TORONTO — As Boutique La Vie en Rose marks its 30th anniversary, the lingerie and swimwear brand has many successes to celebrate at a time when Canada's retail sector has faced significant struggles.
The company inked a deal in March to buy fellow Quebec-based brand Bikini Village. La Vie en Rose planned to keep the insolvent swimwear chain's 48 stores open in Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia with an eye toward expansion across Canada and overseas, while closing four outlet locations in Quebec.
The Montreal-based retailer has already bolstered its global presence with the recent launch of its first La Vie en Rose location in Panama, and discussions to open in India, Indonesia and Nigeria.
This week, the company launched its "Celebrating women for 30 years" capsule collection. Featuring a striking colour combination of black and blue, the anniversary line has sleek lingerie styles showcasing lace, mesh and lace-up details. Additional looks will be available in September.
Despite its triumphs, La Vie en Rose hasn't been entirely immune from economic pressures, particularly in the face of the nosediving loonie.
"It's a challenge, and I'm sure it's going to be the cherry on the top of the challenge for retailers in Canada," president and CEO Francois Roberge said in a recent phone interview.
"Now we're going to need to change the retail price. For example, maybe instead of selling PJs for Christmas at $24, we're going to put (them) on the market at $29.
"We have no choice. It's about a question of survival."
Canada has seen a growing vacuum in the retail landscape with the departure of U.S. discount giant Target and the closures of Mexx, Boutique Jacob and Smart Set.
Roberge said many Canadian retailers that have folded or are struggling are failing to integrate e-commerce into their business models.
His company has amassed around $5 million in online purchases this year, with e-commerce accounting for three per cent of sales. His goal is to increase that figure to 10 per cent in 2019.
"It's very important to open your mind and to just think of the way that you can turn your stock. That's why the web is part of that strategy."
La Vie en Rose had 23 stores when Roberge acquired the company two decades ago. It currently has 176 locations in Canada operating under its banners La Vie en Rose, La Vie en Rose Aqua and La Vie en Rose Outlet, and 95 stores in 18 countries.
Roberge said a key to the retailer's transformation involved developing its own brand and shifting away from selling the same labels offered by department stores.
The company also decided to import directly from China to control costs, and to increase competitiveness with one-time leader La Senza by launching stores in Ontario and Quebec.
Roberge admitted he was nervous when U.S. lingerie brand Victoria's Secret entered the Canadian market five years ago. But as the presence of the popular competitor drove traffic to stores, Roberge said La Vie en Rose also saw a trickle-down boost to its business.
When Victoria's Secret opened its inaugural Canadian location at West Edmonton Mall in 2010, the La Vie en Rose store at the mall saw a 20 per cent sales spike, he said.
Roberge said he's also seen an evolution in customer habits, with clients making seasonal purchases and buying more colourful separates, spurring their transition from strictly basics to a "fashion business."
Still, he doesn't discount the value of staples, noting that 50 per cent of bra sales are basics, with 14 styles of black, beige and white carried year-round.
"Of course, when you have a special occasion you're going to buy something special — garter belt, lace. But if you're working every day, you need a bra every day."
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