HBC shutting all 37 Home Outfitters stores across Canada

Hudson's Bay Co. announced Thursday it will close its housewares chain Home Outfitters in Canada.

Will review Saks OFF 5th locations in the U.S.

HBC is closing its home furnishing chain Home Outfitters across Canada by the end of the year. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Hudson's Bay Co. announced Thursday it will close its housewares chain Home Outfitters in Canada.

The company also says it will conduct a "fleet review" of another one of its retail chains, Saks OFF 5th, which has 133 locations in the U.S. and Canada. The review will likely see the company close 20 stores in the U.S.

There are 37 Home Outfitters locations across Canada. All will be closed by the end of 2019. Almost all of the areas losing a Home Outfitters store have a regular HBC store nearby, a spokesperson for the company told CBC News.

Home Outfitters, which opened in Canada in 1999, employed fewer than 700 people. 

The chain did not provide details on possible job losses, but thanked employees in a statement.

"Further streamlining our retail portfolio enables even greater focus on our businesses with the strongest growth opportunities," CEO Helena Foulkes said. "We know this news is difficult for our associates. We are grateful for their ongoing efforts to serve our customers and we will work to find opportunities within HBC for impacted team members where possible."

The company said the review will allow it to focus on its "best locations" and on its e-commerce offerings.

Retail expert Brynn Winegard said the demise of Home Outfitters is the product of the challenge of maintaining margins and foot traffic where consumers are comfortable searching, comparing, and transacting online. 

Winegard said in an email to The Canadian Press that HBC needs to focus on having well-trained floor staff "who provide advice, guidance shoppers need and can't Google themselves," and on creating an experience for consumers that includes activities like eating.

"That usually requires real estate and a price point that warrants this extra experiential space," she said. "Home Outfitters does not service a target consumer willing to pay these higher prices, however."

Retail expert Bruce Winder, co-founder and partner at the Retail Advisors Network, said Home Outfitters was likely a big moneymaker for HBC in the first few years of its existence. But in the last decade or so, things changed as its core customer went elsewhere.

"This is a retailer that caters to the middle class," he said in an interview "and we've seen a polarization of retail where things are doing well in the luxury segment and at value segment, but that sort of middle retail has been squeezed."

Winder cites numerous other retail chains that have been hit by the same trend of late, including Town Shoes and Payless, both of which have decided to close all their Canadian stores in the past six months.

"I know it's a sad day for employees, but I'm surprised they kept it [Home Outfitters] open this long," he said.

He said he thinks the move is a smart one for HBC that should help the company over the long term.

"They're pruning any asset that isn't going to grow for them."

With files from Jacqueline Hansen and The Canadian Press