Inside Canada Goose’s new store that has a room that snows, floor of fake ice — but no inventory

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

By guest author Jake Edmiston from Financial Post

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 is not calling the store a store. It is 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 catalogue, 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 December 2, 2019. “We are not going to learn if we do not experiment.”

Reiss said the new store, in the Sherway Gardens mall, would not 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 ready. The digital panels are designed to crack under foot, like walking on ice. They were not 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 are entering the world of Canada Goose. You are entering the Arctic.”

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 is other inventory-free stores out there. We do not just want an inventory-free store. That is 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 do not have 50 purses. They have got three on the wall. You do not have wall-to-wall blouses and skirts. They have 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 focussed 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 it is the last time you went to a store and it was so exciting and so memorable you told 20 friends?”