When the going gets tough, the tough get going — and, after two tumultuous years, Swimco has arisen as an online business.
It had been a super successful story since Corinne Forseth started the company 47 years ago, but the pandemic hit the swimwear specialty retailer hard.
The company was founded after her daughter, Lori, struggled to find the right swimsuit to join her teammates on the Barracuda Swim Club. Forseth connected with a number of mail-order firms until she found the right swimwear for the Barracudas and, offering to help swim programs across Western Canada, Swimco was born in 1975.
After university, now Lori Bacon joined the family-run business in 1980 and it’s been her only job ever since.
Helped by her brother, Steve Forseth, and husband, Dave Bacon, she grew the business into a major supplier of a wide selection of quality swimwear and beachwear. Earning a reputation for incredible customer service thanks to a highly trained staff, it opened retail stores from Vancouver Island to Ontario.
Pre-COVID-19 that number had climbed to 25 premiere destination retail stores with a staff count of 250.
Then, COVID-related travel restrictions and changes to health regulations meant people stopped planning vacations to warmer climes and sales dropped off dramatically.
Dave Bacon says it became challenging to pay the rents in triple-A malls that had virtually no traffic. Summer saw sporadic sales and with almost all travel to warm-weather destinations curtailed, the result was to close stores and the difficult economic conditions ended in bankruptcy.
The Bacons went through a trying time talking to customers, staff, landlords and suppliers, but — down but not out — their credit rating was good and suppliers were understanding, enabling them to buy the assets out of receivership and open a strictly online business by December 2020.
Dave found a vacant warehouse on Burbank Road S.E. behind the Blackfoot Inn and hired a team of 10 to handle promotion, orders and fulfilment, as well as serve local customers who still wanted to choose and try on clothing in-person.
Sales across the country improved and Swimco opened a pop-up store for eight weeks last summer in Willow Park Village, vacated when Lammle’s Western Wear relocated. Customers were happy to be able to drive right up to the doors.
He says the experience proved to be successful and he now plans more pop-up stores in other locations across the West, not subject to megamall restricted compliances. They also allow for Swimco’s own stamp on telling its story and offerings via radio and newspaper advertising, rather than relying on a shopping centre’s overall campaigns.
The business is still quite seasonal, as is the cycle of buying, but thanks to its brand equity, earned reputation over so many years in business and enjoying a national online presence, sales have steadily improved, and $2 million of quality inventory is constantly on the move from its Calgary warehouse — making people “Feel Good Half Naked.”
• Canadian Western Bank has announced it will be the anchor tenant in ICE District’s last available tower that overlooks the ICE Plaza in Edmonton. The bank has retained Calgary-based Dialog as architect and Reinbold Engineering to work on the project — construction of the new tower is underway with tenant occupancy expected in 2025. “This investment comes on the heels of our continued expansion across Canada, particularly in Ontario, and positions us well for the future of work,” says Chris Fowler, CEO of the bank that was founded by local entrepreneurs 38 years ago.
• The Dorian, Autograph Collection and Courtyard Calgary Downtown, Calgary’s newest premium lifestyle hotel, is getting closer to opening and is now accepting reservations for this fall. A project of Concord Hospitality Enterprises, it has also announced the appointment of Kevin D. Birch as executive chef overseeing the hotels’ three culinary experiences — Prologue, Bistro Novelle and The Wilde, a fine-dining restaurant on the hotel’s 27th floor.
David Parker appears regularly in the Herald. Read his columns online at calgaryherald.com/business. He can be reached at 403-830-4622 or by email at email@example.com.
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