Best brand expansion: Simons brings chic design out west

The Quebec fashion retailer is taking on tough compettion and expanding to other provinces with its clever store designs.
Simons Edmonton

Though department store retail appears to be reaching a saturation point (with more American cos such as Target, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom starting to cross the Canadian threshold, and long-standing retailers such as The Bay taking steps to reinforce their foothold in the country), Simons, a much smaller and lesser-known brand in English Canada, isn’t afraid of a little competition. The Quebec-based company is surviving the flooded market by launching new stores that hinge on appealing aesthetics and the latest retail tech.

Last month, Maison Simons opened its ninth store in Quebec, two months shy of celebrating its first year outside its home province when it opened up shop in West Edmonton Mall and set the stage for the 173-year-old family-owned business to compete nationally.

Its Edmonton store, designed by Figure3 and supported with a launch campaign by AOR Cossette, includes social media booths that resemble giant iPads and allow customers to try on clothing and send pictures to their friends. One section in the store even has a wall of screens with attached game consoles for the male audience who tends to lose interest in shopping.

Now, the Canadian department store, known for being art and culturally-influenced with a chic mix of low-cost and premium brands, is eyeing new markets – starting with the construction of an Ottawa store slated to open in the spring of 2016.

As it has done with all its stores, Simons will “integrate itself into the landscape architecturally and from a design point of view,” with commissioned installations from smaller and well-known artisans in the Ottawa area, says Peter Simon, the retailer’s president and CEO.

Having a robust team of more than 100 designers, as well as artists, architects and merchants with a say in the design of the building from the get-go, creates “a more integrative space and holistic experience as opposed to a scattered or disconnected space,” he adds. “A good part of our marketing is in the experience of our stores.”

“We’re in the process of becoming a national brand,” he says of his expansion plans to move further west to Calgary and Vancouver. Being one of the few independent and family-owned Canadian retailers left, he says the strategy is to continue to avoid the cookie-cutter format, deliberately adapting to the surrounding locale and presenting an experience that gives it an edge against larger Canadian and incoming U.S. retail chains.