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May 30, 2018

Indigo won’t be ‘another retailer selling books’ when it expands to the U.S.: CEO

Indigo won’t be ‘another retailer selling books’ when it expands to the U.S.: CEO

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The chief executive of Indigo Books & Music Inc.(IDG.TO) says the company's foray into the U.S. won’t be about “another retailer selling books.”

"We are going to test one or two [stores] and we’ll see," Heather Reisman told BNN Bloomberg’s Amanda Lang in an interview, when asked about the retailer's expansion plans. "I’m as respectful of the challenge as anybody could ever be.”

“People are saying they like a physical platform where they can come for an hour to drop out, sort of unplug, to bring their kids, to get inspired. They care about that. And our offering – the actual things we sell – can intersect with that,” Reisman said.

“That’s the idea that we are going to test – not whether someone needs another retailer selling books. It’s the combination of the product and the experience.”

Canada’s largest book and gift retailer plans to open its first store south of the border in late August or early September, Reisman said.

The company first announced the expansion plan in November 2017 and said the first U.S. store would open in the Mall of Short Hills in New Jersey.

While Reisman acknowledged bringing her “cultural department store” concept to the U.S. will be challenging as book retailers continue to fold outside of Canada, she believes there’s going to be “an increasing demand” for people to “spend time in the physical world.”

Indigo will face stiff competition in a U.S. market that is dominated by online companies such as Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, which, as of Jan. 27, operated 630 stores across the country.  

But what Reisman said is the “biggest thing” on her mind “all the time” is the value Indigo provides to its customers.

"In other words, if they’re not interacting with you constantly, you’re going to be forgotten," she said.

"I don’t worry about day-to-day economics, I worry about the economics of the business and about being of value to our customers so that they spend real time with us," she added. "That’s what I care about.”

Indigo missed analyst expectations in its latest earnings release Tuesday, but reported that net income was $21.8 million in the year ending March 31, up from $20.9 million a year earlier.

The company said its increase in revenue was driven by continued double-digit growth in general merchandise, while book sales declined slightly compared to a year earlier.

Indigo also said profits were hit by the minimum wage hike in Ontario and higher fixed costs from expanded distribution centres in Ontario and Alberta.

The first Indigo location opened in Burlington, Ont. in 1997 and the company now employs over 6,500 people.  Indigo had 89 stores under the Chapters and Indigo banners as of July 1, 2017. It also owns 122 small-format stores that operate under the names Coles, Indigospirit, SmithBooks and The Book Company.

“I’m proud of what Indigo has accomplished,” Reisman said. “And I also believe, and I’ve always believed, that it is about the larger self of who we are –  I really do.”

-With files from the Canadian Press