End of an era for Esprit

Toronto’s about to lose a major international clothing retailer. Esprit, the global fashion chain with more than 800 stores around the world, has announced that it plans to close all of its North American stores due to dwindling profits in Canada and the U.S.

Esprit operates 90 directly managed stores in North America. Toronto locations include a store at the Eaton Centre, one at Yorkdale Shopping Centre and one at Sherway Gardens, along with various other locations on the outskirts of the city. Most of them will close in the next week or two.

At a time when many international retail chains are flourishing in Canada, it seems unusual for one of these major chains to be checking out of this country’s retail business entirely.

But clearly, the company hasn’t done a very good job of keeping Canadian shoppers coming back. Same-store sales were down by 7.7% at Canadian Esprit stores in the year ending June 30, 2011. And last week, the company said its profits in the first half of the year were down 74% from last year.

Esprit has been operating in Canada and the U.S. for many years, and I can recall a time when the stores were very popular shopping destinations, especially among teenaged girls. They carried trendy fashions and the aisles of the stores would be bustling with shoppers.

During visits to the mall in the past couple years, however, I’ve noticed far fewer shoppers frequenting Esprit stores.

It’s not too often I find fashions that I personally like at Esprit. And when an item at Esprit does catch my eye, it’s often too pricey for what I consider it to be worth.

In a world where fast-fashion retailers seem to thrive (think H&M, where it’s not uncommon to find trendy tops priced at less than $10), it’s tough for other fashion retailers to stay competitive, unless quality or label status sets them apart.

My guess is, this type of competition proved to be too much for Esprit – at least in North America. The brand seems to be holding up well in Europe and Asia, so Canadian shoppers will still be have access to the brand on travels abroad.

In the meantime, if you’re an Esprit fan, now would be the time to stock up on this company’s clothing. There are currently huge sales at the company’s Canadian stores – to the tune of 70% off all merchandise – as it aims to clear out its remaining merchandise.

But don’t expect any kind of orderly shopping experience. The Esprit location that I recently visited didn’t even have clothes on hangers – what was left of the picked-over merchandise was overflowing out of boxes on tables and on the ground. Some boxes appeared to be labelled – “Men’s Shirts” or “Women’s Size Large”, for example – but most were a messy mishmash of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, along with lingerie. So, bargain hunters, be prepared to truly have to hunt for an Esprit bargain.

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Filed under Clothing Lines, Fashion, Sales & Deals, Store Closures

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