In its heyday, the Eaton's catalogue was a staple in most households, providing Canadians with mail-order access to everything from coveted fashions to toys.
It was killed off in the mid-1970s, but was revived in a slimmer form eight years ago when Sears Canada Inc. briefly brought back Eaton's from the dead.
Now Sears is thinking about resurrecting the venerable Eaton's name yet again. The idea would be to launch an Eaton's catalogue and website as a purveyor of fashionable lines. The retailer is betting that the Eaton's name could draw a style-conscious consumer who isn't likely to head to middle-brow Sears.
"Eaton's had a storied history with Canadians ... ," said Alan Gee, chief creative officer at GJP Advertising & Design, which works with Sears, but not on Eaton's. "There's a tremendous amount of emotional connection that consumers have with brands. A brand can be very old and all of a sudden it can be new and exciting again."
Sears spokesman Vincent Power confirmed the company is studying a revival of the catalogue along with an online presence.
They would carry hipper brands that aren't available at Sears, he said.
The Eaton's name "resonates positively with Canadians," he said. "It's something that we've looked at doing in the latter part of the year. It's not a sure thing yet."
The flurry of work around Eaton's is timely as consumers increasingly hanker for heritage brands - labels that have a story behind them, said Graeme Spicer, director of retail strategy at consultancy DW + Partners.
Hot brands such as the Volkswagen Beetle and the Burberry trench coat are examples of faded stars that were reborn. Even the now-popular Abercrombie & Fitch and Banana Republic were stumbling before they were revived by new leadership with a fresh vision.
"There's a trend to the authentic brand with a heritage," Mr. Spicer said. Eaton's, founded in 1869, fits that category. "I have always had a real affection for the Eaton's brand name."
The challenge for Sears, which scooped up Eaton's from creditor protection in 1999, is multifaceted. It wants to draw a younger customer, but those people aren't very familiar with the Eaton's legacy. A smart marketing campaign would be necessary to give the name buzz, Mr. Gee said.
And the Eaton's name was tarnished in the last years of its life. Suffering from financial and image trauma, it was positioned by its new owner Sears as a chic, upscale fashion alternative. But it failed to deliver on the promise and the name was abandoned in 2002. The same product buyers who were purchasing middle-of-the-road brands for Sears were ordering similar merchandise for Eaton's.
A further hurdle would be to persuade Canadian consumers to buy apparel from catalogues and online. While Americans are big catalogue shoppers, Canadians have been slow to adopt the practice - particularly for clothing, he said. They like to touch and try on the clothing.
Still, Sears is one of the strongest catalogue and Web retailers in Canada. It recently teamed up with the German-based catalogue powerhouse Otto Group, and is already starting to feature that group's Flashlights and other edgier brands in its catalogues and online.
Sears is forging partnerships with other major European retailers to introduce an "enhanced apparel offering ... for a more fashionable customer" in targeted catalogues, Dene Rogers, Sears' chief executive office, said in the retailer's annual report.
Sears needs a lift in its apparel business. In 2007, those sales, on a comparable-year basis, fell 4.5 per cent from 2006. Its apparel offerings are now mainly private labels, such as Jessica. In contrast, Sears' sales of home furnishings, electronics and appliances rose 0.8 per cent in the same period.
SEARS CANADA (SCC)
Close: $23.25, unchanged
- Report on Business Company Snapshot is available for:
- SEARS CANADA INC.