TORONTO — As shoppers crammed into stores across the country on Black Friday, Carrie Baker was busy greeting customers and ringing up purchases at Canada Goose Holdings Inc.'s store on Saint-Catherine Street West in Montreal.
The president of the luxury apparel business was one of 15 members of Canada Goose's executive ranks who ditched her desk to play sales associate.
Chief executive officer Dani Reiss was stationed at Yorkdale Mall in Toronto. Others visited stores in Los Angeles, London, Zurich, Shanghai and Tokyo.
Their goal was to spend the day observing customers and employees before reconvening with ideas about how the Toronto-based company, founded in 1957, can drive more sales, traffic and productivity.
"I think it's so important that we learn from the floor (and take) every opportunity to improve, to double down on what's really working, to see it from those eyes rather than just sit behind a desk and see a report," said Baker, in an interview midway through her shift.
"There's no report that can replace the 'aha moment' of seeing it first-hand."
While Canada Goose's executives visit the brand's stores and its warehouses regularly, this trip was different. It was timed for Black Friday — a highlight of the retail calendar that brought lines of would-be customers to the Canada Goose store in Montreal for much of the day — and came as the luxury parka maker navigates a topsy-turvy year.
An unusually warm fall in much of Canada and elevated inflation have caused many shoppers to put off big-ticket winter purchases such as Canada Goose’s cold weather-friendly apparel.
Relations between Canada — the company's home country — and China — where the business has focused its expansion efforts over the last decade — have simultaneously soured.
Warning investors that it was facing "increasingly challenging global macroeconomic and geopolitical environments that have impacted consumer decision-making and prioritization of spend," Canada Goose announced in November that it would cut its financial guidance this fiscal year.
On Baker's Black Friday visit, the temperature in Montreal dipped as low as -8 C, warming customers up to the thought of spending on winter gear.
"It's the right weather to confirm that they should be buying something that will keep them toasty," said Baker.
She helped a family headed for an Alaskan cruise find coats and test them out in the store's cold room, a -25 C space Canada Goose keeps in the Montreal store for customers to experience its apparel in cold weather.
"That's one of the confirmations or leanings for me today: what an important role our cold room plays in the experience and them leaving knowing they bought the right jacket for however they're going to use it," Baker said.
She also discovered areas where Canada Goose "has some work to do."
For example, staff refer to garments as having a "slim," "classic" or "oversized" fit.
"If people are just browsing themselves, they might not get the nuance of the different fits in the different style, so it's something that I am noodling on," Baker said.
She’s also thinking about the way customers view the brand that has become synonymous with selling parkas that can cost more than $1,000.
“So often people think about luxury and they think about (the category) as cold or austere or a bit stuck-up,” Baker said.
But she found repeat customers at the store have looked past that and forged a good rapport with some staff.
“When people walk in here, they identify themselves as ‘Oh, I'm Jessie's customer. Oh, I'm Heidi's customer,’” Baker said.
She and the other executives plan to regroup to share stories like these and discuss solutions for common pain points. The solutions can be as simple as changing a store's display or as lofty as completely revamping its design, launching new technology or making changes to products.
"The longer term things just might take a little bit more time, but I'm sure there are going to be some things that we can implement right away," Baker said.
She is excited to hear about the other executives’ experiences.
Some had already swapped tidbits during breaks, but many of their exchanges were about a “little healthy competition” around which leader would sell the most that day.
“We'll have to wait for the store manager report at the end of the day to tell us who actually is going to win, but I think I've got a good shot at it from what I hear," Baker said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2023.
Companies in this story: (TSX:GOOS)
Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press