Consumer Report 2015: The burbs go upscale

This fall, downtown will have to share the spotlight for upscale retail activity, as Quebec fashion house Simons opens at Park Royal and the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet lands at YVR

Simons: From Quebec, with love
When Simons, a 175-year-old family-owned fashion retailer from Quebec City, opens at Park Royal in October, it will be just the second location outside La Belle Province. Simons carries a large private label collection and a small selection of international designers. The architecture of the 100,000-square-foot, two-level Park Royal store is inspired by Salish weaving, and the store will contain installations by B.C. artists Douglas Coupland, Bobbie Burgers and Jody Broomfield.

CEO Peter Simons chose Park Royal because, like his own stores, it is owned by a private company–the Lalji family’s Larco Investments–that embraces innovation: the Village at Park Royal and Larco’s Shops at Morgan Crossing in South Surrey were the first open-air shopping malls in Canada. “Our business is over the generations really based on relationships,” says Simons. “The owners of Park Royal really wanted to support us and seemed to be good partners.”

Apart from the merchandise, which goes from high-end to mid-range, what sets Simons apart, says its CEO, is that no two stores are the same. “They incorporate a lot of art into them, and we try to make them special places.” Plus, he adds, “we’ve always been very focused on spending a lot of energy in terms of the in-store experience, the physical experience, the service experience. That now is sort of the ‘in thing,’ but it’s been part of our DNA for a very long time.” —Felicity Stone

McArthurGlen Designer Outlet: Flying in style
McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Vancouver Airport, which opened in July, boasts considerable European influence but celebrates both local aesthetics and businesses–a combination reflected in all 21 centres currently operated by the U.K.-based firm around the globe. Five business pillars drive the overall consumer experience: international appeal, a high level of customer service, unique entertainment, stylish visual merchandising and notable dining options.

“We’re really excited to be first in North America. We have a lot in the works,” says Robert Thurlow, general manager of the Vancouver outlet, which represents the first foray into the North American marketplace for McArthurGlen. The location was a strategic decision in the company’s rollout process, given the easy access for high-spending international travellers and the over 400 YVR employees working nearby.

Visually, the centre’s open-air walkways include peaks that recall the oxidized copper roof of the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, the familiar façade of the city’s original post office and the red brick storefronts commonly associated with Gastown.

Shops are a mix of high-end brand storefronts–including Armani, Polo Ralph Lauren and Coach–plus more accessible favourites, among them Gap, Banana Republic and Nike. For shoppers needing a bit of sustenance, popular local eateries include Kitsilano favourite The BiBo and downtown Vancouver’s Ryuu Izakaya. “We’re confident that there will be something for every shopper,” says Thurlow. —Josh Murray