Si­mons look­ing to defy re­tail in­dus­try woes with Cana­dian ex­pan­sion plans


One of Canada's old­est fam­i­ly­owned re­tail­ers is hop­ing to defy in­dus­try woes by launch­ing an ex­pan­sion that could ex­tend the Si­mons brand across Canada.

The 175-year-old com­pany based in Que­bec City will open its ninth Que­bec store in Gatineau next month be­fore en­ter­ing the Bri­tish Columbia and On­tario mar­kets and ex­pand­ing its pres­ence in Al­berta.

The fash­ion re­tailer is spend­ing up to $200 mil­lion over the next four years to open eight stores. It says the move is in­tended to boost its an­nual sales base of more than $350 mil­lion.

An out­let will open this fall in West Van­cou­ver, fol­lowed by open­ings next year in Mis­sis­sauga, Ont., and Ot­tawa. A sec­ond Ed­mon­ton store and a new one in Cal­gary will be added in 2017, and two more stores are ex­pected to open in the Toronto sub­urb of Scar­bor­ough in 2018 and at the York­dale Shop­ping Cen­tre in 2019.

At­lantic Canada, the Prairies or Win­nipeg could join the list as more stores are added to reach a max­i­mum of 25 to 30 stores, says CEO Peter Si­mons.

But Si­mons says he doesn't feel any pres­sure to make hasty moves.

“You don't think in next-quar­ter in­cre­ments when you're a pri­vate com­pany of five gen­er­a­tions,” he said from Que­bec City. “You think in 25-year in­cre­ments.”

Miss­ing from the Si­mons na­tional ex­pan­sion plans is down­town Toronto, one of Canada's tough­est re­tail mar­kets. Si­mons made a pitch to en­ter the Ea­ton Cen­tre but that didn't ma­te­ri­al­ize. Mean­while, U.S. re­tailer Nord­strom will open next year at the old Sears lo­ca­tion in the Ea­ton Cen­tre.

Re­tail an­a­lyst Randy Harris of Tren­dex be­lieves Si­mons' grad­ual ex­pan­sion will make it a “na­tional pow­er­house” in the Cana­dian ap­parel mar­ket.

“A lot of re­tail­ers, while they're wor­ry­ing about Nord­strom and Saks, have got to be equally wor­ried about Si­mons,” Harris said.

He said Si­mons' mid-mar­ket pric­ing and strong pri­vate la­bel of­fer­ing will res­onate with shop­pers look­ing for some­thing new. In ad­di­tion to clothes, Si­mons sells some home goods and is in­tro­duc­ing shoes and a new res­tau­rant con­cept called Eve. But un­like depart­ment stores, it doesn't sell cos­met­ics or “hard goods” like ap­pli­ances and fur­ni­ture.

Si­mons says he and his brother are keenly aware of the risks - par­tic­u­larly in try­ing to build upon its suc­cess in Que­bec and spread it to English Canada while jug­gling the lo­gis­tics of op­er­at­ing across the coun­try.

Few fam­ily-run com­pa­nies sur­vive the third gen­er­a­tion, let alone the fifth, he said.

“Sure, when your name's on the door and it goes badly, that sticks to you, so we're ner­vous.”

The Cana­dian fash­ion re­tail in­dus­try has seen its share of ca­su­al­ties with brands such as Mexx, Smart Set and Ja­cob clos­ing or re­duc­ing their oper­a­tions.

In ad­di­tion to fac­ing an in­flux of for­eign com­peti­tors, the sec­tor is un­der­go­ing big change as peo­ple in­creas­ingly shop online. Si­mons of­fers online shop­ping.

In­de­pen­dent re­tail an­a­lyst Brynn Wine­gard said Si­mons' un­der­stand­ing of the Cana­dian con­sumer may give it a leg up over Amer­i­can re­tail­ers.

But she said Si­mons should have first fo­cused on beef­ing up its omni-chan­nel of­fer­ing - an in­dus­try term re­fer­ring to the use of stores, its web­site, mo­bile apps and any other pos­si­ble ways to shop - then add stores close to its base in Que­bec be­fore ex­pand­ing fur­ther afield.

“We've seen a lot of fail­ures in the re­tail space in the last lit­tle while,” she said.

“The ones that have had good suc­cess re­ally come to life in their online and non bricks-and­mor­tar space.”

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