Heather Reisman (Photo: Markian Lozowchuk)

Retail can be a cutthroat game. Success depends on relentless innovation, finely tuned competitive instincts and no shortage of clout (with suppliers, partners and media outlets). In Canada, an elite few have mastered this game, and they bear tremendous influence over what products land in front of what consumers, and when. Here are the five most powerful people in Canadian retail, as drawn from the 2014 Canadian Business Power 50 list. Read on to learn what makes them tick—and how you might learn from their successes.

1. Galen G. Weston

Serves as president of Loblaw Cos. Ltd.; commands a growing retail empire

Like all young scions, Galen G. Weston faced questions about whether he was ready for the job when he joined the family business at 34. Nearly 10 years later, he’s proven to be more than capable of running the country’s largest grocery-store chain. He’s even expanded his empire through the $12.4-billion acquisition of Shoppers Drug Mart, which closed this year. In a recent management shakeup, he assumed the role of president, meaning he will play a more hands-on role in the business. Weston has unparalleled influence over how we shop for groceries, pharmaceuticals and other household items. You can bet we’ll all be buying more President’s Choice products in the near future.

Read: 4 Game-Changing Retail Trends You Can’t Ignore

2. Alain Bouchard

Founded Alimentation Couche-Tard; could become the world’s convenience-store king

He’ll step down as Alimentation Couche-Tard’s president and CEO in September, but Alain Bouchard won’t be letting up. With more than 11,300 stores in North America, Europe, Asia and Latin America, and a current market capitalization of $16.8 billion, Bouchard (who’ll continue as executive chairman) is still looking to grow his convenience store empire. After his acquisition of Norway’s Statoil Fuel & Retail, Bouchard’s biggest deal yet, he’s looking to the U.S., where the landscape is mostly regional chains—all potential opportunities for the self-made Quebec billionaire.

3. Heather Reisman

Works as chair and CEO of Indigo Inc.; is reinventing retail

Her retail chain, Indigo, may be struggling, but don’t count Heather Reisman out. She’s repositioning it as the world’s first “cultural department store,” and has convinced megawatt brands like Apple and American Girl to sign on to her vision. If the plan works, she hopes to take the chain global. If it doesn’t, she’ll find other ways to make her mark on the world. As one of the backers of Fed Up, a documentary about our growing addiction to sweet, processed foods, she’s taken a stand on sugar (in her stores, she’s banned treats from the checkout aisle). And as a steering committee member for the ultra-elite Bilderberg conference for global leaders, she wields another sort of power. But you’ll never see it: You’re not invited.

Read: 5 Ways to Rev Up Retail Staff

4. Bonnie Brooks

Is vice-chair of Hudson’s Bay Company; knows what shoppers want

You quit shopping at dowdy Hudson’s Bay Company years ago, but now you’re back, snapping up A-list offerings from brands like Top Shop and the just-opened Kleinfeld Bridal boutique. That’s the magic of retailing turnaround artist Bonnie Brooks. In her new role of vice-chair, Hudson’s Bay Company, she’s now focusing on the company’s other holdings, which include Lord & Taylor and Saks. Watch for the magic to spread.

5. Marc Poulin

Serves as president & CEO of Empire Company Ltd.; is flexing retail muscle

Marc Poulin helped engineer parent company Empire’s headline-grabbing takeover of Safeway in 2013—just before he became the first non-family CEO in Sobeys’ history. Since then, he’s made his own big changes, shuttering 50 underperforming stores across the country and selling 30 more to meet Competition Bureau requirements for the Safeway deal. And he’s flexing his muscles with suppliers, asking for a one per cent price cut to meet cost-saving targets. When you’re the second-largest grocery chain in Canada, with $17.6 billion in annual sales, you can afford to call the shots.

Who do you think is missing from the list? Who shouldn’t be here? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

These profiles are from the 2014 Power 50 list, which appears in the September 2014 issue of Canadian Business. Subscribe now!

Click here to read about the 49 other most powerful people in Canadian business today.

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