Opinion: Retailer Simons returns from brink of bankruptcy to resume expansion in Halifax

Opinion: Retailer Simons returns from brink of bankruptcy to resume expansion in Halifax

Simons has come close to the edge during months of shutdowns that have left it dependent on its online business while telecommuting has exhausted apparel sales.ablokhin / charity

Two years after the COVID-19 pandemic pushed La Maison Simons to the brink of bankruptcy, the 182-year-old fashion retailer based in Quebec City has regained — not to mention his appetite for risk — with a new location in Montreal and business plans to open a Halifax outlet.

Beloved in the original county, where the family-controlled chain is a must-go destination for 20s fashionistas and budget-conscious moms and dads alike, Simons has come close to the edge during months-long shutdowns that have left her dependent on online businesses while work has been exhausted from After sales of clothing.

“People would come into my office and tell me Simons wasn’t worth anything anymore, that it was over,” Peter Simons told Le Journal de Québec last fall. “There were a lot of people who wanted me to go bankrupt and restructure my balance sheet. I couldn’t do that.”

Mr. Simmons, who with his brother Richard is a member of the fifth generation of Simons to lead the company, emphasized in that interview that he wanted to protect employees and suppliers from bearing the brunt of a chaotic restructuring, which might also have forced the family to cede control.

Instead, to survive, the company sold some real estate, including its former distribution center, and took out a $30 million loan from BDC Capital, an arm of the federally owned Business Development Bank of Canada. The loan, which has since been fully paid off, bought Mr. Simmons time.

Now, Simons is expanding again, with the early May opening of a 91,000-square-foot store in the Montreal West Island suburb of Pointe Claire and announcing plans to open an outlet in Halifax in early 2024, its first store in Atlantic Canada. Simons is also rumored to be searching for space in central Toronto and Vancouver.

The Pointe-Claire outlet, which required a $26.5 million investment by the company, features what Simons describes as a “huge” ceramic installation by Vancouver artist Brendan Tang. The company is keen to include contemporary Canadian artwork in every one of its stores. It’s one of the things that sets Simons apart from competitors who have cookie store designs. Her focus on sustainable fashion is something else. It aims to have 100 percent of its clothing lines compliant with Vision 2025’s sustainability standards by mid-decade, up from 70 percent now.

With the opening of its newest outlet in a former Sears store in Cadillac Fairview’s Fairview Mall, Simons has 16 brick-and-mortar locations, including 10 in Quebec, three in Alberta, two in Ontario and one in British Columbia. . But it’s still far from being a household name outside of Quebec. Becoming one will require her to expand her retail footprint nationally.

“We still have some work to do in full honesty in our region [name recognition] Outside Quebec,” President and CEO Bernard LeBlanc told Retail Insider in March, “There is clearly a space [to expand] in Toronto and Vancouver.

The company has not made Mr. Leblanc, 51, or Mr. Simons, 58, available for an interview, stating that Mr. Leblanc will hold a press conference in mid-June to detail the company’s expansion plans.

After 26 years as CEO, Mr. Simons handed the reins in March to Mr. LeBlanc, who previously served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. Mr. LeBlanc joined Simons in 1994 but left in 2000 to work for Bombardier Recreational Products. He returned to Simons in 2015 and quickly rose through the ranks.

Mr. LeBlanc happens to be the first non-family member to lead Simmons. Between them, Richard and Peter Simmons have five children, the eldest is 26 years old, although there are currently no management positions in the company.

Peter Simmons remains deeply involved in the business and has earned the title of Chief Merchandiser, overseeing clothing lines for the retailer, which includes everything from mid-priced in-house brands to luxury brands. Simons – with offices in Florence, Paris and Seoul – is known for spotting trends early and featuring up-and-coming designers. The 1840 Fabrice Collection showcases Canadian artisans.

Simmons remains silent about his internal operations. But the company has strengthened its governance since Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and Investissement Québec, an arm of the Quebec government, invested in the company in 2018 to fund the construction of a $200 million modern distribution center.

The opening of the new facility, which is largely automated, has been delayed by the pandemic. But it’s now up and running — and proving to work. Online sales now account for a third of all sales. In-store sales have recovered from the pandemic and are expected to exceed 2019 levels by 5 percent this year.

Simons will need to keep upping his game to boost his comeback. But after 182 years, and two once-in-a-century pandemics, it’s clearly doing the right thing.

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2022-05-31 20:32:17

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