TORONTO — Upscale Quebec retailer La Maison Simons is getting ready to open its first store in Ontario in its 175-year history but is already looking past that with plans to unveil an eco-friendly flagship in Quebec City in spring 2018.
Equipped with solar panels, recharging stations for electric cars and other innovative technologies, this “unique test laboratory,” as described by president Peter Simons, is the greenest project to date for the retailer, which offers an array of designer labels for women and men, as well as home furnishings.
“This is our very first store where the concept of environmental sustainability will dictate the form and function of this space,” Simons said. “Environmental sustainability is, quite frankly, one of the big questions of our era. It is also an issue that resonates strongly with our customer base.
“People want to see more social responsibility from the companies they shop, including Simons. Responding to this need is not just a marketing thing for us,” he added.
Once completed, the eco-friendly prototype — to be built at a cost of 50 million Canadian dollars, or $37.5 million at current exchange — will occupy 80,000 square feet in Les Galeries de la Capitale, the largest and most visited mall in Quebec City. Construction will commence in the second half of this year.
Ultimately, Simons could see competitive advantages with the investment, which will make it one of the first large Canadian retailers to back green technology and adapt its benefits to its growing empire. Simons currently operates 11 stores, including nine in Quebec and two in West Vancouver and Edmonton.
On Thursday, Simons will open its 12th location — and its first in Ontario — at Mississauga’s Square One Shopping Center, with another opening to follow in Ottawa in August. The company’s expansion will also include five more stores openings in Ontario, Calgary and Edmonton by 2019.
According to Simons, completing Square One’s location was “something of a learning curve” for the company, which is a household name in Quebec. However, now that it is ready for business, “this is where the real hard part begins,” he said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us, particularly in terms of familiarizing the rest of Canada with our brand.”
Competition from Holt Renfrew and U.S. newcomers such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom could also make things interesting as Simons’ march into Ontario kicks into gear. Yet the company’s fifth-generation chief remains undaunted, both in his hopes for Simons’ Square One debut and Quebec City’s newly revealed green flagship.
“Our goal with this prototype is to achieve a zero net footprint. I believe we can accomplish this without separating the beauty we instill in all our stores from the creation of a greener environment,” said Simons. “Make no mistake: Creating this flagship will challenge us. But we as a company will have to rise up to design a greener space and make all the necessary adjustments to our business to carry this out.”
To that end, Simons has opted for LED lighting throughout the next-generation flagship. “We tested 100 different lamps in a controlled setting to get a 30 to 40 percent reduction in our lighting consumption,” said Simons.
The company is also exploring ways to offset electrical usage through solar and wind power, as well as geothermal alternatives to reduce heat consumption. Finally, Simons will test drive new digital and interactive technologies to improve its customer experience. Once fine tuned, those technologies will be rolled out to its other stores.
“As we innovate, we are already looking at retrofitting stores. But a larger social issue is definitely at work here as we take this big step forward,” said Simons. “At a certain point you have to stand up and decide what’s right and wrong. That’s why we’re creating this environmentally sustainable flagship. We want to build something here that goes above and beyond the legislative framework that currently exists in this country and see it benefit consumers and our environment.”