The days when tough times provided good times for Zellers

A struggling economy seemed to put Zellers in a strong position in the early 1990s.

Bargain-focused consumers provided Zellers, discount retailers with 'booming business' in the '90s

Changes in Canada's retail industry

30 years ago
In 1992, The National looks at some of the trends in the Canadian retail industry. 4:04

The less money Canadians wanted to spend, the more money they ended up spending at Zellers.

Or so it seemed in February 1992, when The National's Der Hoi-Yin examined some of the trends shaping the Canadian retail scene at that time.

Back then, consumers were getting more selective about their purchases and their decreased appetite for spending had meant hard times for many retail chains — including scores of stores that had gone out of business across the country since the start of the decade.

"When consumers do spend, most look for bargains and that's translated into a booming business for discount stores, like Zellers," Der told viewers, in a report that aired on Feb. 12, 1992.

'Price, price, price, price'

In 1992, Zellers was seeing record profits at a time when many other Canadian retailers were struggling to survive. (The National/CBC Archives)

David Kittredge, a vice president with the chain, told Der that Zellers was then making record profits. It had also hired 1,200 workers over a four-month period, a time period in which it had also opened 10 new stores.

"Price, price, price, price — everywhere you look in this store, you will see item, price," Kittredge said, as he showed Der around a Zellers store.

"It doesn't matter if it's light bulbs or pantyhose, any item in the store, any item, we will meet anyone's price," he said.

'The selling point is value'

Costco's Ed Maron said value was "the only bullet we have in our gun," when describing the wholesale chain's business focus to The National. (The National/CBC Archives)

But price-conscious Canadians were also looking for bargains elsewhere, including at Costco, which had opened its first store on this side of the border in 1985.

"Costco is an American company that's pioneering warehouse shopping in western Canada, opening 10 locations in the past six years, with an 11th under construction," Der told viewers, giving some background to those who might not yet be familiar with the wholesaler.

Costco's Ed Maron told The National that "the selling point is value," which is what he said the wholesale chain tried to impress upon its Canadian customers.

Good value, but good service, too

A Zellers customer is seen passing cash to a cashier in 1992. (The National/CBC Archives)

Der wrapped her report by discussing where retail trends could be expected to go for the rest of the decade.

"In the '80s, there were too many copycats, too many retailers that looked the same that sold similar goods at similar prices, while consumers just spent and spent," she said.

"In the '90s, people in the industry say retailers have to be more distinctive because consumers are fussier. They want more selection, better service, good value — preferably all delivered with a smile."


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