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Michael Knell

Eatons reopens doors with downtown appeal

TORONTO -Eatons is back. But it's not your grandmother's or even your mother's department store. This one oozes urban chic and downtown cool, all wrapped in aubergine, which may be the hippest corporate color yet.

Sears Canada, which acquired the assets of what was then The T. Eaton Co. 11 months ago, officially rolled out its new Eatons banner recently with seven stores. Two are located in Toronto with the rest in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia; Ottawa; Winnipeg, Manitoba; and Calgary, Alberta. All are "downtown" stores, with a different clientele from that found in the suburbs where Sears rules the Canadian retail scene.

Indeed, the only major downtown market in the country without an Eatons is Montreal, where Sears Canada failed to acquire the location that had been held by the Eaton family for decades.

The new Eatons is radically different from what Canadians are used to seeing from the store founded by Timothy Eaton some 130 years ago. Sears Canada described the atmosphere as "distinguished by the latest in retail environmental design and is based on 'fluid' aisle patterns, dramatic architectural styling and state-of-the-art illumination of merchandise and displays."

"We did our homework and created areas well suited to the time-poor urban customer," explained Stew MacLeod, group vp/home and hardlines. "It's about making it fast and easy for them to find just what they're looking for. That's accomplished with a great selection of items to get excited about, and it's presented with impact, so it's convenient and easy to shop."

Paul Walters, chairman and ceo of the publicly held department store, said, "We have moved Eatons substantially forward towards our goal of creating a downtown, destination shopping experience built on current and contemporary in-store design, quality, style, choice and personal service.

"These are the brand pillars of the new Eatons, the foundational building blocks of rebuilding the franchise with the Canadian consumer."

And like its parent, Eatons will be a multi-channel retail competitor. In addition to the seven stores, the first Eatons catalog to be published in a quarter-century was rolled out to 4.2 million Canadian homes in early October. It was accompanied by an interactive, e-commerce friendly web site that had already received 115,000 hits by the time the stores officially opened Nov. 25.

Approximately 500,000 of the catalogues were sent to known Eaton's customers while the balance was distributed to existing Sears Canada customers.

"The new Eaton's catalogue allows us to share some of the Eaton's shopping experience with customers on a national level," said Garry Smith, vice-president of online merchandising. "Excellent, convenient service will be provided by the best catalogue infrastructure in the country."

The Eaton's website will feature state-of-the-art rich media elements; vivid colors and scrolling flash navigation. Visitors can navigate by shop, brand or item options and can interact with the product, testing it and seeing it in action. Shoppers can rotate the product, zoom in on its features, click on the color swatch to change the color of the product and get additional information that is specific to it from fabric texture and washing instructions to functions and benefits.

"Now more than 15 million people nationwide with Internet access can share Eatons' unique shopping experience in a whole new way," Smith said.

The 100-page holiday issue of the Eaton's catalogue is the first of several catalogues to be published over the next 14 months. Planning is well underway for next year's Eatons catalogue program, which will be built around two major books-spring and fall.

The physical store is built partially around the notion that after decades of flight to the suburbs, a growing group of Canadians-mostly young, mostly affluent and mostly childless-are moving back into the city center. And these people have an entirely different set of needs from their suburban cousins.

At first thought, a bath towel is just a bath towel; a rug is just a rug.

However, those living in the lofts and condos of downtown Toronto and Vancouver occupy a lot less space than their siblings out in the tree-lined subdivisions an hour-long commute away. So for them, a bath towel or a rug is more than just a bath towel or a rug: It's a decorative accessory that makes a lifestyle statement.

"If you live in that kind of smaller space, it all has to work together-both the product and the coloration," said Vincent Power, group marketing manager/home and hardlines for Sears Canada.

All home products are brought together under an in-store brand called 'e home'. The program includes a wide range of moderate to designer brands such as Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Bob Mackie, Roots and Nautica. Also featured are a variety of furniture, accessories and textiles by Canadian House & Home, a prominent shelter magazine and television show. Eaton's also carries a line of furniture and furnishings created by Brian Gluckstein, a well-regarded residential designer. Both are exclusive to Eatons, at least initially.

"The statements in one department speak to the statements made in another department-especially in our home décor areas," said Power.

It is also a completely different statement from the one being made in any Sears Canada department store. And while there is a healthy selection of goods at moderate price points, the store is really about better and best.

Power noted the product created by House & Home and GlucksteinHome help create Eatons' unique selling position. "What they give us is a line of product that is affordable with a designer look," he said. "These two lines take Eatons to a place where Sears isn't, and neither is any other retailer in Canada."

GlucksteinHome is made up of five distinct styles of furnishings-Antiquity, Hampton, Pinstripe, Steel and Suede-ranging from modern to traditional styling. Each style includes a complete set of items from dining tables and sofas to bed and bath linens.

Meanwhile, The House & Home collection comprises bed linens, window coverings, table linens and accent pillows along with bath items such as towels and shower curtains. It is offered in three groupings-white, basic and fine.

White includes the "undergarments" for the home such as pillows, comforters, mattress pads and table pads. Basic is the collection's opening price point items such as bath towels, and five bedding linen groupings in a number of current fashion colors and accent pillows.

Fine is a number of select items that emphasize quality, luxury and detail such as matelasse coverlets and 100 percent, cotton silk, 240-count sheets with a luxurious finish or classic linen tablecloths with delicate faggotting.

According to House & Home's editor, Cobi Ladner, the collection is a reflection of the magazine's editorial philosophy. " Canadian Home & Home magazine and Canadian House & Home Television are based on an attitude, not a look," she said. "We believe in quality, comfort simplicity and good design, whether it is modern or classic."

Eatons also signed a deal with another well-known design firm-Cecconi Simone-to create yet a third line of exclusive furniture and furnishings.

"This is what allows us to differentiate ourselves-quality product that's superior to what everyone else is offering," Power said. "We want our customer to walk the three floors of 'e home' in Toronto and see all the things that are happening and say to themselves, 'I get this'."

And through its opening weekend, the Toronto store's customers seemed to get it. Power said the store was busier than they had anticipated. "There was a lot of traffic in the stores," he said. "It's been very encouraging."

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