A merchant and a gentleman: Few retailers have impacted our industry like Hudson’s Bay’s Tony Waldron.
Perhaps nothing says more about a man’s character than the respect of colleagues. For Tony Waldron, recently retired from Hudson’s Bay, the accolades are effusive. Says Wayne Drummond, to whom Waldron reported directly, “Tony is a legend in men’s apparel. I’ve had the great fortune of working alongside and learning from one of the most knowledgeable and professional merchants in the industry. Tony has shared more and taught me more through his quiet unassuming persistence to do what’s right for the customer.”
Les Minion, formerly of Hugo Boss, has worked with Waldron for many years. “I’ve known Tony forever: he’s a gracious and dignified gentleman but underneath that is an extremely competitive businessman. No one is more focused; no one accomplishes more. I’m sure the menswear industry will hear from him in the future.”
Let’s start with a little background. I started at Simpsons in Montréal as a sales associate in men’s furnishings (but only after first learning French, which was mandatory in order to be on the selling floor, and then completing my business studies at McGill University). Soon after, I was named buyer of contemporary clothing, then boutique better men’s. When The Bay took over Simpsons, I moved to Toronto to buy for all the West End shops.
How has business changed during your tenure? Montréal customers were always fashion savvy, but men today are less afraid of color and more into dressing up. Age is no longer a barrier: customers travel more and are more confident, more in tune with their inner selves and how they want to portray themselves. And younger customers today have more disposable income.
What were your best and worst buys ever? The best was handmade neckwear and cashmere sweaters from Italy a few years ago. The sweaters were in very bright colors: I was asked if I’d hit my head or had too much wine… But we had great checkouts! Similarly, we bought bright chinos two seasons ago for holiday with strong results. Menswear merchants are often afraid of color, but they shouldn’t be.
In retail you don’t survive 38 years if you make too many bad buys but yes, we all make mistakes, learn from them and move on. In one of my previous jobs, the hot item was Scooters and I went back to the well once too often…
What other lessons have you learned? Honesty, respect and integrity have helped me accomplish many goals and clear many hurdles. When you treat people the way you’d like to be treated, you’ll never go wrong.
Other lessons: accept change, have a plan of where you want to be in order to get there, buy what the customer wants (rather than your personal taste), understand the DNA of the brands you shop and go into vendor negotiations with all the facts. Retailers sometimes forget that the vendors are our partners; we both must make a profit to stay in business. What’s needed for a win-win attitude: patience, speaking up when the time is right to make your point, listening, reasoning things out and never giving up when you believe in something.
What are you most proud of? To have had the opportunity to elevate the West End shops in the Canadian marketplace. It was a pleasure bringing back some of our core customers and attracting new ones. I’m proud of the assortment we put in place season after season to meet the needs of Canadian consumers. I’m also proud of the relationships I’ve cultivated with the menswear industry in Europe and North America.
What’s your advice to vendors?
One of the best gifts vendors can give retailers is timely delivery. Vendors must work with retailers on forecasting A/R items and backing up inventory more closely. Another suggestion: vendors should visit their retail accounts to ensure that their product is differentiated from store to store. Bottom line: today’s consumers have many shopping options; vendors and retailers should be developing new items and strategizing together.
What are your retirement plans? At the moment, I look forward to spending more time with family (my wife Brunette, my son Wendell and his wife Melanie, and my grandchildren Braydon and Alsatia), and enjoying some travel time. I love this industry and have gained a good deal of knowledge that I’m willing to share, so I’ll probably consider some form of consulting. I’ve had a great time doing what I like best and making good friends in the process. I truly look forward to the next chapter.