Hudson's Bay CEO Helena Foulkes: 'Barneys is an example of how tough it is out there'

Key Points
  • Hudson's Bay CEO Helena Foulkes speaks to the challenges of being a department store operator in 2019.
  • The New York market has grown especially crowded, with Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus.
Helena Foulkes attends the 2018 National Retail Federation Gala at Pier 60 on January 14, 2018 in New York City.
Dia Dipasupil | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Hudson's Bay Company CEO Helena Foulkes knows the department store sector is troubled.

"Barneys [New York] is an example of how tough it is out there," Foulkes said during a discussion at WWD's Apparel & Retail CEO Summit in New York on Tuesday afternoon. "People ... loved Barneys. We hope very much to learn from what they loved about Barneys [to] help us build on our experiences themselves."

Barneys New York filed for bankruptcy protection in August and has since been fighting for its life, putting other U.S. department store operators on notice and keeping them on their toes.

Authentic Brands Group, the parent company of over 50 brands such as Nine West and Nautica, said last week it was the successful bidder for Barneys' intellectual property. ABG said, in part, it plans to license the Barneys name to Hudson's Bay's Saks Fifth Avenue. Still, the sale to ABG is contingent on bankruptcy court approval at a hearing this Thursday.

The news has put a spotlight on New York retail in particular, where Barneys' iconic flagship sits on Madison Avenue, and Saks Fifth Avenue's recently renovated shop sits just down the block. Nordstrom opened its first flagship location in Manhattan last week, near Central Park. And Neiman Marcus opened a store at the Hudson Yards mall, downtown on the West Side, earlier this year. Macy's and J.C. Penney have shops at Herald Square.

According to Foulkes, Hudson's Bay has seen "no impact" to its business following Neiman Marcus' opening. "Nordstrom looks great, but we're still feeling really good about where we are," she added. "We serve a little bit of a different market than Nordstrom."

Hudson's Bay announced in August it would sell its struggling Lord & Taylor business to clothing rental subscription service Le Tote, for $100 million.

And earlier this month, the Canadian-based chain said in a press release it has entered into an agreement with a group of investors, led by executive chairman Richard Baker, to be taken private. That's still pending final approval of shareholders that will be tallied during a December meeting.

"What I say all the time internally is whether we're private or public, it really doesn't matter," Foulkes said Tuesday. "We've got a strategy that we're going after. My job is to make sure people don't get distracted by this." She called Hudson's Bay and Saks Fifth Avenue "the two crown jewels of this business," where investments will be focused moving forward.

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