‘Circus-like’ kids’ wear chain poised to shake up Canadian market

A new kid on the children's wear block in Canada seeks to curb the impatient whining of pint-size consumers by adding sizzle where it counts - in the store. Orchestra, a Paris-based retailer, recently landed in Complexes Des Ailes in Montreal (the former Eatons space) with a 3,000-sq.-ft. shop.

A new kid on the children’s wear block in Canada seeks to curb the impatient whining of pint-size consumers by adding sizzle where it counts – in the store.

Orchestra, a Paris-based retailer, recently landed in Complexes Des Ailes in Montreal (the former Eatons space) with a 3,000-sq.-ft. shop. And according to Jean-Claude Yana, president of Montreal-based Developpement Dalmiel, which has the rights to operate Orchestra in Canada and the Eastern U.S., there are many more on the way. Plans are in the works to establish 35 units here and 200 south of the border over the next seven years.

While Yana says he is open to different possibilities, most of the North American locations will be housed in malls, as are the majority of the 300-odd Orchestra banners already standing in 28-plus countries. Like its siblings elsewhere, the Montreal shop is adorned with animal motifs and includes a play area in bright gumball hues where kids can hang while parents browse. Candy is also on display to tantalize the taste buds, as are small, graspable playthings, like bouncing balls.

Orchestra’s in-store experience benefits both children and adults, says Yana: the space is brightly lit, aisles are wide and the merchandise is divided into clearly identifiable sections of boys, girls and baby clothing. ‘It’s our experience that [this set-up] makes the place more fun and easy to shop,’ says Yana, who formerly ran Paris-based kids’ entertainment Web site Kazibao, which subsequently merged with Orchestra in May 2001.

For now, Orchestra’s marketing activities will consist of local initiatives in downtown Montreal. ‘There are more than 10,000 people working in the area of Complexes Des Ailes, so we have prepared very focused [marketing] actions directed at them,’ says Yana, citing promotional efforts such as personal rebates and invitations for ‘special shopping evenings,’ the first of which will occur later this month.

Orchestra, having acquired the services of independent marketing consultant Sonia Gagnon, is distributing collateral at office buildings in the vicinity, while its friendly mascot (a student in a bear suit), has hit the streets, vouchers in-paw, in an attempt to catch the eye of passersby, particularly children. All promotional material is created in-house at Orchestra’s Paris headquarters and then tweaked for its audience in Montreal.

In Paris, the chain mainly advertises on a local scale through direct mail and newspaper ads when it needs to announce store openings; otherwise, most of its investment is geared towards the in-store concept.

But in North America, where Orchestra is less known, Yana says he may consider a brand push through magazine advertising, pointing out that Orchestra prides itself on its assortment, as close to six million products are merchandised in the stores per year.

Certainly, in other markets, consumers seem to have taken to Orchestra since its birth seven years ago: the company made $60 million in 2001 and so far it is up 72% for the first quarter of 2002 over Q1 last year.

Here in North America, the children’s retailer faces some stiff competition. Richard Talbot, president of Unionville, Ont.-based Talbot Consultants, counts Please Mum, Jacob Junior and Gymboree among Orchestra’s direct competitors, as well as Gap Kids, which has 34 stores in Canada.

Nonetheless, Yana views Orchestra as being of a different ilk than ubiquitous Gap. ‘Gap style is basic and not as fashionable as we are,’ he says. ‘And the prices are not as good in Gap Kids. We are often cheaper, and, if you compare, the style and the quality are completely different.’ A T-shirt at Orchestra sells for between $10 and $30.

For his part, Talbot believes that, with Orchestra’s ‘circus-like’ ambiance, it is poised to become a formidable foe. ‘Most North American stores are pretty dated – they don’t have that entertainment component that’s important today,’ he says. ‘Gap Kids doesn’t have excitement in their stores…that kind of cold environment wears on you after a bit, and it’s boring for kids.’

But he warns that Orchestra must do its homework before stretching nationwide. ‘They need to understand Canadian demographics and how they vary. Quebec is different than every other province, and so is British Columbia. Canada is a series of regional markets.’