Designed for big success: Stephanie Bleau – Bronze

Perhaps one of Stephanie Bleau's greatest strengths as a marketer is a clear, profound understanding of to whom she's selling. She gets her target. She got them when she first joined Reitmans about five years ago as its director of marketing and began dashing away tired notions of what women between 25 and 45 wanted from their clothes; she then introduced the 80-year-old company to its first ad agency (Taxi no less), produced a series of satirical, well-received TV, print and billboard ads for the chain; and, in the end, made an already profitable company even more so.

Perhaps one of Stephanie Bleau’s greatest strengths as a marketer is a clear, profound understanding of to whom she’s selling. She gets her target. She got them when she first joined Reitmans about five years ago as its director of marketing and began dashing away tired notions of what women between 25 and 45 wanted from their clothes; she then introduced the 80-year-old company to its first ad agency (Taxi no less), produced a series of satirical, well-received TV, print and billboard ads for the chain; and, in the end, made an already profitable company even more so.

Naturally, with a track record like that, she’s been extended the task of working her magic again. This time, she’s prepping for the launch of Reitmans’ newest brand – a chain of stores set to open this fall, targeting women 40 to 60 years old. (Parent company Reitmans’ other chains include Smart Set, RW &Co. and Penningtons.) And, as you’d expect, she’s quick to clarify who exactly they are, taking slight offence when asked about a chain for this ‘older’ target. ‘We don’t like to use the word older,’ she says, gently. ‘It’s really not about age so much as it is mindset. Boomers are not the same as they were 40 years ago. They say that 60 is the new 30,’ she adds. ‘These are women who have loved fashion all of their lives, and they don’t want to be relegated to stores that sell pull-on pants with elastic waist bands.’

Surprisingly, the success of the efforts she led at Reitmans still, occasionally, does confound her: ‘I didn’t expect people to react so well so fast.’ And she still marvels at the calls, e-mails and letters continuing to arrive from women raving about how much they enjoy the series of ads, which show ordinary women in comfortable Reitmans outfits vamping it up like supermodels at home and at the office.

And while the campaigns have been successful, she says that the work behind the marketing, the part that takes much more time, is still being addressed. That includes creating an inviting in-store environment with proper labels and signage, for example; guaranteeing that the designs stay fresh (‘we’ve brought in more talent to help’); and building the brand internally both at the Montreal HQ and at Reitmans 358 stores across the country. ‘[Those changes] ensure that we live up to the brand.’

It’s working, of course: Comparable store sales for Reitmans’ stores for the nine months ending October 31/05 were up 2.4%. And over December, same store sales for the five weeks ending Dec 31/05 were up 5.5%.

Use three adjectives to describe your marketing style.

Smart, fun, and original.

What was your career highlight over the past 12 months?

Working on the creation and development of an all-new women’s brand to be launched this fall [eight stores in central and

eastern Canada].

Where do you get your marketing inspiration? Does it come from other categories? If so, which ones?

There are endless sources of inspiration when your brand is about women’s fashion designed for real life. One of my principal sources of inspiration is my team: Be it the veterans or the rookies, they all have different ways of looking at things and have inspired many of our wonderful marketing initiatives. [Also] anywhere is fair game for new ideas and insights into our target customer, from casual conversations overheard at the daycare to waiting in line at the coffee shop and travelling to inspiring shopping destinations.

Is there a campaign out there you wish was yours? Why?

Love the Ikea campaign – it’s funny, distinctive, recognizable and uses ridiculous European accents.

Why do you think you were voted a top marketer? Please don’t be too humble.

Because I dared mess with a successful brand and marketed it in a way that was groundbreaking in the world of fashion retail – which tends to be all about putting up a pretty fashion picture with a brand name. I also believe that anything is possible and have surrounded myself with people who have drive, passion, talent and a sense of fun.