Resurrecting Eaton’s

I have just three words to those folks at Sears who are considering a relaunch of the Eaton’s catalogue: Don’t do it.

When I wrote my 1998 book, “The Eatons: The Rise and Fall of Canada’s Royal Family,” I discovered a whole new market who’d never before bought my books: sixty-year old women. Put me in front of an audience of 200 retired school teachers, and after my speech, I’d go to the back of the room and sign 150 books sold by a local bookstore, unheard of levels of interest.

These women of a certain age had shopped at Eaton’s, many of them had also worked at Eaton’s. Eaton’s was an integral part of their lives that they wanted to read about.

But these women aren’t the fashion-conscious upscale buyers Sears hopes to attract with a new Eaton’s catalogue and online presence. The plain fact is that there are too few such shoppers in Canada to make this idea fly. Dozens of U.S. retailers have migrated to Canada in the last fifteen years, but the list is dominated by the likes of Wal-Mart and The Home Depot. Why not Nordstrom, Neiman-Marcus, or Bloomingdale’s? Because the demographics don’t exist in Canada for high-end retailers.

Canadians don’t even like catalogues that much. During the 1990s, when we lived in Washington, D.C., hardly a day went by without an unrequested catalogue arriving in the mail. Other than L.L. Bean, I can’t recall the last one I received in Canada.

And if the folks at Sears, who own the Eaton’s name, think they’re going to appeal to the younger crowd, remember this. To be alive today and remember the Eaton’s catalogue, consumers have to be at least forty years old and even then they’d regard it as a place to buy dolls and train sets, not Blahnick shoes.

Remember, too, that Sears has already tried to relaunch Eaton’s with half a dozen stores carrying chic goods. The brand had been so besmirched by bankruptcy that nobody came through the doors.

Finally, why would anyone shop from an Eaton’s catalogue when the previous incarnation was finally put out of its misery in 1976 after losing $100 million in the last eight years of its existence?

There are too many whys for the wise.

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