Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Making the Old Brand Young: Topshop Revitalizes The Bay

Every year, I invite my Brand Management students to write a guest blog entry. Today, I'll post the first of a few. Enjoy!

Making the Old Brand Young - Topshop Revitalizes The Bay
by Rosalie Beaudoin

When I heard a Topshop boutique was coming to Canada, I jumped for joy. I love the brand.

For those unfamiliar with Topshop, it is a British retailer that has 440 shops in 33 different countries selling relatively inexpensive fashion-forward clothes and accessories to women (It also sells under the name Topman  for men, but let’s be honest, women’s fashion is more interesting!).  The target market for Topshop is a young 15 to 30 year old woman who like to wear trendy/hip and make-a-statement clothes and go out on the town.

What makes Topshop brand so interesting to me is it distinctive style and highly differentiated product line.  If you are not familiar with the “look and feel of the brand”, these product line names will help give you a flavour for what I am talking about:
Psychadelic Dandy, Holiday Sparkle, Rock-oco, and Galactica

A little Holiday Sparkle
As these product line names suggest, Topshop is bold, a little bit edgy, and lets the wearer make a shimmering statement when she goes out. The store and the shopping experience reinforce these notions.
Topshop products have been accessible to Canadians, but only via the online store. Of course, it is tricky to shop for clothing online. There are issues with fit (not being able to try it on) and delivery charges -  which are not applicable to the in-store shopping experience. That, however, changed very recently.

Bonnie Brooks, president and CEO of The Bay, is the one to thank for bringing the Topshop store  (and Topman), from Britain to Canada. The Bay was acquired exclusive Canadian franchise rights.  Yet, this raised a bigger branding question. From a branding point of view, was this a good move for The Bay?

When I heard that the Bay was going to be launching Topshop within their store, I started thinking, do these two brands jive? To me the typical The Bay shopper was an old couple shopping for wool shirts. I wanted to see if my attitude towards The Bay was consistent with others in my segment.  So, I did a quick-and-dirty brand image investigation of The Bay using some classic brand image free association tests. My sample were all Topshop target market consumers.  Here's what I found. Their perceptions were highly consistent with mine: The Bay is  “a dusty, stagnant, and old” brand”. The Bay "is not for me".  In short, The Bay has a relevancy problem among Topshop consumers.

Rock and Shimmer: Topshop
Because of my love for Topshop, I still had to check out the line. So I took the leap and went to The Bay to see the Topshop line after not entering the store for many years. When shopping, however, I realized that the brands The Bay had were more interesting and fashionable than I thought they were. Topshop lured me into see a cornucopia of  brands that are exciting, youthful, and fun- not the dusty, stagnant, and old brands that senior citizens would be wearing. My visit made me change my opinion of The Bay’s brand. It seems that Brooks' strategy for The Bay’s strategy has been  to update The Bay by leveraging the brand equity from the brands that it carries.

The Competitive Collision
So what does this mean? First, The Bay’s image is being revitalized through the brands it carries. That's a win for the Bay, so long as it can lure the desired segments in. Second, Topshop’s image  is not going to be tarnished because it is carried in a revitalized Bay store.  Third, the competitive landscape is on a collision course for this target market. The "old" Bay is becoming more competitive with younger consumers who shop at other places like  Zara and H&M.  Then, in 2013, Target enters the space with 125 additional stores.

As a marketer, it is going to be fun watching these brands collide and compete for young women. But, with more choice, it is also going to a lot more fun for this segment to shop!


  1. I agree that the bay has got some wonderful brands but its got the worst service ever. I mean ever. There is never anyone on the floor to help you.

  2. Its a shame that the Bay had deteriorated. This is the brand that was owned and managed by royalty (King Charles II’s brother). Rather than trying to be trendy, it should stick to elegance and rekindle the historic glamor. The trouble is its store formats do not lend well to shopper glamor intimacy.

  3. I really like your insight of the changing competitive dynamic.

  4. Spot on, I hadn't walked into a Bay for years until a few weeks ago because my friends had a gift registry going on there, and I saw the same thing, lots of newer, younger brands that the bay was carrying, like it's in the process (and I underscore the in the process part because it's not fully there yet) of undergoing a face lift.

  5. Every time I walk into the Bay I have an headache! There is no windows, no air! It is hard for me to enjoy my shopping at the Bay, so even if they have the best brands ever, I won't go shopping there.

  6. I've had too many bad experiences in the Bay to ever go back. You wander around looking for someone to help you but of course they do not exist. They could have Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Gosling in there and I still won't go back.

  7. Agreed, it's evident that the Bay is trying to give itself a 'facelift' by carrying younger brands and a younger clientele.

    As some other readers have pointed out, the company still has an uphill battle to climb when it comes to the overall shopping experience - and if they can't fix that, they still won't be able to refresh themselves no matter how many young brands it tries to associate itself with. After all, the shopping experience is the most intimate interaction a consumer will have with the The Bay brand.

    As a business manager, all I have to say is...I hope it pays off. Without seeing the numbers, I'm not entirely sure which would be a more lucrative target for the Bay - younger females 18-35 or lightly seasoned females 35-55 (with the appropriate household income). (Or, perhaps even better seasoned females 55+, given the aging population.)

    Further to this, is there even room in the Canadian 18-35 trendy clothing market for Topshop? This category is dominated by the likes of H&M, Forever 21, Zara. (One might also include Mango on the list, but they seem not to have quite succeeded.) My hunch says no. With most industries in Canada, there usually only appears to have room for three players at most. But again, maybe there is room for more - I haven't seen the data, so I can't say.