Conflicted: Examining the expansion of The Bay to The Netherlands

I heard the news just a few days ago. Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), an iconic Canadian retailer with roots going back nearly 350 years, longer than Canada has been a country, had just opened several locations in the Netherlands. As Jen Marley of Sklar Wilton and Associates shared with the National Post, the Netherlands was a “great move” for the retailer given the historical relationship of the two countries.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of chains, particularly mega-chains with thousands of outlets, putting down roots outside the borders of the originating country. When I visit other countries, I want to immerse myself in their offerings, their culinary and cultural distinctiveness. In that regard, I wasn’t particularly thrilled to hear that HBC had popped up in such a traditional and historic city. Okay, apart from the sex shops and marijuana sellers that bring in rowdy bachelor and bachelorette parties by the plane-load.

Just days after hearing the news, I found myself in Amsterdam for a marketing research conference and stumbled across one of the newly opened stores. I didn’t see an HBC logo on the outside of the building nor familiar window displays presenting their wares. But as I passed by the open front door and glanced in, I did a double-take and stopped in my tracks.

What drew me in? Something strangely familiar - a life-sized white moose wearing a bold red, blue, green, and yellow blanket. Not only do I know that moose, I know that blanket. I covet that blanket. Nothing says HBC more than that blanket.

Items with traditional pattern displayed in the foyer of HBC Amsterdam
Items with traditional pattern displayed in the foyer of HBC Amsterdam

I entered the foyer where I was immediately presented with various other items brandishing the iconic print. Though I had not yet seen an HBC sign, there was no doubt where I was.

Beyond the foyer, I was surprised by the type of knick knacks displayed. They seemed out of keeping with the HBC items I know from home. At the same time however, I could see that those same items are very much in keeping with what is available throughout central Amsterdam. Perhaps those familiar items would help a Dutch person walking into this ‘Canadian’ store for the first time feel more at home. And that positive association might warm them up to the Canadian style that HBC brings to the table.

With conflicting thoughts, I started to notice something else. Warm fuzzies. I kept walking through the store, all three floors, and for a brief moment, irrespective of the adult toys being advertised in the five hundred year old canal houses across the street and the faint scent of not-quite-cigarettes wafting through the open front door, I felt like I was home. I wanted to tell the clerks that I’m from Canada and they were welcome in my store. I felt Canadian pride in that space. I took advantage of their free, no-nonsense wifi to tweet about my experience and email photos of the interior to friends back home.

I left the building feeling good about HBC’s growth into the Netherlands but quickly realized I had not taken a photo of the building’s exterior. I crossed the street for a better vantage point and pulled out my smartphone. But I could not find the store. All I saw was a row of centuries old, lovingly restored canal houses. Whether by choice and or by law, HBC blended their signage into the surroundings in a respectful way. As an admirer of history and architecture, I offered a silent thank you to HBC. And then literally retraced my steps so as to find MY store and photograph it.

I still need that blanket.

HBC retail outlet in central Amsterdam - First building on the left
HBC retail outlet in central Amsterdam - First building on the left
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