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It's the ultimate Canadian change room.

Shoppers trying on winter-wear at a new Mark's Work Wearhouse in Edmonton can now test first-hand how warm the clothing really is in a custom-made walk-in freezer.

It's left up to the customers to decide how chilly they want the experience to be. The freezer is set at minus 15 C, but it can be cranked up to a brutal minus 40, complete with fans mimicking wind chill.

"Surprisingly, no one has requested minus 40 yet," Trevor Lovig, a Mark's regional operations director, said with a chuckle during a tour of the store's coolest attraction. Outside Mark's, the temperature hovered around 25 C.

The 27,000-square-foot store, the Calgary-based apparel retailer's largest in Canada, also features other interactive displays, including different surfaces such as roof shingles and concrete, to test out footwear.

Michael Strachan, Mark's senior vice-president of marketing, said the concept store was built as a "testing ground" for the 32-year-old company, which is owned by Canadian Tire Corp.

He said some or all of the ideas, including the freezer, may eventually be rolled out at Mark's other 385 stores across Canada. "We don't know where we are going to go with it. It's a bit of a lab for us."

Mr. Strachan said the interactive displays help Mark's, which got its start selling work clothes to oil patch workers in Alberta, "differentiate" itself from their competitors.

"It shows that we really do have something different to offer in an industry which is typically driven on just what's the next look," he said.

This merchandising strategy, known as "experiential" retailing, isn't a new concept, but it has been popping up more and more in recent years as a crowded retail sector struggles to attract shoppers. One of the best known examples is Nike's Niketown.

"Retailers everywhere right now are trying to create experiences that are engaging and memorable," said Paul McElhone, executive director of the retailing school at the University of Alberta's School of Business in Edmonton.

Mr. McElhone isn't surprised Mark's has decided to venture into this area. "This has been a company that has been in a constant state of evolution," he said.

While Mark's got its start selling work clothes, it has expanded into men's and women's casual, and now sells everything from dress shirts to the "perfect fit panty."

Mr. McElhone said Mark's and other Canadian clothing and footwear retailers are facing constant competition from "new players," including American-based Bass Pro Shops, which he called "outdoor, lifestyle, camping, hunting, fishing stores on steroids."

"People here are going to have to crank it up a notch to compete," he said.

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