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JD Sports Canada in hiring boom, opens Vancouver head office

Footwear, fashion company rapidly expanding two of its three store banners
JD Sports Canada CEO Gary Ochi plans to rapidly hire more than 300 workers by year-end, and build his staff count to more than 1,000 people

The fast-growing Canadian arm of global footwear and fashion retailing giant JD Sports (LSE:JD) is set to open a new headquarters in Vancouver next week.

The 12,000-sq.-ft. space on the fifth floor of 22 East 5th Ave. in Mount Pleasant is set to have 140 workstations, with about 65 filled on Day 1.

The company will keep its 6,000-sq.-ft. office in Toronto, but JD Sports Canada CEO Gary Ochi told BIV that the Vancouver office will be the company's headquarters because it is larger, and it is where he will be based.

Ochi plans to hire more than 300 people by the end of the year, bringing JD Sports Canada's workforce to more than 1,000.

"A large focus will be on career-oriented people to be hired into the Vancouver office," he said.

"Everything from property, accounting, human resources, buying, planning, marketing – basically every single part of the company will be there."

About half of his staff have hybrid work schedules and come into the office three times a week, while the rest come to the office daily, he said.

His efforts to hire workers has so far been a challenge, he said. He has used recruitment agencies as well as internal staff who search for potential employees on social media sites such as LinkedIn.

Ochi said he chose the office location at West 5th Avenue and Quebec Street in part because it is convenient. The office is within walking distance of the Expo Line and Canada Line SkyTrain stations, and will be within walking distance of the future Broadway Line.

"There are lots of good food nearby," he said. "There are lots of good after-hours things to do. There are parks."

He said real-estate prices were not a determining factor, although Colliers International's most recent office report notes that comparable office space tends to be more expensive downtown than in the Broadway corridor and other Vancouver neighbourhoods.

Plenty of retail expansion in store

Vancouver-born Ochi oversees three store banners under the JD Sports Canada umbrella: JD Sports, Size and Livestock.

He plans to open 13 new JD Sports-branded stores by the end of the year, bringing that banner's Canada-wide store count to 23.

The only Lower Mainland JD Sports store now is at Surrey's Guildford Town Centre, although one is set to open at Richmond Centre in May, Ochi said.

"Our first Canadian flagship store will open in Vancouver, in the first quarter of 2024," he said.

JD Sports-branded stores tend to be around 8,000-square-feet in size, with flagship stores likely to be 13,000 square feet, he said.

The Vancouver flagship store might be on Robson Street, but Ochi said that he may also consider West 4th Avenue or other streets. No lease has yet been signed.

Retail Insider Media owner Craig Patterson told BIV that JD Sports might think about opening a future flagship store in space at Pacific Centre that is set to be vacant in June, when Nordstrom leaves.

He anticipates landlord Cadillac Fairview chopping up the space into smaller footprints, some perhaps small enough to entice JD Sports.

While most JD Sports stores are in malls, Ochi said he wants his flagship stores to be on streets. It remains possible, however, that some Nordstrom space could be rebuilt to include street entrances as well as mall entrances.

As for the JD Sports' Size store banner, another two locations may open by the end of the year, for a total of four outlets, Ochi said.

The company's Livestock store banner has five locations, including a brand-new store in Montreal, two stores in Toronto, one store in Winnipeg and the original location in Vancouver's Chinatown, which Ochi opened in 2004, when he owned that brand. He sold what was a four-store Livestock retail banner to JD Sports in 2019 for an undisclosed sum, he said.

Ochi said no new Livestock stores are planned because he believes the banner would lose its character if there were too many stores.

The three brands differ partly in their retail footprint sizes, given that Size and Livestock stores tend to be smaller than JD Sports-branded ones.

They also differ in their product mixes, with each having distinctive items.

All of the brands carry sportswear brands from Nike Inc. (NYSE:NKE), Adidas AG (FRA:AG) and VF Corp.'s (NYSE:VFC) The North Face.

The Size retail banner's revenue comes about 70 per cent from footwear, with the rest from fashion and accessories. Livestock's product mix is about 55 per cent footwear, with the rest fashion. JD Sports' revenue comes about 50 per cent from footwear, with about 45 per cent coming from fashion and five per cent from accessories, he said.

"JD Sports is much more into athleisure," he said. "It would carry fleece sets, it would be the nylon puffer jacket called the Nuptse from The North Face. Livestock would definitely much more be pushing boundaries on fashion."

Another point of difference could be partnerships.

JD Sports-branded stores might partner with large brands to create products that are exclusively sold at its stores.

Livestock, in contrast, might carry a special Nike-created product that was done completely at Nike's initiative, but which would be sold exclusively at Livestock stores, Ochi said.

Size has sold distinctive products, such as one that was part of a Tiffany-Nike collaboration, Ochi said.

JD Sports’ name comes from its founders, John Wardle and David Makin, who opened a store in Manchester, England in 1981. The privately owned global company Pentland Group owns about 55 per cent of the company's shares.

China's does not own any shares in the company even though it carries the same initials, Ochi said.

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