General Robert E. Wood the legendary Chairman of Sears Roebuck, Co., Chicago, sent a letter to Edgar G. Burton, President of the Robert Simpson company of Toronto to propose a partnership between their two companies in order to serve the Canadian market. The deal to create Simpsons-Sears was signed on September 18th, 1952 and the terms were indeed 50-50. Each Company put up $20,000,000 and both shared equal representation on the new Company's Board of Directors.
The new Company was to have two main objectives. The first was to expand Simpsons' existing mail order business, which was sold to the new Company. The second goal was to build a string of stores modelled on Sears, Roebuck's format right across the country.
The agreement also contained a provision that would prove to be a major bone of contention in the coming years. Under its terms, Simpsons-Sears could not open a retail store within 25 miles of Simpson's existing stores in Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Regina and London. In return, Simpson's promised not to build any stores outside of those five cities. Simpsons-Sears mail order business, however, was free to operate anywhere in Canada and so was the new Simpsons-Sears Acceptance Company, the credit arm of the operation.
The first Simpsons-Sears Spring/Summer Catalogue rolled off the presses of Photo-Engravers and Electrotypers, Ltd. and into 300,000 Canadian homes in early 1953. Thus began the business operations of Simpsons-Sears.
Later in the year, on Thursday, September 17th, 1953 at 9:15 a.m. to be precise, the first Simpsons-Sears retail store opened in Stratford, Ontario. The second Simpsons-Sears store was opened in Kamloops, B.C. in December. These two small stores would prove to be the forerunners of a powerful chain that would eventually link from coast to coast.
On May 5th the Company opened its first full-line retail store in British Columbia in Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver. Opening day was an unqualified success. This store would serve as the prototype for future large format 'A' stores in Canada.
On November 17th the second 'A' store would open in Hamilton, Ontario's, Greater Hamilton Shopping Centre, later known as Centre Mall. The site of this new shopping centre, known to be the largest of its kind in North America, had been the site of the city's old Jockey Club Race Track.
Smaller 'B' stores sprouted up in Nanaimo, British Columbia; Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan; Peterborough, Sarnia, and Guelph in Ontario. 'D' stores opened in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and Truro, Nova Scotia, bringing this smallest format store count to four which also included Stratford and Kamloops.
1954 was also a critical year in the growth of the mail order business. The old Simpson's catalogue business had been transformed. The new Simpsons-Sears catalogues were bigger and brighter. Circulation was increased. A new West Coast Catalogue Order Centre was opened in Vancouver and the Catalogue Order Centres in Regina, Toronto, and Halifax were enlarged. As well, all the Fashion Buying operations were moved from Toronto to Montreal, the fashion capital of Canada.
Retail expansion continued at an impressive pace with the opening of an 'A' store in Ottawa's Carlingwood Shopping Centre, 'B' stores in Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay) and in Saint John. 'D' stores opened in Moncton, New Brunswick, Belleville, North Bay, Sudbury, Ontario, Portage La Prairie, Manitoba and Trail, British Columbia.
The new company was facing stiff competition in mail order from the rival T. Eaton Company of Toronto. Simpsons-Sears competitive counterattack was launched on several fronts. Prices were cut dramatically and renewed emphasis was placed on customer service. "We Service What We Sell, Coast to Coast" proved to be a powerful slogan and it was backed up by a highly trained corps of service technicians.
The Simpsons-Sears Revolving Charge Account, which was offered from the beginning in 1953, was proving to be very popular with customers. It meant they didn?t have to pay carrying charges if they paid for their goods within 30 days. In fact, the account proved to be so successful that it became a case of the teacher learning from the student when it was later copied and adopted by Sears, Roebuck in 1955.
But despite these innovations and successes the Company reported an operating loss of $2,445,351 for 1955.
1956 saw a leadership change at Simpsons-Sears. Edgar Burton rose to the position of Chairman of the Board and Gordon Graham was elevated to President. It would be on their watch that the tide would turn. New stores continued to roll out across the country and another 11 were added in 1956. But it was in the mail order department where things were really heating up.
The Company's mail order department was now an extremely efficient operation and was quick to pioneer new techniques. The Toronto plant was the first to install a mechanized system for filling and shipping orders. A network of conveyor belts and chutes moved items around and a new closed-circuit television system kept the whole system under a watchful eye to keep things moving. The operation was incredibly responsive. From the time an order came in either over the teletype or by mail, it took only 20 minutes before it was ready for shipping. The careful planning and the hard work were paying off. After two years of losses, the Company reported earnings of $2,500,000 for 1956.
1956 was the peak year for the opening of 'D' stores. There were 10 in all: St. John's, Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Fredericton, Rouyn, Val d'Or, Quebec, Kapuskasing, Kirkland Lake, Sault Ste. Marie, Timmins, Ontario and Kelowna. Kingston was the site of a brand new 'B' store.
Stores continued to be built.
In September, an 'A' store opened at Edmonton's Park Plaza which changed its location to Kingsway in September 1976. As well, three more 'D' stores were added in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, Sherbrooke, Quebec and Edmundston, New Brunswick.