While some companies are falling off the grid, many of Canada’s homegrown talent are rising in the retail market. Retailers are getting a digital makeover and they’re looking to keep pace with consumers holding the baton.
“The consumer now lives in a world of abundance and every brand needs to reckon with this,” says Doug Stephens, a retail expert and author of The Retail Revival. “The consumer’s problems are no longer the scarcity of options or the scarcity of access to brands and information, in this world of product proliferation what you sell is not as important as how you sell it. The best retailers have acknowledged this and are creating unique opportunities to sell their product.”
While Canada does not have the sheer volume of retail square footage that’s seen in the U.S. (at the peak the U.S had double the amount of square feet per capita than Canada does, according to Stephens), many companies aren’t shying from utilizing new modes of commerce. There’s also ambitious plans for fresh products, marketplaces and overall infrastructures that will seek to manage, inform, assist and entertain consumers on the regular.
Here are seven businesses that we’re watching in 2018.
Simons (La Maison Simons)
Main headquarters: Quebec City, Quebec
Key contribution(s): On March 15, 2018, the family-run retail company opened Canada’s first net zero energy retail store at the Galeries de la Capitale mall in Quebec City. The 80,000 square foot space aims to “generate as much energy on-site as it consumes annually, contributing less overall greenhouse gas.” 27 geothermal boreholes have been drilled under the parking lot with a pump helping to grab heat or cooling (in summer months) from the ground; heat from the store is pushed back into the ground to provide a robust heating-cooling operation. 133 parking spots come with connected solar panels and LED lighting has also been installed “reducing consumption by 60 per cent.” Solar panels run on the roof too–with the overall electric solar system fuelling over 1,300,00kWh a year, the equivalent to generating power for 50 homes. Note: inside the Galeries de la Capitale mall the “WeWatt” station features three stationary bikes where consumers can charge their phones simply by peddling, creating electricity through motion so the new Simons store is in good company. “Now we must wait and see if Canadians choose to support companies like ours taking leadership roles on these big issues,” co-owner Peter Simons said in a press release. “Will Canadians make a conscious effort to shop at retailers that are making an effort? I hope so.”
Founded: 2013 (live since 2015)
Main headquarters: Global
Key contribution(s): Founded by 24-year-old Russian-Canadian, Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum is an open-source platform that “makes it possible for any developer to write and distribute next-generation decentralized applications.” By building decentralized apps, Buterin sees impact for financial institutions, social networks, peer-to-peer commerce and “human collaboration as a whole.” The “Blockchain App Platform” houses a vast selection of working projects ranging from a rewards points platform to a mobile marketing ecosystem to a sports betting site, and each project is outlined in stages: from concept to beta to live, providing further transparency. One of the most popular projects has been CryptoKitties, a blockchain based virtual game. In April 2018, Ethereum launched its own game KittyRace, which draws elements from the CryptoKitties app.
Saje Natural Wellness
Main headquarters: Vancouver, British Columbia
Key contribution(s): Launched by husband-wife team, Kate Ross and Jean-Pierre LeBlanc, Saje has been a key leader in providing plant-based wellness products and remedies for health and body care, before it became cool to do so. “Here’s a Canadian retailer that is doing a fantastic job at creating a sensorial environment in their stores with unique personalization in their products,” retail expert Doug Stephens tells Yahoo Canada Finance. From stress to digestion, skin to sleep, diffusers to after meal kits, Saje has created a one-stop shop that caters to all elements of life.
Main headquarters: Etobicoke, Ontario
Key contribution(s): Delivering fresh ingredients as well as recipes weekly, Chefs Plate has tapped into the locally sourced food market and it just so happens to be Canada’s leading meal kit delivery company. In March 2018, the company launched its 15-minute meal kit, a first of its kind in Canada. The kit offers “fresh, par-cooked and pre-cut ingredients” that can be made into a dinner, which is guaranteed in 15 minutes or less, further targeting the home meal replacement segment that’s valued at $4 billion. In late 2017, Chefs Plate announced it had received new Series C funding to the tune of CAD$10 million– a total of CAD$20 million in funding has been secured since November 2014. Over 450,000 meals have been delivered per month and the operation employs 350 workers with a “300 per cent increase in its workforces within the last 12 months,” according to this 2017 release. The farm-to-table platform also issues 30-minute meal kits.
Main headquarters: Kitchener, Ontario
Key contribution(s): In 2014 Thalmic Labs launched Myo, an arm band that sees users controlling a computer through the simple use of hand gestures. In 2016, they raised over CAD$150 million in Series B funding led by Intel Capital, Amazon and Fidelity Investments Canada. This funding is helping the business create new 2018 products (particularly one product that they are keeping tight under wraps), continuing to shape the way consumers interact. “With Myo we started with this problem of trying to solve what does the equivalent to the keyboard look like after we have all these wearable displays and goggles in the future,” co-founder and CEO, Stephen Lake said. “Then we kind of worked backwards to see what are the technologies we have to invent to make that possible.”
Main headquarters: Toronto, Ontario
Key contribution(s): Think of Rubikloud as the brain driver behind decision making for retailers, linking AI to operating systems and building data so retailers can manage day-to-day operations, requests and transactions. Everything from deciding where to allocate inventory (and how much) to price points for skews to which promotions should be directed to each loyalty member, is assessed and data is then used in pre-existing operating systems (i.e. Oracle, IBM, SAP, Salesforce). “We are the decision engine for retailers,” Rubikloud’s CEO, Kerry Liu told Yahoo Canada Finance. “Retailers don’t really need to change any of their operating tools or their business prophesies…and that’s how we think AI should be implemented, software in the background, making decisions on a retailer’s behalf, and a retailer’s team can then examine and override the decision, if needed.” The Toronto-based company employs 100 people and has offices in Hong Kong and London with customers in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., France, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia. They’ve raised USD$45 million from Intel and Horizon Ventures. Also, product managers working for Rubikloud are professionals that used to work at Target, Loblaws and Shoppers Drug Mart so there’s retail depth behind the machine.
Main Headquarters: Ottawa, Ontario
Key contribution(s): Self-storage may just be the next big investment industry and Ottawa-based Dymon is already making big moves. Dymon has an ambitious goal of opening 80 new locations throughout Toronto and the GTA. In an interview with CBC, Dymon’s Stephen Creighton says the company is building the largest storage venue in Canada. “500,000 climate-controlled square feet covering about 3.6 hectares,” and there will be a wine lounge located in the wine storage portion of the facility, too. Dymon is reimagining what storage facilities look like. Those days of rundown, barren buildings that are less-than-inviting will be a thing of the past in the Dymon world where the design of each new facility could incorporate condos and shops along with large storage lockers. Dymon wants to make self-storage fun while keeping things highly functional.