CALGARY - With cowbells ringing, shouts of ‘Calgary’ and staff clapping with gusto, Nordstrom Inc. threw open the doors to its first store outside the U.S. on Friday morning, welcoming thousands of eager shoppers at the Chinook Centre.
“I love it. I love how bright and open it is. Look at all the shoes, there’s so many shoes!” said Rebecca Strang, 40, who, like many women in the line-up before the store opened at 9:30 a.m., had never lined up for a store opening in her life.
“I’ve never been excited about a store opening, ever. I’ve shopped at Nordstrom in the U.S. The service is top-notch and the selection is second-to-none,” said Strang, an event planner.
“It’s nicer than anything I have seen in the U.S.,” said Celia Leah, 62, who attended the opening with her daughter Natalia Lea, 25, and has shopped at Nordstrom stores across the border.
Celia said Nordstrom is a welcome addition to the Calgary retail landscape, and hopes it spurs other retailers to up their game.
“I think it’s going to be competition for Holt Renfrew,” said Natalia, who often shops the newly renovated downtown Calgary location.
The new Nordstrom, 140,000 square feet over two floors in a space vacated by a struggling Sears Canada, is one of six that will open in Canada between now and 2017.
It opens as U.S. discount retailer Target Corp., which launched 124 stores in Canada last year, grapples with stemming losses that have surpassed $1-billion (U.S.). After an initial surge of interest in the stores, business dropped off because Target couldn’t keep shelves stocked and customers complained that stores didn’t have the same prices, or same selection, as stores in the U.S.
On Friday, the Target a few doors down from the Nordstrom at the Chinook Centre had few customers and many empty shelves, despite renewed efforts in Canada to solve the problem.
The scene was totally different at Nordstrom.
“This is pretty good, this is right up there,” said Nordstrom president of full-line stores, Jaime Nordstrom, assessing the grand opening.
On Wednesday, Nordstrom Inc. hosted a benefit gala for the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation and the United Way.
“This is our 118th full-line store, so we’ve done this a lot. So far, based on the reception we got when we had the gala two nights ago, as well as so far this morning, this is definitely going to be one of our brighter ones,” said Nordstrom.
Three Nordstrom brothers, Blake, Pete and Erik, and their cousin Jamie, still run the business, founded by John Nordstrom in 1901 as a shoe store in Seattle and now a public company with net sales of more than $12-billion (U.S.) in 2013.
They were all in attendance at the store this week, conducting last-minute meetings with staff, and were on hand Friday to welcome customers.
Nordstrom Inc. is hoping to slip into the space between Hudson’s Bay Company stores and the privately owned Holt Renfrew, which has been expanding and renovating stores in anticipation of the arrival of a new competitor with a reputation built on customer service and fashion.
Nordstrom hopes to offer customers more of a high-low experience than Holt Renfrew, stocking Valentino ($1,045 for shoes from the Rock Stud collection) and Missoni ($650 for a woman’s black and white striped turtleneck) and private label separates selling for less than $50 apiece. But the balance seems weighted towards the higher end.
Styles at the store range from haute hippie to banker invisible, normcore and fashionista.
“When a woman shops our store, she’ll be looking for her style and price point. They’re grouped together so that she’ll generally find a part of the store that feels most like her,” said company spokesperson Brooke White, who conducted tours of the store for the media on Thursday.
The store has hired 531 people, two-thirds of them full-time, according to White.
The Calgary store is the third in a new design that features more natural light and tile-white floors with area carpets so departments can be shrunk or moved or increased in size as needed.
“Not having to wait for a remodel is going to give us so much flexibility, particularly in Canada, because we don’t know the customer yet,” said Nordstrom Canada president Karen McKibbin.
More than one woman was disappointed on Friday by the fact the Chinook Centre location carries no plus sizes, although plus sizes can be purchased online.
The Chinook Centre is Calgary’s largest shopping centre. Opened in 1960, it attracts more than 16 million visitors a year, according to Chinook Centre spokesperson Peggy Lim.
“With the addition of Nordstrom, we’re anticipating an increased draw of customers from the rest of Alberta, Saskatchewan and the interior of B.C. It’s the only Nordstrom in Canada right now. It’s a great fit for the city of Calgary,” she said.
A Calgary city spokesperson said that in the past five years the city has experienced explosive population growth. The population now stands at nearly 1.2 million perhaps explaining Nordstrom’s interest in Calgary.
For the first six months of this year, Nordstrom net sales were $6.1-billion, an increase of 6.4 per cent over the previous year.
In addition to full line department stores, Nordstrom also operates 155 Nordstrom Rack discount stores. Previously announced plans top open Nordstrom Rack locations in Canada are on hold as the company focuses on launching the full-line department stores.