Bear on skis | BCBusiness

Bear on skis | BCBusiness
Sportswear labels and international retailers are descending on Vancouver in part thanks to our local wilderness.

Global outdoors brands like Salomon and Icebreaker keep coming to Vancouver to break into its under-served retail market.

There are mountains, and then there are mountains. When the French executives of the Salomon ski gear firm arrived in Vancouver in October to celebrate the opening of a new Park Royal concept store, they were excited. “They wanted to know, ‘Are there black bears around? Can we see them?’” recalls Salomon marketing manager Francis Argouin. “You don’t get that in the European woods.”

It’s a little different in B.C., all right – cross-country skiing around Salomon’s backyard at Annecy, France, can be literally that, a civilized schuss from France to Switzerland to Italy with plenty of little towns to après-ski in along the way. Around here, we put the emphasis in wilderness on the wild. 

Meanwhile, some wildlife seems to have migrated to West Fourth Avenue – a totally buff dude was seen strolling the sidewalks wearing only underwear and a giant ram’s head. It wasn’t Ryan Kesler, just a novel way of announcing yet another foreign retail concept landing on Vancouver’s shores: Icebreaker, a New Zealand retailer of merino wool garments. 

Sportswear labels are not the only ones flocking to Vancouver lately. Other international retailers entering the local market include Anthropologie, the French lifestyle chain that has opened a shop on Granville, and London clothier Topshop, which has opened what it calls a “capsule store” in The Bay downtown.

According to retail consultant David Ian Gray of Dig360 Consulting Ltd., three factors are driving the influx of new brands: “Thanks to the Olympics, our local wilderness and stores like Mountain Equipment Co-op and Lululemon, Vancouver is perceived as something of an outdoor mecca. As a retailer of outdoor wear, you want to be here, even if it’s just as a brand statement. It’s like having a big electronic billboard in Times Square.”

The second factor addresses the arrival of generic stores like Topshop. “Global retailing is expanding,” Gray says. “International chains are looking for new markets just so they can show growth. The Canadian retail market is under-served compared to other western countries. And our economy has been stellar compared to some. Canada looks attractive, a relatively easy place to make money.”

At the Park Royal Salomon store, Argouin shows off a product line that ranges from skis and bindings to helmets, running shoes and clothing. While it’s basically the same stuff found in Europe, there are some regional variations. “You see that lime-green-and-white colour combination,” he says, pointing out one of the action ski photos decorating the store. “That wouldn’t go over so well here.” 

He brings up a photo of a runner loping along a ridge wearing a pair of Salomon’s Exo Sensifit compression shorts that, according to the retailer, offer not just comfort but muscular support. The form-fitting supportive pants are white. “We sell these here,” Argouin says, “but in black. You wouldn’t see North American guys going for the tighty whities.”

We don’t sauté calf brains over here either. It’s just a matter of cultural adjustments.