A total of 27 locations in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Ottawa have received the overhaul - dubbed a “Mark’s Over” – which includes new signage, merchandise and slogan. The revamped stores have the customer experience in mind, with fewer fixtures and wider aisles. There’s also something completely different that might surprise long-time patrons – fashionable women’s wear that’s designed for the office, not construction sites.
Phil Swinn, a Winnipeg-based district manager for Mark’s, says the fairer sex was a big driver behind the rebranding.
“A large part of our business has been work apparel, now a large part of the store is fashion. Part of Mark’s Work Wearhouse is it’s a warehouse. If you look in our ladies wear, it’s more fashionable than it’s been before. We have casual, business casual, dresses and jeans. Having ‘Work Wearhouse’ (in the name) had a tendency to stop some of the ladies from shopping here. Now it’s more shoppable. It’s more inviting and more comfortable,” he says.
The store’s tagline has changed to reflect the change, too. It’s phasing out “Clothes That Work,” for “Smart Clothes” (although “Clothes That Work” is still on its otherwise rebranded homepage). The new single-named Mark’s moniker has been on company flyers and in-store marketing materials for several months. Assuming the customer reaction continues to be positive, the program will be rolled out across the rest of its more than 370 outlets nationwide.
Robert Warren, a marketing professor at the I.H. Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba, says the rebranding is a “great” move given that the company has been steadily moving into the casual and women’s market over the past couple of years.
“The name change is a natural evolution that reflects the products offered. The women's and casual markets are also larger and more lucrative than the work wear market,” he says.
But it’s not going to be all days of wine and roses for Mark’s either. Warren says the work wear market has attracted new competitors with a more extensive product offering in recent years but with a smaller store format.
“Mark's with its larger stores needs more products to generate the necessary revenues and financial returns,” he says.
Mark’s Work Wearhouse started out with a single location in Calgary back in 1977. Today, it’s owned by the Canadian Tire Company, best known for the iconic Canadian Tire retail brand, which sells automotive supplies and general merchandise across an extensive national network.
The rebranding comes as Mark’s has reconfirmed its commitment to innovation, too. It has installed a winter simulator chamber, dubbed "Below Zero" in the middle of its flagship store in all three rebranded cities. About the size of a change room, its two high-speed fans can recreate bone-chilling temperatures of -50 C, the kind only seen during a handful of days each winter, enabling customers to “test drive” Mark’s winter wear without having to go outside or while the weather is still good.
Swinn says Below Zero was introduced with its “T-max” brand in mind. Its jackets, boots, gloves and mitts are made with its own thermal insulation, which is specially designed to retain heat. It enables Mark’s to produce far thinner garments than one would expect for winter and the hope is that by trying them out in the chamber first, customers will be far more likely to believe they’ll be warm enough in the real world.
“Everybody wants to test things out before you buy them. If you’re buying a new car, you take it for a test drive. This is the same concept. You’re able to try it on and find out it’s going to keep you warm enough. You don’t have to buy a big, heavy down coat (anymore),” he says.
The simulators will soon be adapted to include ice-like conditions on the floors so customers can try out Mark’s winter boots, too.
Despite the rebranding and focus on the female market, Mark’s has made it clear it isn’t going to turn its back on its traditional customers. That’s a good thing, too, because they still represent the store’s biggest growth area. Sales of Mark’s industrial wear grew by 11.4 per cent during the second quarter of 2010. Women’s wear, by comparison, inched up by just 1.1 per cent.
Its reskinned website, meanwhile, plays up values it clearly feels are part of its DNA — innovation and ethical sourcing and customer recognition— that clothe the spirit as much as the body.