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Hudson's Bay will bring luxury designer bridal retailer Kleinfeld to Canada

Hudson's Bay Co. is teaming up with New York's luxury Kleinfeld Bridal salon of reality show Say Yes to the Dress fame in a deal that underlines the importance of the lucrative wedding registry field for retailers.

Toronto-based Hudson's Bay, which went public last fall, announced on Tuesday morning that it will launch Kleinfeld Bridal in its flagship downtown Toronto store in early 2014, bringing to Canada one of the world's top high-end bridal wear purveyors and the key partner for the TLC hit show.

The agreement "will further our position as Canada's headquarters and leading destination for gift registry, and now for designer bridal wear," said Bonnie Brooks, president of Hudson's Bay.

The initiative puts a spotlight on the crucial wedding registry industry, worth an estimated $750-million in Canada. The registry is important to retailers such as Hudson's Bay because it not only nabs the young couple and their friends and relatives to buy merchandise for the newlyweds, but also aims to hold on to them as lifetime customers for more shopping needs, including furnishing new homes and clothing their children.

Hudson's Bay is this country's leading wedding registry retailer, but rivals are rushing to snatch business away from it in a resurgence of interest in more lavish weddings. Sears Canada Inc. has been gaining bridal customers, while U.S. discounter Target Corp., which is opening its first stores in Canada this month, has an established gift registry south of the border and inevitably will eye the segment here.

The Bay ranked first as the "top of mind" wedding registry destination among 80 per cent of Canadians, up from 73 per cent three years earlier, according to an industry publication Weddingbells survey last year. Sears Canada had 44 per cent "top of mind" mentions, up from 32 per cent three years earlier, it found.

Other key registry players include Home Outfitters (48 per cent), which is owned by Hudson's Bay, and Bed Bath & Beyond (5 per cent,) the research said. Specialty gift shops are also gaining ground, it found. William Ashley China, which runs a gift registry, got a much-needed infusion of private-equity capital in 2011 and is expanding online although it closed one of its two bricks-and-mortar stores.

Kleinfeld, which offers designer gowns by the likes of Pnina Tornai, has a "substantial" Canadian clientele already, said Richard Baker, chief executive officer of Hudson's Bay.

He said the bridal business is important for Hudson's Bay, which currently doesn't sell wedding gowns, and its gift registry business. "It helps cement the relationship we want to have with that customer."

It also is aimed at bolstering Hudson's Bay sales, which stood at $133 per square foot, on average, in 2011. Industry sources said that Kleinfeld generates an estimated $1,000 sales per square foot. Eventually, Hudson's Bay will look at opening Kleinfeld at its flagships in Vancouver and Montreal.

Ronald Rothstein, co-owner of Kleinfeld, said it was attracted to Hudson's Bay because of its strong wedding registry business, its track record in selling luxury designer lines at The Room and the savvy of Ms. Brooks and Mr. Baker.

"No big store like the Bay has ever undertaken to do bridal the way they're going to do it with us," said Mr. Rothstein, adding about 10 per cent of his customers are Canadians. Kleinfeld will have a hand in training staff for the Toronto store, which will be 20,000 square feet or more than double the size of many clothing specialty shops. It will be operated much the way Hudson's Bay runs British Top Shop stores within HBC space.

Prices for Kleinfeld's wedding gowns range from $2,000 to $30,000 but in Canada will start closer to $1,500, he said. Its most expensive gown was an $80,000 custom-made one a few years ago, he said. It included a 20-foot train studded with Austrian crystals.

Still, even the bridal gown business is getting more crowded in Canada: U.S. chain David's Bridal, known for affordable wedding dresses, is expanding in Canada, having opened almost 10 stores here in the past two years.