier, I spotted associates helping waiting customers by fetching requested items from the sales floor. While I didn't expect Bloor Street level service, I was very impressed by the amount of staff on the floor available to help. The true test would be to see staffing levels once the buzz settles.

During the busy opening weekend a singing flash mob and a DJ kept shoppers entertained and a staff member was handing out signature hr2 cookies to weary shoppers.

Online: Disappointingly neither hr2 nor Holt Renfrew maintain e-commerce sites, with their website being purely informational. This seems a lost opportunity especially as American competitors such as Saks Fifth Avenue (which has been recently promoting its Saks FashionFix online flash sales) and Nordstrom (with its online Nordstrom Rack) ship to Canada.

Grade: 90%

Lost marks for: there wasn't much not to like, however an online component would have been a nice touch.

Gained marks for: selection and a fun atmosphere which makes the customer want to come back and see what's new next week. The hr2 concept is a great way for Holt Renfrew to reach out to a trendy yet budget conscious consumer.