Racing passion turns profits
Boutique with Ferrari licensing rights keeps owner close to the track action
How far are you willing to go to satisfy your passion for a sport? Would you build a business to get close to the scene that you love?
Well, Max Bitton has done just that, and it’s been a challenging journey for this Formula One fan.
After a car accident ended his dreams of a racing career, Bitton began looking at other ways of being close to the action. He noticed that at driver signings, where fans get autographs on souvenirs, the merchandisers were on the inside of the velvet ropes with his heroes.
“I had done some racing myself, beginning with karting and I really loved it,” explain Bitton. “I moved up to racing cars but after my accident (on the road, not track) my doctor said I shouldn’t risk injuring my neck and back.”
But Bitton could not get the sound of Formula One cars out of his head. He had listened to them as a kid when he worked at his parents restaurant at LaRonde.
And so in 1994 he and his family opened a small kiosk on the King Edward Pier in Old Montreal and for five years they sold souvenirs and collectibles during the summer months.
Another big turning point came in 2001, when Bitton met some people from Ferrari while in England. In 2002, he became the official licensee for Ferrari merchandise for Canada. The F1 Boutique Canada was on a roll.
In 2007, Bitton moved to its current location on St. Paul St. East in Old Montreal. But just two years later disaster struck when Canada lost its only F1 race. Would this be the end of Bitton’s dream?
While the crown jewel of racing was gone, Montreal was now the site of NASCAR’s only race in Canada with the NAPA 200 and Bitton expanded his line of products to include the American-style race merchandise. Souvenirs of hockey teams and the World Cup helped fill the missing F1 event sales but it was a very tough time for the shop, which suffered a 90-per-cent drop in racing related sales.
“All the other motorsports stores closed. We were the only one’s who made it through,” nodded Bitton.
Not one to wait for things to change on their own, Bitton used social media like Facebook and Twitter to start a petition by fans to support efforts to retrieve the Formula One race for Montreal.
“At one time we had close to 10,000 followers on our Facebook petition,” a very proud Bitton claimed. “This was from the fans and I am always a fan first and a businessman second.”
Lo and behold, the race returned to Montreal and while we will never know what part the petition and outcry from the fans played in its return, it secured the boutique as a fan-friendly place where teams, drivers and race fans alike drop by.
“We have friends from all over the world who email us, call us and come by all year round,” laughed Bitton. “It’s like a family.”
As the only sanctioned merchandiser, Bitton operates a satellite boutique on Crescent Street at the LG Festival du Grand Prix sur Crescent during race weekend and outside the métro station on Île Ste. Hélène as well as the store on St. Paul where there were special events, displays and prizes.
The boutique has unique collections of licensed Red Bull, Ferrari and Lotus team gear that you can’t find elsewhere. An incredible selection of more than 2,000 products featuring Puma shoes, racing collectibles, die-cast cars and clothing await the hardcore fan from the man who may be Montreal’s biggest Formula One fan.