/‘By no means an inexpensive experiment’: Inside Canada Gooses new inventory-free store

‘By no means an inexpensive experiment’: Inside Canada Gooses new inventory-free store

Canada Goose’s latest store has a faux-rock crevasse, a room that snows and a floor that cracks like ice. But it might be more notable for what it does not have: product you can take home.

The Canadian parka retailer says the flagship location, opening Thursday in a west Toronto mall, is an experiment, something new in an otherwise withering world of physical retail. Customers can only order products for delivery later, with limited sizes and models to try on.

In fact, the luxury coat retailer isn’t calling the store a store. It’s calling it, “The Journey: A Canada Goose Experience.”

Staff will guide customers through a series of themed rooms, before ending in an area where they can browse a digital catalog, talk to sales staff about fit and place an order.

But Canada Goose thinks the store’s major impact might be felt outside of the store itself, with inspired patrons making purchases online or at other stores in the mall that sell the company’s parkas.

“It’s by no means an inexpensive experiment but I believe it’ll be a very worthwhile one,” Canada Goose chief executive Dani Reiss said on Monday. “We’re not going to learn if we don’t experiment.”

Reiss said the new store, in the Sherway Gardens mall, won’t be held to the same performance metrics as his other stores.

“There are measurable objectives to do with this store, but they don’t have to do with store performance or sales per square foot or any of that stuff,” he said. “I think that would drive the wrong behaviour.”

“I think people will purchase products online after they walk out of the store. I do think they will.”

Inside the nearly finished store on Monday, Reiss walked in, past some construction tape and through a curtain, and made directly for the Crevasse.

The Crevasse is what Canada Goose calls the main entranceway, a narrow passage lined on all sides with a faux rock face. Reiss walked on the Crevasse floor to see if it was was ready. The digital panels are designed to crack under foot, like walking on ice. They weren’t turned on yet.

“You walk through the Crevasse and it separates you from the mall, the freneticness of that,” he said. “You’re entering a new world. You’re entering the world of Canada Goose. You’re entering the Arctic.”

The mandate for this store was: ‘Let’s create something that no one’s ever created before’

Dani Reiss, CEO, Canada Goose

Reiss was sitting in the room that comes after the Crevasse in the store’s loop: The Elements Room, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling screens projecting videos of wilderness scenes, changing with the seasons. He tapped on a mannequin display, with virtual buttons on the coat that called up product descriptions on a nearby screen.

From there, customers put on some of the only parkas in the store and move into the cold room, providing the Arctic temperature and snow that Canada Goose parkas are supposed to withstand.

“The mandate for this store was: ‘Let’s create something that no one’s ever created before,’” Reiss said. “There’s other inventory-free stores out there. We don’t just want an inventory-free store. That’s not the idea about this.”

Nordstrom, for instance, has opened inventory-free formats. It’s a format that works especially well for luxury brands, according to Jean-Pierre Lacroix, president of the retail design firm Shikatani Lacroix.

“Wall-to-wall coats? What does that tell you about the value of the product? Is it special?” he said. “What do luxury brands do? They don’t have 50 purses. They’ve got three on the wall. You don’t have wall-to-wall blouses and skirts. They’ve got three skirts.”

The new, experience-focused Canada Goose method is part of a trend toward what Lacroix called “hub and spoke strategy.” In that analogy, a brand has a core store that is focused heavily on the kind of experiences people like to photograph and post about.

That hub creates social buzz, which pushes sales to the spokes — the e-commerce and traditional, physical stores.

“This is the future of retail,” Lacroix said. “When’s the last time you went to a store and it was so exciting and so memorable you told 20 friends?”

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