Simons braces for competition as retailer opens first Ontario store

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - As Simons continues its expansion push with its first location in Ontario, the Quebec-based retailer faces fresh competition from new entrants into the Canadian market.

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Following the launch of its Vancouver location last fall, the family-owned company is slated to open a sprawling two-storey, 110,000-square-foot store on March 17 at Square One Shopping Centre in Mississauga, Ont., west of Toronto.

In addition to housing menswear and womenswear on two separate floors, the Square One location will also feature a cafe and a terrace for use in warmer months.

The newest Simons store will debut just weeks after U.S. luxury retailer Saks Fifth Avenue made its foray into Canada with two stores in Toronto. Seattle-based retailer Nordstrom is also set to broaden its presence north of the border with three new locations in Toronto this year and next.

"I always see competition as being beneficial," Simons CEO Peter Simons said in an interview. "It's a very aggressive time in retailing where you have to be very focused on what you're doing, what you bring that's different.

"I think we bring a completely different mid- to high-range experience that relates to really how customers are shopping. They're crossing over these lines from luxury to mid-range, and I think we're creating value with unique product."

Sandy Silva, director of fashion and beauty at the NPD Group, said brand recognition "absolutely matters" when companies launch new retail locations. But keeping the momentum going requires an established domestic presence, she added.

"With Simons, potentially one could argue more on the west coast that the brand recognition may not be as strong. But because they have that Canadian on-the-ground knowledge and experience and know-how and understanding the nuances, I would say that's also an advantage, too.

"It's almost like the proverbial chess match. They both have their advantages."

In addition to an extensive range of apparel from moderately priced separates to higher-end offerings from a stable of homegrown and international designers, Simons also has sub-departments spanning the spectrum of sartorial tastes.

On the women's side, there's the youthful, style-forward Twik, Icone for the young professional urbanite and classic elegance from Contemporaine. Menswear offerings include chic eveningwear in Le 31, and trendy streetwear in DJAB.

Simons said the company has also made a concerted effort to feature Canadians in stores, from the art adorning the spaces to the items stocked on shelves, such as the new collaborative home decor line with Samantha Pynn.

Still, he admitted that the retailer still had "a lot of work to do in explaining our story," acknowledging that despite the company's longevity and cross-Canada growth, it still remains an unknown to many in the country.

"We have work to do to explain our fashion point of view, the European edginess in our design group, in our menswear, and what each of one of our sub-brands does. But for me, that's just a part of work.

"I told the buyers last week 150 years, five generations of our family worked in Quebec to build our reputation. ... We're going to spend a bit of time working on it in Toronto and Vancouver and try to spend a bit of time explaining why we're important and why we're worth coming to visit."



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