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HBC working to get logo wear to local retailers

Intrawest only Whistler company to sell Olympic merchandise

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McCoo’s owner Jeff Coombs isn’t holding his breath that he’ll be selling Olympic logo wear in his stores before and during the Torino Games.

"I think for this go around, for the Torino Olympics that will happen in early February, it does not look good for independent Whistler retailers to be able to get their hands on those goods," said Coombs from his store this week. "But we very much look forward to the opportunity in the future."

For now, Intrawest is the only company in town with a contract to sell a limited amount of the Canadian team replica merchandise leading up to the Torino Games.

But the Hudson’s Bay Company, which has the exclusive deal to make and sell the Olympic clothing line, is scrambling to provide more opportunities for smaller retailers in the resort over the next few weeks.

Hbc and Vancouver Organizing Committee representatives were in Whistler late last week to meet with selected independent retailers, including Coombs.

"I think just getting started with the process is an excellent opportunity," said Coombs, after the meeting.

Jim Reed, a special consultant to Hbc and its Olympic strategy, said the company is working hard to get local retailers involved.

The situation, however, is complicated by the very tight timeframes The Bay has been working with as well as the fact there is a limited supply of the clothing line.

"We do have limitations in terms of the Canadian replica merchandise just because of the quantities and the timeframe that we’ve had to work from in terms of preparing for Torino," said Reed from Toronto. "But we’re doing an inventory analysis right now and we hope to indicate next week what may be able to be made available to other retailers in Whistler."

So while there may be some missed opportunities in the short-term, there is also a longer-term vision that all stakeholders are working on.

"We have established a relationship with Intrawest and that goes back to discussions we had some time ago," said Reed.

"We certainly think in the long term there will be quite a broad base of opportunity available and we’ll be sitting down with VANOC to determine the best approach to do that, so it’s the most equitable and transparent way of doing it."

This is a whole new way of doing business for the Canadian retail giant.

The company is not in the wholesale business but Whistler is in a unique position. It is a host city for the 2010 Games but it does not have a Bay outlet from which to buy the Olympic clothes.

Reed admits that a best-case scenario would have seen Whistler retailers have the logo wear four or five months before Christmas. But the timeframes were just too prohibitive.

"It’s been both exciting and agonizing in just getting the team uniform ready and then launching the merchandise," he said. "We’ve done it all in less than a year."

Greg Newton, chair of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce Business Readiness Committee, said a bulletin would be sent to Chamber members later this week to gauge the interest from other Whistler retailers in selling the Olympic merchandise.

"I think we’re excited and appreciative of being able to be given the opportunity to bid on it rather than just giving it all to one major distributor in town," said Newton.

In the long term there are still many discussions and decisions ahead about the nature of the wholesale relationship between the Bay and Whistler retailers. It is yet to be determined how many retailers will get the distribution rights and how that will look on the ground.

But Coombs is ready to welcome the opportunity.

"We’re all very much looking forward to almost celebrating the fact that we’re showing off some Olympic spirit and maybe get the first feel of how it will take place four years from that date when it’s on our doorstep," he said.

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