With 11 stores, retailer Brault and Martineau is building and re-building, 45,000 square feet at a clip.
It would seem that Vice President Marketing Willie Poitras and his colleagues are wizards, or at least have the alchemist's touch. Throughout the trauma and tensions of the recent recession, their magic wands touched just the right locations all around Montreal. Brault and Martineau grew from five stores in 1986 to 11 stores today, and not just ordinary stores at that.
"The company was founded 37 years ago this year. Our first store on St. Catherine's Street no longer exists. Now we're located in Sherbrooke and in Hull, there are two on the south shore in Longueuil and Brossard, two on the north shore, one in St. Therese and one in Laval, two in the west, Kirkland and Dollard des Ormeaux, two in the east of Montreal on Jean Talon Street and one on Sherbrooke Street. With the new store in Ville La Salle, a western suburb, we've completely surrounded Montreal!
"The idea is to own all our own stores. We knew the times were bad during the recession, so we positioned ourselves for growth, advertised more and grew fast. We have always been aggressive, we don't sit down and wait for something to happen. When the bargains are there we make things happen."
The medium to high end 45,000 square foot stores reflect the Brault and Martineau philosophy. "We want to go big because we know that people today need to see lots of stock, plenty of choice. And since we work entirely with a room setting concept, we need an abundance of space. For example, we put a sofa, a loveseat, a chair, occasional tables, lamps, a bookcase all together-- a room to go, one price for all. In each store we have 40 livingroom settings, 50 kitchen settings, and 36 bedroom settings. Our bedroom vignettes are even equipped with sheets!"
In order to control delivery time and shipping costs, most of his suppliers are based in Quebec, some in Ontario. Willie explains, "It helps to keep our prices lower."
Longevity of any group of items is also controlled. "We look at a set that we have on the floor and analyze its performance. If it doesn't sell well, we discontinue promptly."
Appliances are also "packaged", in sets of four. And the same technique relates to electronics, "Televisions are matched with video tape recorders. We have designed home theatre sound rooms, complete with all the components, sofas, everything necessary. And we have now incorporated well conceived, up-to-date home office settings which we know will be increasingly important to our customers.
"Our styles are much more contemporary in Quebec than in the rest of Canada. In leather we are going more and more to earth tones, to tans, although there's still some aubergine and green. We like fashion colors, too, we're a little bit more European in our preferences."
Brault and Martineau advertise heavily throughout the year. "We're in the newspapers in Montreal and the city's suburbs four days each week. We use radio with frequent remotes on the weekends. Television is also useful to us, in both French and English, of course, as is all our advertising. flyers are very effective. Every time without exception when we mount a promotion with flyers we see business coming in. We schedule one flyer in the spring and one in the fall, then two more in the summertime."
Willie feels that events are also important to maintain excitement. There are routine fall and anniversary sales, and drawings are held for prizes such as giant screen televisions. Recently, consumers were tempted to "Come Join The Races!" Over $50,000 in prizes were offered. The names of 72 lucky winners were drawn from in-store customers who entered the competition. All 72 were invited to attend a festive VIP dinner and the races at Montreal's Hippodrome. There, seated at nine numbered tables of eight coinciding with the first nine "Blue Bonnet" races, they each drew numbers from one to eight corresponding to a specific horse which became their horse for the race. Table finalists each won $1,000 and then participated in the tenth, the Brault and Martineau race. The same procedure applied and the person drawing the winning horse won $15,000.00. Every customer attending the event was guaranteed a prize, recliners, mattresses, VCR's microwave ovens, radios, and stereo systems.
Willie credits Robert Gautier, Vice President, with the conceptualization of the event. Said Willie, "It really works! Such occasions increase traffic and they are exciting to our customers. We like it too because we feel we're giving back something to the people. All the store managers attend and relationships are built. People get to know one another, loyalty develops, the people are happy with their evening and with the prizes they have won and they tell their friends. This again increases traffic. We have had a different event each year. Last year we held our party at a big restaurant on the south shore, dinner and dancing, and at the end of the evening no one wanted to go home!"
Willie fell in love with the business 30 years ago. Then a student, he worked as a salesman for Brault and Martineau during vacations. Although he won his degree in heating and refrigeration, he wanted "to be with the public". He was rapidly promoted from salesman to assistant manager, "always consistently up", to manager, to buyer, to vice president. But with typical joie de vivre, he believes strongly in using his free time productively as well. "In the summer I golf, in the winter I ski, and all year long I play with my grandchildren! And I enjoy traveling, too, particularly in Europe."
Where will his magic wand point next? "There's the store on Jean Talon, an old one from 1987, and the lease is about to expire. So, we'll build a new store right in front of the old one. Also 45,000 square feet, of course! We are looking forward to a good year in 1997 for sure. When people have confidence in the economy, they buy. And we are very aggressive, so business should be good. When business projections are complex we always look very closely before we move. We are investing very much in the future."