HBC's Olympics line falls flat
HBC's Olympics line falls flat
The Globe & Mail
October 3, 2008
TORONTO -- Left with "too much" unsold Olympics clothing after the Beijing Games, Hudson's Bay Co., the official outfitter of the Canadian team, needs to come up with more sought-after designs for the Vancouver Winter Games in 2010, the company's chief executive officer says.
The athletes' collection, developed for HBC by designer Tu Ly, was the target of derision among bloggers, newspapers and talk-show hosts during the Summer Games. The spotlight was on the pants and hoodies that were made from a print that the designer called "urban camouflage." The red pattern included the maple leaf; the number eight, which was a symbol of the Games in Beijing; and representations from Chinese poster art and apothecary labels.
The clothing simply didn't resonate with customers, said Mr. Sherman, a seasoned U.S. merchandising executive who took over the top job at Toronto-based HBC in mid-July, after it was acquired by a new American owner. The Olympics wear was too tied to the Games, and wasn't compelling enough for consumers to want to buy after the event, he said.
"We undermarketed it and we did not design the product to be commercially viable for a longer period of time," he said in an interview. "We will not make those mistakes again."
HBC, which sells the Olympics line in its Bay and Zellers stores, considered it a coup in 2005 when it won the Canadian team's coveted contract from incumbent Roots Canada. HBC executives said at the time that sales of Olympic branded clothing through HBC stores would more than recoup its $100-million investment in the bid.
The Olympics work had helped put Roots on the world map after its poor boy cap created a sensation - and a selling frenzy - at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games. Celebrities such as Robin Williams and Prince William were seen wearing the beret.
Roots continued to outfit the U.S. Olympic team until earlier this year, when Polo Ralph Lauren was awarded the work. It dressed the U.S. athletes in preppy tennis whites for the Beijing Games.
Mr. Sherman said HBC can borrow a leaf from the playbook of Roots and New York-based Polo Ralph Lauren, where he was an executive previously. Both Roots and Ralph Lauren were able to profit from selling the Olympics fashions after the Games had ended, he said.
HBC, for its part, was left with "more than we would like" of the Olympics products after the Games, he said. He did not provide figures. Even during the Games in August, the Bay and Zellers had to heavily discount the clothes to clear them out.
Mr. Sherman said he has made it a priority to refashion the Olympics strategy for 2010. "We have the opportunity to start from scratch."
Michael Budman, co-founder of Roots, said its approach was "180 degrees away from HBC. We always strived to reflect both the best in athletic spirit and the style indigenous to the country we were designing for," he said in an e-mail. "We always put the athletes first although that did not mean we listened to them for every detail." Roots researched a team's entire Olympic heritage, he said. "Given our own passion for and involvement in sports, designing for the Olympics was something we had a natural affinity for."