Quebec-based La Maison Simons’ venture outside the province to open an outlet two years back in West Edmonton Mall, was the 175-year-old department-store chain’s first foray outside homebase.
Apart from this there are eight other Simons’ stores in home province Quebec.
This was only the beginning of an ambitious expansion plan. Four more outlets will be cropping up outside Quebec, with a fifth one set to open in Gatineau, across from Ottawa. Its total combined retail area will cover around 485,000 ft2.
Beginning in August 2015 with the opening of the one at Les Promenades Gatineau, the store at West Vancouver’s Park Royal Shopping Centre follows in October, trailed in March 2016 by Mississasuga’s Square One, then August 2016’s Rideau Centre in Ottawa, and finally Calgary’s The Core in March 2017.
The stores have been planned with the latest fitting rooms featuring social-media-connected screens, while architect Philip Beasley has created a lighting display called Aurora that undulates, giving customers an impression of the Northern Lights.
Though almost unknown in many parts of Canada, La Maison Simons has been one of the largest knitwear importers for decades.
"Our DNA was really in importing. My great-great-grandfather sailed across the Atlantic for buying – two weeks there and then back. He crossed the ocean 72 times," declared Simons, who nowadays travels in similar style, only difference being that he earns frequent-flier points.
"Our goal," Simons says, "is to stay private for as long as we can and continue expanding until the company has 20 stores across Canada (including at least one in downtown Toronto)," although he admits that "it was a very different business when my brother and I started – we were doing $12-million a year." (As per estimates, that figure was around $300-million in 2012.)
The second store, begun in 1961 by their father Donald Simons, in an affluent suburb of Quebec City called Place Ste-Foy. Renovated and expanded to twice the size in 2009, the store envelopes a massive 100,000 ft2.
More than a department store, Simons is a retailer of home décor and fashion. Its own brands comprise semi-fitted, fitted and regular silhouettes, catering to different tastes, body types and budgets.
Referring to the newly planned stores, Simons said: "We aren’t going to localize our assortments – with a store our size, it’s like a menu. We have a really complex assortment and it relates to the way people buy and what they want because they are very diversified and sophisticated today – they know how to put together the $20 T-shirt with a $1,000 jacket. They are shopping that way, with very variable needs. Our assortment allows us to service multiple markets like that."
The original Simons’ outlet located in Upper Town has expanded by annexing the adjacent former Empire cinema, an original Birks shop and one more business. The exterior portion still retains the old theatre’s Art Deco façade, while the inside look is more up to date with a catwalk and backlit walls.
Simons adds: "Forget the next two years of new stores. We’re 175 years old – we don’t think in two-year increments. We’re thinking in 50-year increments."
Each new store will be constructed within existing and new strutctures and cover between 80,000 and 113,000 ft2.
Originally started as a dry goods store by John Simons in 1840, in Quebec City, the company now has more than 2,000 employees. Simons boasts a vast display of clothing designed by international as well as domestic players.
With Americans also eyeing the Canadian retail sector, Nordstrom Inc. of Seattle has already unveiled a store in Calgary, with plans to open stores in Ottawa, Vancouver and Toronto. Spring of 2016 is anticipating the launch of Saks Fifth Avenue’s first two stores.
"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."