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Exit Interview: Peter Simons

Interview by Lance Chung

What elements create a great retail experience?

You have to have a great, unique product. It has to be world class, no excuses. You need a lot of creativity, great people and a great environment. And the people, they have to provide sincere, empathetic service. It doesn’t matter if customers buy or don’t buy. We just want to make sure that when they come in, they have a moment one-on-one and are given great service.

Architecture and design play an important role your stores. Why?

It is in our DNA. Today, everyone talks about design, but I think I can say without pretension that we were trying to design interesting stores before the mass interest in it happened. We always believed that the first step was a really great physical environment that can set the stage for personal contact and interaction. If a store is going to continue to be relevant, it has to be worthwhile to go and visit. People are always hungry for beauty. I don’t think that’s ever going to change.

How do you find the shopping experience has changed over the years?

It’s much more integrated now with the web, but I choose to say that there is a lot more important stuff that is exactly the same the way it was thirty years ago than is different. Sure, there are all these bells and whistles, and I’m not underestimating the change. But the fundamentals are still there. People are social animals. Respect, great service and a desire for professional intimacy, those are the things that aren’t changing.

What are the challenges of growing a family business?

There’s always the family dynamics mixed with business that you have to be continuously aware of. Everyone has to come to the table ready to put water in their wine, and with a lot of empathy. Family businesses are great because they have freedom, can make long-term choices and can imprint values on the company. They don’t have to worry about a thousand other shareholders that don’t care about this value or that. The problem is that there isn’t that market discipline on capital use. You always have to be aware that you’re being smart with your capital, forward-thinking and figure out how to use your freedom to make a difference.

With a few major players coming to market, 2016 is going to be an interesting year for retail in Canada. How do you plan on getting people’s attention?

There are a lot of people trying to position themselves on the luxury end. It’s a busy part of the market, especially when you lay on top of that LUISAVIAROMA, NET-A-PORTER, Modus Operandi and the in-house luxury sites. There’s a battle going on. Luxury is a part of our business, but it’s far from being the whole part. I think the way we conceive merchandising versus our competitors, there’s no doubt that our assortment has an edgier European kind of feel. That’s coming out of our Quebec roots and our offices in Paris and Florence. Plus, we’re local. I’m hoping that will make a difference, too. We’re the small, Canadian players.

What does success mean to you?

I don’t think it’s about being big, powerful or having a lot of money. I’d like to be able to eat and have a certain sense of security, but success for me means that we build something that stays around and survives. More importantly, that we built a company where we were all able to realize something in our work together that was meaningful. And it’s only meaningful when it does something that’s important for other people.