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Hudson’s Bay Co. president Liz Rodbell has a strategy with Kleinfeld Bridal boutique.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

The new president of Hudson's Bay Co. thinks its luxury Kleinfeld Bridal boutique, of Say Yes to the Dress reality television fame, will help win new customers – one $32,000 gown at a time.

Perhaps even more important, Liz Rodbell thinks the bright and spacious new boutique, strategically placed next to the refurbished and upgraded home-decor department on the seventh floor of the Hudson's Bay flagship store, will help boost sales for the retailer's crucial gift registry.

Ms. Rodbell says that getting more brides into Kleinfeld is key to her goal of almost doubling gift registry sales in the next five years. Registries are important because they don't just draw in the wedding couple as current and future customers, but also their guests.

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"It is all integrated because of the gift registry opportunity," Ms. Rodbell, clad in a $1,560 Roksanda Ilincic wool crepe dress, said as she swept through the Kleinfeld and home goods aisles. "We're building Hudson's Bay to be a home destination."

Retailers ranging from Hudson's Bay to Sears Canada Inc. and Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. are racing to woo the bride, counting on her wedding party and guests to shore up their gift registries and broaden their customer base. Hudson's Bay's new Kleinfeld boutique raises the stakes for all players, putting pressure on them to dress up their own offerings.

Hudson's Bay continues to be Canada's top destination for wedding registries, and its share of the English-speaking market has increased from a year ago, according to a survey by publication Weddingbells.

Sears and specialty gift shops shed business over that period, with the big winner being U.S. retailer Bed Bath & Beyond, whose share of stores registered jumped to 34 per cent this year from just 5 per cent in 2012, the survey found. Hudson's Bay's share slipped to 76 per cent from 80 per cent two years ago, but gained from 71 per cent in 2013.

Some retailers, such as U.S. chain Crate and Barrel, have a registry but it isn't online, which makes the process more cumbersome, industry observers said. Spokeswoman Cathy Miller said wedding guests can view Canadian gift registries online and place an order on its toll-free telephone number. "There are some registry enhancements in the works," she said, without elaborating. Williams-Sonoma Inc. of San Francisco, which also owns Pottery Barn, runs a gift registry in stores only in Canada but it is "looking to evolve the experience to online purchasing," spokeswoman Leigh Oshirak said.

Others, such as Wal-Mart Canada Corp., don't have their own registries, but find that customers request their goods at online cross-retail registry sites "where they can register for essentially anything," spokeswoman Rosalyn Carneiro said.

David's Bridal, a U.S. affordable designer bridal chain with 10 stores in Canada, is looking to team up with another retailer in the next 12 to 18 months that can offer a gift registry, Brian Beitler, chief marketing officer at David's, said. In the U.S., it partners with Macy's and Amazon.com, among others, for wedding registries.

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"There are multiple reasons for businesses to be interested in registries," Mr. Beitler said. "We're interested because we want to help the bride along that journey. … By partnering with David's Bridal, what that does is give those retailers who are building gift registries early and immediate access to that bride."

Ms. Rodbell said she expects Kleinfeld will help give a dramatic lift to Hudson's Bay gift registry business, which now counts about 50,000 registrants annually in a market of roughly 165,000 weddings a year.

Hudson's Bay is investing heavily to make the online registry easier to use, with improved scanners in the store to check items, she said. It has also added other services, such as a wedding cake and florist consulting booth, and an in-store Birks jewellery shop with items ranging to $50,000 for a two-carat solitaire platinum engagement ring.

In the plush Kleinfeld boutique, dresses run to $32,000 for a Pinina Tornai ivory silk gown with sculpted roses, weighing in at 35 pounds. The styles also include a small collection of red gowns for the Asian customer. The lowest price for a gown is about $1,400 in Canada and $1,500 (U.S.) at the New York store. Shoes range to $1,135 (Canadian) for a pair of Aruna Seth open-toe pumps, similar to the ones Kate Middleton wore at her wedding, Ms. Rodbell said. Now she's thinking of selling other Kleinfeld accessories, such as hair pieces and jewellery, online.

The strategy also plays into Hudson's Bay's wider goal of stocking more exclusive products to bring more shoppers to its stores. About 35 per cent of its offerings are now exclusive, and it plans to raise that to 40 per cent in the next five years, she said.

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