The brand of a company can be described as the image that customers have about products or services and the overall company identity. Companies build an identity that involves a name, logo and possible slogan. A brand’s reputation is often achieved through factors such as product, price, quality, and any other aspect of the business that stands out in the customer’s mind.
Since 1670, HBC has been involved in fur trading, land sales, retail, oil gas exploration and transportation. The images in the gallery depict the changing brand of HBC from the start of the Company to the present day with primary focus on the fur trade and retail sales.
The photo shows clothing based on the colour scheme of the multistripe HBC Point Blanket, a popular fur trade and retail item since 1780. The Point Blanket colours have become an unofficial symbol of HBC and part of its brand identity.
Q: How is the HBC brand identified in this photo?
The HBC flag was an early brand identifier. The red flag had the British “Union Jack” in the upper left corner and, in the lower right corner, the letters HBC in white with the "H" and the “B" joined together. The letters “HBC” have featured prominently in the Company logo over time.
HBC had the right to use the flag, a version of a naval flag, on ships entering Hudson Bay and on its forts. First Nations soon recognized it and knew they could come to trade furs wherever it was flown. Aboriginal traders would be welcomed into the fort or post where the trading process began with a traditional ceremony.
Q: How was a flag displayed on a fort part of a branding strategy?
A Standard of Trade
The French travelled through the St. Lawrence, the Great Lakes and west to trade for furs. HBC trading was located further north and began with the Cree Nation who lived in that area.
During the trading process both HBC and Aboriginal traders obtained goods that they valued. HBC wanted beaver pelts to be made into hats in Europe, the Aboriginal traders wanted goods such as kettles, knives, glass beads for decoration, Point Blankets, and a number of other items. A Standard of Trade was created to establish a promise of quality and consistency. No matter which fort or post was visited for trade, a beaver pelt was always worth equal value. The Standard of Trade was a price list that stated what could be purchased for one beaver pelt.
The Standard of Trade became a brand symbol much the way national and multi-national companies today use their store logos to communicate a message of quality and consistency.
Q: How did the Standard of Trade help define the HBC brand?
The Coat of Arms
HBC established a coat of arms around 1670 but it was not until 1921 that it was formally registered with the College of Arms in London England in the same way a company would register a trademark today.
The HBC Coat of Arms is a shield with the red cross of St. George, the patron saint of England. The four small animals on the shield are beavers, the very reason the Company was founded. The two larger animals at the sides are elk or in some versions moose. The Company motto "PRO PELLE CUTEM" written in Latin translates as “for the pelt, the skin” and refers to the fur trade, the Company’s business.
The image shown is the 1921 coat of arms. There were several versions before and after that date.
Q: What branding symbols do companies most often use today?
The Point Blanket
The HBC Point Blanket was one of the most popular items in the fur trade as it was ideally suited to the Canadian climate and had many different uses. The blanket was used as a robe, could be fashioned into a capote or other clothing items, and was used as a tent-like shelter or as a sail on a small boat.
The first Point Blanket was made in 1780 in Witney, Oxfordshire, England. The blanket was first produced in various colours to suit the preferences of various Aboriginal trading partners. Later, the Point Blanket was most often produced in white with green, red, yellow and blue stripes.
The four colour multistripe pattern became the unofficial logo of HBC. To differentiate it from other products each blanket has a "Seal of Quality" as proof to the customer that they are getting the authentic HBC Point Blanket.
Q: How does the "Seal of Quality" help establish the company brand?
Transition to Retail
In the last half of the 19th century, HBC started to transition from fur trading into land sales and retail. The Deed of Surrender in 1870 provided HBC with ownership of its posts and further land concessions. European immigrants settled in western Canada as the railroad started to connect growing western cities. HBC opened stores or enlarged trading posts to meet the needs of the new settlers. There was rapid growth in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria and Winnipeg. In its retail stores, HBC sold goods for currency.
In 1881, HBC started a catalogue business recognizing that many Canadians were living in rural areas. For HBC, catalogue sales were an important way of providing people with the goods they needed and to expand Company sales. In 1913, HBC stopped its catalogue business.
In 1896, gold was found in the Yukon. Many people headed north to the Klondike region hoping to strike it rich. In order to gain access to the Klondike region these people were required bring a year’s food, among other things, with them. HBC recognized the potential market and advertised their western Canadian store locations as places to get information and supplies, building on their new brand identity of providing what Canadians need for everyday life.
Q: How was HBC in brand transition during the Klondike Gold Rush?
A New Age of Retail
In 1910, HBC restructured into three departments, Fur Trade, Land Sales and Retailing. Since the Fur Trade and Land Sales had a limited future, Company growth focused on retail in growing Canadian cities.
Alberta's Lieutenant Governor opened the new Calgary store
on Monday, August 18, 1913. Its six storey height made it the tallest building in the city. An advertisement in the City Directory for 1913 described the features of the outstanding new store which had "over five acres of floor space, and a staff of 500." The new store boasted a rooftop playground for children and the famous Elizabethan Restaurant on the sixth floor. In 1913, Calgary’s population was over 75,000 people.
The stores included features beyond retail sales space to attract customers. In 1929, the Arcadian Court opened in Toronto as an extension to the Queen Street store and included facilities for a variety of events such as trade shows, art exhibits, music recitals, dances, public lectures and fine dining. Offering facilities beyond the regular store is part of a continued retail strategy.
Q: What do in-store customer facilities have to do with branding?
A Changing Marketplace
As Canadian cities and HBC department stores grew, the range of products sold in the stores changed to support the lives of those in the cities and surrounding areas. For over 200 years, HBC customers were predominately men. As large department stores opened with a larger assortment of goods and with facilities designed for all family members, the target market grew to include women.
This print advertisement for tea published in 1921 highlights the inclusion of women in the target market. More often than not, HBC customers were women, shopping for themselves and their families.
This print advertisement stresses a Canadian identity that HBC maintained in its brand. The text is not just about the "hostess" but the "Canadian hostess."
Q: How did the increased inclusion of women in the target market affect HBC's overall brand image?
The Point Blanket and Retail Brand Identity
In 1928, an HBC Point Blanket print advertisement appeared with the phrase "Best for Home – Camp – Trail," evidence of a transition from a fur trading and company store in small towns to an urban retail presence.
The Point Blanket had been a product of HBC for over 150 years. In 1922 the Company began selling outerwear made from the blanket. In 1939, this print advertisement appeared featuring four versions of women’s Point Blanket coats. The coats advertised during this time period demonstrate that the Point Blanket was a practical resource. These coats were fashioned at a time when there was a scarcity of disposable income and products needed to be both practical and long-lasting.
Q: How was the HBC brand identified in this print advertisement?
A National Brand
HBC's trading history began in the area around Hudson Bay and grew westward. It opened large department stores in the western provinces. In 1960, the Company purchased Morgan's, a retail chain with stores in Quebec and Ontario. Under HBC ownership the stores continued to operate using the Morgan’s name.
HBC decided a national brand identity was important for the Company. In 1964, HBC employed consultants in New York to develop a new store logo, which it launched the following year. There were both English and French versions of the same logo to address the bilingual nature of Canada. Stores across Canada, including most of the Morgan’s stores, were rebranded as "the Bay" or "la Baie." The last Morgan’s stores became Bay stores in 1972.
Q: Why was it important that HBC had national brand recognition?
Shopping Malls and Anchor Stores
The first Canadian shopping centre, Park Royal in West Vancouver, opened in 1950. Many other shopping centres or malls were built across the country as more people began to buy homes in suburbs outside towns and cities and retailers opened new locations near the customers.
This 1991 photo is of the Rockland Mall in Montreal, Quebec. Malls were surrounded by large parking lots, as most people had to drive to get to them.
Larger malls typically have two anchor stores, one at each end, that are major forces in the retail business. These stores draw customers into the shopping centre and benefit the smaller stores located between the anchor stores.
The largest enclosed mall in Canada is West Edmonton Mall with over 5.3 million square feet (492,000 square metres) of retail space, an indoor water park including a wave pool, an arena, an amusement park and other facilities. In 1993, HBC bought Woodward's Stores Limited a department store chain and for a time had two anchor stores in West Edmonton Mall.
Q: How does being an anchor store affect a company’s branding position?
This print advertisement appeared in 2002 in support of Canada's athletes at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England. The coloured stripes of the Point Blanket are featured as part of brand identification. Support of Canada's athletes remains a priority. In 2005 HBC entered an agreement with the Canadian Olympic Committee to become a Premier National Partner.
This print advertisement also provides a snapshot of HBC’s direction in 2002. Under the new Bay logo were the four logos representing Bay stores, Zellers, Home Outfitters and HBC.COM.
HBC tag lines for its three retail outlets, or banners, communicate to the different target markets of the HBC brand.
- the Bay: "The style and brands I want at prices I can afford"
- Zellers: "Today’s looks and National Brands for less everyday"
- Home Outfitters: "The only place to go for solutions to all your home decorating projects, problems and possibilities at the price you want to pay"
HBC.COM was launched in 2000 as a number of companies began to use the Internet as another means of selling. In 2001, HBC created HBC Rewards, a customer loyalty program that united all their banners.
Q: Why would HBC have different banners with different target markets under their brand?
A New Company Image - A New Direction
The HBC Coat of Arms had changed a number of times over the years. The 2002 Coat of Arms was significantly different as it was the first coat of arms that didn’t display the motto "PRO PELLE CUTEM". The motto was replaced by the text "CANADA'S MERCHANTS SINCE 1670." It was modern looking with less detail than past coats of arms. The coats of arms was reserved for a few historic products and internal corporate communications In 2003, following nationwide consumer research, a new logo shaped like a shopping bag became the most commonly displayed Company symbol for brand recognition.
In 2006, the logo was updated again, this time the handle of the shopping bag was removed and the Point Blanket coloured stripes were added.
In 2009, the Point Blanket stripes were added to an updated coat of arms, a year after HBC was purchased by the American company National Realty and Development Corporation (NRDC) Equity Partners. NRDC also owned Lord & Taylor, an American fashion chain.
Q: How do you think this significant change in logo design affected HBC’s branding?
A New “Old” Logo
In 2011, HBC sold the leases of its Zellers stores to Target from the United States, effectively moving out of the lower end retail market. In 2013, HBC purchased Saks Fifth Avenue, an American luxury retailer.
In 2012, the Company introduced a new logo. The arrangement of the letters HBC now mimics the letters on the Company flag going back to the 17th century. As well, store names were changed from “the Bay” to "Hudson's Bay" and the words "Hudson's Bay Company" were prominent on all stores and in the new logo.
The coat of arms was updated in 2013, moving back to a black and white more traditional format with the company motto "PRO PELLE CUTEM" once again incorporated into the image.
Q: How does HBC’s decision to use the full name "Hudson's Bay Company" on both their store signs and logo reflect their branding strategy?
- HBC Flag
- A Standard of Trade
- The Coat of Arms
- The Point Blanket
- Transition to Retail
- A New Age of Retail