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A Wal-Mart Canada store in Mississauga, Ont.J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

Wal-Mart Canada Corp. is the latest major retailer to install a new leader as merchants race to shore up their operations amid burgeoning foreign competition and a dearth of top executives.

The world's largest retailer on Wednesday promoted Shelley Broader, 47, a seasoned merchant, to chief executive officer of Wal-Mart Canada after hiring her as chief merchandising officer last December. She replaces David Cheesewright, 49, who was promoted to CEO of a new regional team at Wal-Mart's U.S. parent, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., overseeing business development in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Canada.

The shuffle comes as a wide array of retailers name or search for new chiefs as they prepare for incoming foreign rivals – including U.S. discounter Target Corp. which will open as many as 135 stores in 2013. Sears Canada Inc. [[entity]]ears Canada Inc. [[/entity]]CC-T and Loblaw Cos. Ltd. both turned to new leaders this summer. Shoppers Drug Mart Corp. and Tim Hortons Inc. are being led by interim chiefs as they search for new CEOs.

"It's a reflection that Canadian retail is hyper-competitive and it's going to be even more so as new entrants open a phenomenal number of new stores," said John Williams of retail consultancy J. C. Williams Group. "The type of retailer coming is not your normal mainstream retailer ... The game is shifting significantly to a new battlefield."

Retailers invading Canada will generate an estimated $15-billion of retail sales over the next few years, he estimated. Companies hunting for sparse retail space here include discounter Kohl's and high-end department store Nordstrom, while U.S. retailers such as fashion specialists J. Crew and Express, and action-sports chain Zumiez, have already started to open outlets in Canada.

Shoppers has struggled to find a new leader since the beginning of the year. It faces a shortage of top-level executives in retail globally, Mr. Williams said. Retail management often is made up of people who reached their positions unintentionally, having started on the shop floor as a part-timer and moved on to senior positions. University students don't generally look to retail work as a top career choice, he said.

Still, he's surprised that Shoppers has gone so long without a permanent CEO; it's being led by former chairman David Williams for now, but is grappling with an uncertain future amid changing drug-pricing regulations. Early next year, its rival Katz Group Canada Ltd., which runs Rexall stores, will replace retiring CEO Andy Giancamilli with Frank Scorpiniti, who joined the company from a U.S. pharmacy chain in April as chief operating officer.

At Wal-Mart, Ms. Broader, with 20 years of North American retail leadership experience, was previously a senior vice-president at the company's Sam's Club division. Before that, she was president of crafts chain Michael's, and previously headed Hannaford Bros.' Kash n' Karry and Sweetbay Supermarkets chains.

While Wal-Mart Canada has outpaced its U.S. parent in its critical same-store sales performance, it faces tougher grocery discount competition in Canada than south of the border, from such chains as Loblaw's No Frills. It has raced to revamp its apparel and home-decor offerings, while adding super centres with complete food aisles.