BUSINESS

Simons Expansion Will See Storied Quebec Retailer Open Shop In Ontario, B.C., Alberta

11/25/2014 06:00 EST | Updated 01/25/2015 05:59 EST
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TORONTO - After 175 years, Quebec-based Simons is primed to make a major expansion push beyond the province with stores in five new cities across Canada.

The family-owned company will launch in Vancouver, Calgary, Mississauga, Ont., Ottawa and Gatineau, Que., beginning next year and into 2017. With the exception of West Edmonton Mall, the eight other existing Simons stores are based solely in Quebec.

"We had a vision of what we wanted to accomplish and be able to do in terms of design and innovation in retail, and I felt that we had to enlarge," CEO Peter Simons said in a phone interview.

"We'll still be a very small company in the context of competition today, but we had to expand our footprint a bit to give us the freedom and flexibility to accomplish what we wanted to do."

Simons didn't offer specifics on the number of people they plan to employ, but reasserted the company's commitment to quality service.

"We understand you have to have people there. So I can tell you the density of service per square foot is way more intense than any other store our size in the country."

The new stores will range from 80,000 to 113,000 square feet and will be built within both new and existing structures.

The first location is set to launch at Les Promenades Gatineau in Quebec next August, followed in October 2015 by the opening at Park Royal in West Vancouver. In 2016, Simons stores will open at Square One in Mississauga in March and Ottawa's Rideau Centre in August. Simons is slated to open at The Core in Calgary in March 2017.

John Simons originally founded the company as a dry goods store in Quebec City in 1840. Brothers Peter and Richard Simons are now at the helm. Simons has more than 2,000 employees and offers an extensive range of apparel from moderately priced separates to higher-end offerings from a stable of homegrown and international designers.

The retailer also has sub-departments spanning the spectrum of sartorial tastes. On the women's side, there's the youthful, style-forward Twik, Icone for the young professional urbanite and classic elegance from Contemporaine. Menswear offerings include chic eveningwear in Le 31, and trendy streetwear in DJAB.

Accessories, leisurewear and a vast array of products for home are also carried, but Peter Simons eschewed the "department store" label.

"We're unique," he said. "I don't do cosmetics. I don't do hard goods and washers and dryers. I'm not a department store. I'm a large-scale specialty retailer."

Simons said customers are savvy in how they pair fast-fashion pieces with pricier garments, and that the breadth of items available at his stores correlates to existing consumer habits.

"You can mix up a Dries Van Noten jacket if you want with a basic T-shirt," he said. "That's how people are shopping, and at some of the pure private label players that are coming in from overseas, you can't do that.

"I like that about our assortment. I think it's very customer-centric, and even if you don't buy the higher-end pieces, there's a whole educational value and fashion interest. It's about creativity and beauty and expression and stylism."

Despite its lengthy history, Simons said the transition from regional player to the national stage marked a big change. He was also candid in acknowledging the retailer still remains unknown in much of the country.

"After 175 years, people really understand our exclusive merchandise and appreciate the value and quality that's there. And in new markets where people don't really know us, there's a discovery process that has to go on that just doesn't fall from the sky."

Simons is joining an increasingly crowded field of retail players expanding within Canada.

Holt Renfrew recently launched its first stand-alone store for men, with plans to update flagship stores in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto and to unveil new stores in Montreal and Mississauga.

American companies are also clamouring for a slice of the Canadian retail pie with the anticipated launch of the first two Saks Fifth Avenue stores north of the border in the spring of 2016. Seattle-based Nordstrom Inc. has already opened its first Canadian location in Calgary, with new stores in Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto in the works.

Simons said the company will be "globally competitive in all of the core things" and expressed pride in being a homegrown brand at a time when many competitors are headquartered outside of Canada. He pointed to Simons' support of the arts community — which includes showcasing works by homegrown talents — among the retailer's distinguishing characteristics.

"We're part of the fabric here. We want to participate in the community," said Simons.

"We're not owned by Wall Street; we're not being driven by the next quarter. And when your name's on the door, it makes a difference."

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