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Debut of new home store signals post-pandemic retail era

Ontario-based rooms + spaces opens 10 stores across Western Canada
A new retail brand has debuted in Canada, taking over 24 of the 65 locations Bed Bath & Beyond vacated earlier this year.

A new tenant is reshaping four former Bed Bath & Beyond premises in B.C. as the retail market looks to a new cycle of growth.

Ontario-based home store rooms + spaces opened its first eight locations at the end of July with a made-in-Canada ethos, and a further 10 stores opened last week including the Vancouver and Victoria stores. Developed and operated by Putman Investments of Ancaster, Ontario, the same company that owns Toys ‘R’ Us in Canada, the new brand now has 18 stores in operation, with the remaining six set to open in the coming weeks.

All are located in premises formerly occupied by Bed Bath & Beyond and BuyBuy Baby, which shut down in February.

“After the bankruptcy was over we started collecting locations, and we were able to get our hands on 32 of the 65 locations,” said Greg Dyer, the Vancouver-based president of rooms + spaces, of the new brand’s origins. (Toys ‘R’ Us will locate in eight of the former Bed Bath & Beyond locations, bringing the brand to markets where it was formerly absent.)

The Vancouver store is at 1740 West Broadway, while the Langley, Kelowna and Victoria outlets are in regional shopping malls. The typical size is 30,000 square feet.

There will also be four stores in Alberta, with Calgary and Edmonton having two each, while Saskatoon and Regina will each have one location.

Dyer said rooms + spaces will offer a distinctly Canadian take on Bed Bath & Beyond’s offerings.

“U.S. retailers in Canada have had mixed success, and if I look at Bed Bath & Beyond, 85 per cent of the product came from the United States,” he said. “With rooms + spaces, we’re looking at 85 per cent of the product right now coming from Canada.”

The offerings will also be geared towards a consumer trying to outfit smaller homes with less disposable income and a more frugal attitude.

Dyer said many U.S. brands such as Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma and the like come to Canada with products that speak to an aspirational consumer but are neither affordable or attainable.

“Those products should be affordable for most Canadian families, and that’s really what we’re about,” he said.

Bath towels are an example, with the latest colours typically commanding top price that limits their market to the top 20 per cent of consumers.

“Customers should be able to get the latest fashion colours … those shouldn’t be $40 and $50 and $60 towels,” Dyer said “We put the colours in a $19.99 towel.”

A focus on domestic purchasing also helps to keep costs low, while creating opportunities for local producers who might not get a look-in from larger multinational brands.

“It’s really hard for those small Canadian companies to get their foot in the door,” Dyer said. “When people walk into the Calgary store and see that we’ve got Shy Wolf candles from Okotoks, they’re just absolutely thrilled because they just see it in the odd speciality store or online.”

All rooms + spaces stores will feature Toys ‘R’ Us store-in-store locations, branded as “The Toy Box by Toys ‘R’ Us.” Vancouver’s Toy Box will consist of three large rooms within the main rooms + spaces showroom.

Dyer said co-locating the brands makes sense, even when there are already nearby Toys ‘R’ Us locations, because children are as integral to an evolving homescape as downsizing is for parents when they grow up. Toys ‘R’ Us stores will eventually feature elements from rooms + spaces, reflecting this.

“We think that there’s a tremendous opportunity to do that,” Dyer said.

Co-location will be supported by cross-marketing to shoppers at each store who have provided their contact info, facilitating what Dyer describes as a cross-pollination.

The move by Putman to makeover the former Bed Bath & Beyond locations as rooms + spaces reflects the ongoing dynamism of Canada’s retail marketplace. A long-term lack of space has limited the opportunities for new concepts in Canada, and public health restrictions during the pandemic further dampened the enthusiasm for expansion.

But the pandemic was also a watershed moment, challenging some and creating opportunities for others. Court filings linked Bed Bath & Beyond’s bankruptcy to the challenges of restructuring the troubled retailer’s operations in the midst of the pandemic. This in turn freed up space for others.

“Demand for real estate in both the Vancouver and Prairie markets have always outpaced supply which makes these markets difficult to crack for both new-to-entry retailers and existing retailers looking to expand their store networks,” said Trevor Thomas, vice-president, retail with JLL Canada. “With the news of Bed Bath & Beyond exiting Canada, it was a rare opportunity for rooms + spaces, to take advantage of the real estate that was coming back to the market and they seized the opportunity in the tightest markets.”

And if more opportunities come up, Dyer says the brand is ready.

“If we had our druthers, we’d have a lot more stores in Vancouver,” he said. “We’re definitely interested in markets like Nanaimo as we go forward.”

In the meantime, he hopes consumers like what’s in store.

“Hopefully people get inspired to put new, fresh colours into their home, but also when they go up to the price tag they say, ‘Gee, I can afford this,’” he said.