In September, Brett Halliday, longtime head of Michael Hill’s Canadian division, was appointed overall head of North America. He spoke to JCK shortly after his appointment.
Would you say Michael Hill’s results in the United States have been disappointing?
Certainly, we would have expected to have had more than 10 stores after this length of time. But then again, we have been in Canada now 14 years, and it’s probably been the last four years that we really turned up. It wasn’t until we reached 35 stores that we really started to make some headway from a marketing point of view. From 35 to now 70, our profits went from $1 million to $10 million last year.
Signet is the dominant jeweler in the United States, especially in malls. How do you expect to compete with it?
Signet now operates the Peoples chain in Canada. When I arrived, they were the jeweler in Canada. There were a couple of smaller players, like Ben Moss, which just went out of business. So we came here with no stores, and we went head-to-head with Peoples and came out on top. They still have more stores, but our stores’ volume on average is in excess of theirs. In a difficult market, we are the only jeweler that is expanding.
I expect the same thing [in the United States]. It might take a number of years. It is a matter of picking off the right markets and picking off what we do well.
Does Michael Hill still see a 400-store chain in the States?
We’ll see. We could have 10 clusters of 20 stores. Let’s get to 20 first, and then we’ll get to 200.…
We have slugged it out for a number of years in the U.S. I’m sure people don’t think we are making any traction and losing money, and the word on the street is that it is just a matter of time until we pack up and go home. We are not going anywhere. I can tell you the board and the rest of the organization are so excited about this new opportunity. We see nothing but positives.