China's HNA buys currency exchange firm ICE

May 20, 2016

Chinese conglomerate HNA Group has acquired International Currency Exchange (ICE)—one of the most established and respected retail currency exchange brands in the world.
This is a major transaction, involving one of Think Retail’s longstanding clients and we are excited about what this means for ICE in Canada. 
HNA is a Global Fortune 500 company and this acquisition is part of a strategic effort to expand outside of Asia. It brings with it major growth potential for the ICE brand.
At Think Retail, we have worked with ICE since 2008, plotting its expansion coast to coast and we will be sharing soon details on the next phase of its growth.
Founded in the UK in 1973, ICE is one of the world's largest currency exchange retailers, with more than 350 locations in 19 countries.
The company has solid roots in Canada that go back more than a quarter century. ICE boasts a number of strong strategic partnerships and in 2012 was named the exclusive foreign exchange partner of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA).
Founded in 1993, privately-owned HNA has evolved from a local aviation transportation operator to a conglomerate with several core divisions, including aviation, real estate, capital, tourism, hospitality, technology and logistics. ICE will become part of HNA Tourism, which specializes in air travel, hospitality management, tourism, finance, investment and e-commerce.
The acquisition "adds wings to our global coverage of financial services for overseas tourism, and will provide important support to the acceleration of the pace of our internationalization," HNA Tourism said in a statement.
With its huge international presence, ICE was the ideal acquisition for HNA. In Canada, ICE already has more than 50 locations coast to coast, in shopping centres, retail hubs and most major airports, including Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Montreal, Ottawa, Victoria and Quebec City.
Under the leadership of co-founder and chairman Chen Feng, HNA has grown into a conglomerate with nearly $100 billion in assets.
At Think Retail, we are excited to see where HNA takes the ICE brand. We look forward to working with the company as it capitalizes on this marquee acquisition. For more, visit, or contact the Think Retail Team.

Shinola makes Canadian debut in World’s Coolest Neighbourhood

May 06, 2016

It’s fitting that one of retails coolest brands is making its Canadian debut in what Vogue magazine considers one of the World’s Coolest Neighbourhoods.
We are thrilled to share that Shinola has confirmed the much-anticipated launch of its first store in Canada, slated to open on Toronto’s Queen West in late June.
The 1,800 sq. ft. store is ideally situated at 1000 Queen St. W., at the corner of Ossington Avenue, in the heart of the vibrant Queen West scene.
At Think Retail we are always interested in getting to know trend-sending and exciting brands. Shinola has been on our radar for some time and we are honoured to have partnered with Shinola to successfully develop and implement the company’s strategy for their Canadian market entry.
Last fall, we wrote about the intriguing piece, published in AdWeek, that celebrated the rise of Shinola by delving into its backstory and discussing next steps for this fascinating brand. Check it out here, it’s worth the read: “How Shinola went from shoe polish to the coolest brand in America, Nobody’s confusing shit with Shinola anymore.
We knew this was a company we wanted to work with and, with our expertise in helping high-end retail brands navigate their Canadian market entry, it was the perfect partnership.
Founded in 2011, Detroit-based Shinola designs and manufactures a range of modern, high quality products, including watches, leather goods, bicycles and pet products. Shinola is constantly diversifying into new categories and most recently expanded its offerings to include speakers, turntables and high-quality headphones.
In a few short years, Shinola has solidified its reputation as a brand with an authentic story and positive impact, guaranteed to be a hit with the Queen West crowd.
The company gets its moniker from an old shoe polish brand that inspired the World War II era colloquialism, "You don't know shit from Shinola."
Dallas-based Bedrock Manufacturing acquired the name in 2001 and it was a shrewd move.  They put it to use when turned their attention to creating a watch-manufacturing brand to create jobs domestically and bring obsolete skills back to American shores. They set up shop in Detroit, hiring local artisans and enforcing the city’s reputation as a manufacturing hub.
Shinola quickly evolved into a cultural phenomenon, with mentions on late-night television and plenty of unsolicited celebrity endorsements. Jimmy Kimmel Live made waves last year with a mock game show called "Can You Tell S#*t from Shinola" that featured company products, including a wristwatch, a basketball, bags and a bicycle, alongside other lesser-quality versions. Contestants had to identify the Shinola and the other products got tossed in a trashcan.
Wow, you can’t buy this kind of endorsement! Bill Clinton calls the company an American success story and is rumored to have purchased more than a dozen as gifts.  Current President Barack Obama is also a fan—during a recent trip to the UK, he presented Prime Minister David Cameron with a custom Shinola watch.
Beyond quality and style, what makes Shinola stand out as a retailer it that its stores are more than stores. They are destination spaces, where people gather for community events, such as whiskey tasting and trivia nights. Shinola has 14 stand-alone flagship stores in the U.S. and one in London.
Products are also sold internationally online and via a select group of retail partners.
Think Retail is excited to welcome Shinola to Canada. For more about this trend-setting brand and its plans for expansion, visit the Shinola website or contact the Think Retail Team

Lolë pops up in British Columbia

April 30, 2016

Earlier this year Lolë unveiled groundbreaking plans to open several pop-up shops in 2016 and we are pleased to announce the first two locations—Uptown in Victoria and Orchard Park Shopping Centre in Kelowna, B.C.
Agreement has also been reached to open a third pop up in the province—details coming soon.
These inaugural locations are the ideal venues for Lolë’s unique pop-up approach, one that is designed to elevate brand awareness and test new markets.
Uptown is a sophisticated open-air shopping centre in the heart of Greater Victoria. The mall is home to a wonderful array of tenants, providing a luxurious mix of fashion, food and more. Orchard Park is Kelowna's premier mall with more than 170 retailers and  services.
In addition to the initial three stores, the company is interested in opening more pop-up locations, with a strong focus on British Columbia and Ontario. The scope is national, with the exception of Ottawa and the Province of Quebec.
Well-positioned high street spaces of 1,000 to 1,500 sq. ft. are preferred, however Lolë may also consider select super regional malls.
There is no doubt Lolë is in the midst of a spectacular period of growth, as the brand goes from strength to strength. What makes it work is its authenticity—it’s a true lifestyle brand, which has built a loyal following for its bold and beautiful activewear clothing for women.
Conceived in Montreal’s Longueuil area in 2002, Lolë is now part of Quebec-based Coalision Inc., which boasts an impressive team with offices around the globe.
2015 was a banner year for company, which opened several flagship locations—debuting in Calgary with a 1,350 sq. ft. store at The Core in Calgary; opening a 2,476 sq. ft. marquee flagship store at 954 Rue Ste-Catherine West in Montreal; setting up a 1,500 sq. ft. store at shopping mecca  CF Toronto Eaton Centre; and opening two outlet locations, one at Vaughan Mills, just north of Toronto, and another at Vancouver’s McArthurGlen Designer Outlet.
The retailer now has more than 30 stand-alone locations in Canada, including two airport stores and the three outlets, as well as stores in major cities around the world. Its apparel is sold in 210 “shop-in-shops” and available at more than 1,600 retail outlets worldwide.
Lolë has proven to be a master of all things retail, from design to marketing, customer relations and expanding its footprint in the right markets. To find out more about this phenomenal Canadian brand and its pop-up plans, contact the Think Retail Team.

Bizou charts new territories with exciting expansion plans

April 29, 2016

We are thrilled to announce that Bizou is now open at Galeries d’Anjou in Montreal and Galeries de la Capitale in Quebec City.
It’s been a busy first quarter for this Canadian success story, which started as a single Montreal boutique in 1984 and has grown to an international network of 128 stores and counting.
Founded by veteran retailer Marcel Labrecque, Bizou is known for its ladies fashion jewellery and accessories. The majority of its stainless steel and sterling silver collections are the unique work of a trend-setting team of in-house designers, who travel the world for inspiration.
Now the company itself is a retail inspiration and we at Think Retail are excited to work with Bizou as it charts new territories.
Last fall, Bizou ramped up its foray into Ontario, opening at two notable regional shopping centres—a 600 sq. ft. boutique at Georgian Mall in Barrie, Ont. and a 750 sq. ft. store in Ottawa’s St. Laurent Centre. (Bizou also opened its second store at Montreal-Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport and a new 800 sq. ft. inline store in Les Promenades Gatineau.)
As part of its goal to further expand its footprint in Ontario, the company will soon announce a new deal at a super regional mall in the province. Two more openings are planned this year and the focus is on 500 to 850 sq. ft. in regional and super regional shopping centres, with strong co-tenants, such as, but not limited to, H&M, Zara, Sephora, Banana Republic, Fossil and Victoria’s Secret.
Bizou itself is an ideal co-tenant with a strong fashion appeal and modern retail experience that incites a loyal following: It’s no wonder sales have increased for six straight years. This is truly a company on the upswing and the potential is massive.
Further afield, Bizou continues to go from strength to strength building its global retail presence (it opened its first international store in 2013 at La Toison Dor in Dijon, France and the following year debuted in Saudi Arabia).In February, the company opened its first location in Bahrain and is to open in September at Mirqab Mall in Qatar. In addition, Bizou has just signed license agreements in Kuwait and Oman—four stores are slated to open in these markets in the next 12 months.
Think Retail has worked with Bizou for nearly two decades and it is a thrill to watch this Canadian retailer chart new territories—both in terms of unique product designs and its growth on the domestic and international fronts. For more information about Bizou, visit or contact the Think Retail Team.

IN by Surplus debuts at CF Markville Mall

March 22, 2016

The inaugural IN by Surplus opened its doors at CF Markville Mall in Markham, Ont., marking the first full-price premium brand boutique by the innovative team who founded the popular off-price retail concept, Surplus Clothing.
Surplus Clothing was born in Montreal in 1999 when its first bricks and mortar boutique opened on trendy St.-Laurent Street in the city’s Mile End neighbourhood.  
The focus was, and continues to be, on affordable luxury brands—including Diesel, Scotch & Soda, Fred Perry, and more—at discount prices. Today there are four off-price outlets—two in Quebec (downtown Montreal and Tanger Outlets Saint-Sauveur) and two in Ontario (Outlet Collection at Niagara and Heartland Town Centre in Mississauga), as well as a strong online presence. 
Now the entrepreneurs are taking on a new and exciting challenge. At Think Retail we’re thrilled to again partner with the Surplus team, this time on their latest retail vision, an in-mall shop featuring a curated collection of marque brands.
IN opened last week to great acclaim and this new concept is no doubt the start of something big. 
“We wanted to do a full-price store in mall and this is a testing ground,” says Jones Liang, one of the retailer’s partners, adding if IN by Surplus is well received, he’d like to expand the concept in more enclosed malls. 
CF Markville is the ideal location for the brand’s launch. It’s a shopping mecca that is home to more than 160 premium retailers from Aritzia to Coach, Fossil, Michael Kors, J. Crew and more. Cadillac Fairview recently completed a $110 million redevelopment of the property, transforming it into a world-class shopping destination and perfect launch space for IN by Surplus.
Already the new store is attracting a strong following of fashion-forward consumers drawn to the retailer’s curated selection of top-quality on-trend merchandise. 
IN is a multi-brand concept with a strong focus on denim and footwear, with more than 10 different high-profile footwear fashion brands.
The 3,000 sq. ft. space is well designed, reflecting the company’s signature vision. It’s hip and sleek, with dark woods and muted colours offering the perfect backdrop to an array of brands that are displayed in a welcoming and consumer-savvy way, with the feel of a boutique, but a vast selection nonetheless—it’s skilled merchandizing at its best. In addition to racks and tables of unisex apparel, footwear and accessories are showcased on metal and glass cubed shelves for easy browsing with an upscale feel. 
We are excited by this new concept and anticipate that IN will be a great success. At the moment, no new stores are planned, however the team is watching closely and after a few months (with the right feedback) is committed to moving forward and introducing the concept in more enclosed malls. 
For more about the Surplus Clothing and its new In by Surplus, visit or contact the Think Retail Team

MAC teams up with Think Retail for flagship deal

March 14, 2016

At Think Retail we always welcome the opportunity to work in tandem with a retailer’s in-house realty expert to help secure an ideal property.
Such was the case when Michael Riney, Director of Real Estate for MAC Cosmetics, hired us to find the perfect spot to open a flagship store to replace the company’s concession in La Maison Ogilvy. 
The goal was to find a marquee Montreal location for this iconic Canadian-born brand. 
Founded in Toronto in 1984, MAC is now headquartered in New York City as part of the Estee Lauder Companies. It all started when makeup artist and photographer Frank Toskan and salon owner Frank Angelo became frustrated by the lack of makeup that photographed well, so they decided to create their own. At first, they made the cosmetics in their kitchen and sold them straight from the salon to fellow makeup artists, as well as models and photographers. Word soon spread and the brand gained recognition around the globe: Today MAC is sold in more than 105 countries and operates more than 500 independent stores. MAC is one of the world’s top three makeup brands, delivering annual sales in excess of US$ 1 billion. 
As a global beauty phenomenon, not just any location would do. The company was looking for something special. 
By tapping in to our extensive contacts and relationships, we were able to identify an ideal off-market location in the heart of Montreal’s shopping district. (The space was home to footwear retailer Spring) 
Located at Saint Catherine Street West and McGill College Avenue, this high-profile corner location is ideal for MAC in every way. 
The Confederation Building at 1253 McGill College Avenue is an 11-storey building owned by Polaris Realty. The first two floors feature retail, while the others house offices, including Google. The space is home to several complimentary and high-profile tenants, including Keihl’s and Les 3 Brasseurs. 
The neoclassical building has a European feel, with a classic exterior and modern renovated interior.
It’s a marquee building in a marquee location, perfect for a marquee brand like MAC Cosmetics—mission accomplished. 
For more on how we can use our extensive industry and market knowledge to help your company find the right location, contact the Think Retail Team.