By Craig Patterson
Quebec City-based large-format fashion retailer La Maison Simons has made its first strategic acquisition in its 178-year history. Last week the company bought Rituels, a Quebec City-based company specializing in traditional shaving and grooming products and accessories for men. It’s part of a trend where large retailers are buying brands to create synergies while also broadening assortment and obtaining exclusives.
Rituals was founded in Quebec City in 2011, and operates a storefront in the city’s Petit Champlain quarter as well as e-commerce site Rituels.ca. Over the next few months, Rituel’s line of shampoos, soaps, shave oils and shaving creams distributed by Rituels will be phased in both at Simons stores as well as on Simons' expansive e-commerce site.
"Our companies target similar market segments, but from two different but perfectly complementary angles. It is therefore a natural association and one I'm really pleased to be entering into today," said Peter Simons, CEO of La Maison Simons.
“This partnership will provide the Rituels brand with access to a new and previously inaccessible customer base and enable it to grow more rapidly than ever before,” said the founding president of Rituels.ca Michael Carpentier, who will continue to manage the brand as a member of the Simons team.
In January of this year, Mr. Carpentier wrote a blog post suggesting that Simons integrate growing e-retailers into its digital development strategy. Peter Simons saw the post and it got the ball rolling and in the end, the partnership was struck. "Michael will use his leadership and e-commerce expertise at Simons, specifically for converting our former distribution centre into an accelerator for creators and small and medium-sized businesses," said Peter Simons.
Simons is in a period of significant change — the company recently announced that for the first time, it has accepted outside investment to help fund a new high-tech 575,000 square foot, $215-million distribution centre in Quebec City that will help its rapidly growing e-commerce business. Online sales now account for about 20% of Simons’ business, and having a state of the art distribution centre will be key to keeping the business operational while also allowing for enhanced growth initiatives both in-store and online — the company continues to see more and more shoppers from the United States as well.
There are plenty of examples of retailers acquiring other brands to expand their operations — one of the biggest examples in recent memory was Amazon acquiring Whole Foods. Closer to home and on a smaller scale, another example of a family-owned business expanding its business through strategic acquisition is Harry Rosen, which now has a stake in David’s Footwear, which is being positioned at the priciest footwear chain in the country with plans for about 20-stores. Expanding into footwear, particularly women’s footwear, was a compelling move for Rosen’s — in a recent interview with CEO Larry Rosen, he revealed that his company could look to acquire a high-end women’s fashion retailer in Canada, even one operating just one store, in order to expand it nationally in order to capture market share in both men's and women's categories.
It will be interesting to watch La Maison Simons’ progression over the next several years. The company has grown more in the past five years than at any time in its history at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. Simons opened its first store outside of the province of Quebec at West Edmonton Mall in 2012, and the retailer now boasts 15 large-format stores in British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec and Ontario (almost doubling its store count in a relatively short time). Simons also recently expanded its footwear offerings for the first time by opening dedicated men’s and women’s shoe departments in some of its stores, signalling a shift at a time when there is unprecedented competition in Canada’s retail industry. Simons is bullish on environmental initiatives and is investing in making its stores eco-friendly, and the company also invests heavily into artwork that can be found in each of its stores. Being privately owned allows for such things, according to Mr. Simons, though one questions if outside investment and expansion will change that at some point.