Canada’s The Bay Rebrands in Light of Target Launch

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Canada’s oldest retailer launched a major rebranding effort the same week that Target christened its first stores north of the 49th parallel. Coincidence? Maybe, but probably not.

The Bay, which has its roots in Canada’s fur trade, will now be known as Hudson’s Bay. It won’t be that much of a stretch for consumers, considering the new name is a nod to its parent company, Hudson’s Bay Co., but it will mean its unique stylized-ribbon “B” in The Bay will be retired.

A return to the iconic retailer’s classic full name with a word mark—which will be used on all marketing and media materials, as well as online and on in-store displays—is its first major logo rebrand since 1965.[more]

The new “full-dress” logo featuring the corporate coat of arms, above, marries both its history and vision for the future, the company says. 

“We’re very proud to say that Hudson’s Bay is continuing to advance in 2013, not only with our new business ventures, but with our updated look,” says Tony Smith, creative director at HBC. “We’ve taken what is a very meaningful two-pronged approach to the redesign—maintaining our heritage while modernizing the new Hudson’s Bay Company. It’s a throwback to our remarkable history and an image for the direction we’re heading in.”

What HBC does with its new brand will play a significant role in how Hudson’s Bay does in the ultra-competitive Canadian retail market. This will be all the more crucial considering a new heavyweight—a little outfit called Target—opened a trio of stores in Ontario last week.

That’s just the beginning, however, as the Minneapolis-based discounter plans to christen another 120 or so stores during the calendar year and is expected to rake in revenues in the neighborhood of $3 billion annually when fully operational. (All figures in CDN dollars.)

HBC hasn’t been standing still, however. Over the last few years, it created “The Room,” an in-store designer haven, launched Canada’s first Topshop and Topman, spent millions renovating multiple stores and expanded into the world of e-commerce. It has also played up its Canadiana roots long before this brand refresh, inviting designers to collaborate and update its iconic stripes, which it celebrates on Pinterest and on its blog.

As Target continues to roll out new stores (and also embraces Canada’s heritage and roots via a collaboration with the Roots retail brand), Hudson’s Bay will not be sitting idly by. It’s widely expected it will meet the American giant head-on, competing on virtually everything—possibly even price—as well as playing the patriotism card.

Of course, it helped that The Bay—North America’s longest continually-operated company (the first trading post was established in 1670) and Canada’s largest department store chain with 90 locations from coast to coast to coast—knew better than anybody that Target was coming. Its parent company sold 189 leaseholds for its Zellers subsidiary to Target in 2011 for $1.83 billion. Target ultimately decided to keep 124 of the stores, while it sold some to Walmart and it returned the rest to the landlords. So, the corporate strategy for arguably the most challenging time in its history has long been in the works.

This isn’t the first time The Bay has felt the heat from a U.S. competitor. Nineteen years ago, Walmart stormed the border after buying 122 Woolco stores from Woolworths. As fierce a combatant as Walmart was and continues to be, the retail landscape has experienced a sea change since then with the proliferation of online retailers and the popularity of shopping from your den.

While The Bay rebrands and re-embraces its history and roots, other Canadian retailers are reinventing what they’re doing to combat Target. The Canadian Tire chain, for example, is countering the big box influx from the south by launching a chain of outdoor recreation stores this summer — “thinking small,” as Canada’s Globe and Mail puts it, in order to combat U.S. retailers including Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s.

Throughout nearly three-and-a-half centuries, HBC has taken on countless competitors and survived (as recounted in a recent book published by Assouline) and thrived at various times. Not every iconic retailer and destination location can say the same. Eaton’s, every bit the mainstay that The Bay was for most of its 130 years, was put into bankruptcy protection in 1999. Even when the brand was reborn as a higher-end retailer following its purchase by Sears Canada the following year, it only lasted a couple of years before it was retired for good. 

This will be one instance where Hudson’s Bay will be hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself.

At top, the Hudson’s Bay new “full dress” logo and at right, The Bay’s old, ribbon-style logo.

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