Montreal Friday : Exclusive Interview with Tristan, H&M Flagship Opening [Photos]

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Welcome to Montreal Friday. After a terrific summer, we’re happy to present you with the new version of MONTREAL FRIDAY, in collaboration with the new Montreal blog: Montreal Weekly. As well, this week we’ve got a contest where you can win $100. 

This week: Exclusive Interview With Tristan & Company Inc. 

Earlier in August, I interviewed the son of the founder of fashion retailer Tristan, Charles Fortin. I’ve always found that there was an aura of secrecy surrounding the Tristan brand, and this was my opportunity to find out more.

Tristan was founded in the 1970s by Gilles Fortin — a former rocker-turned entrepreneur, and business partner Denis Deslauriers. They bought a small independent boutique in Saint-Jean sur Richelieu, which was, at the time, called Tristan & Iseult. They used Mr. Fortin’s profits from his shows in bars to fund the endeavour. Here are 10 questions and answers about Tristan with Charles Fortin:

Q: Tristan has had several different identities. Could you please clarify them for us?
A: The ‘Tristan & Iseult’ nameplate was mostly for women, while ‘Tristan & America’ was for men. Wanting to create a single identity for both our men’s and women’s stores, we decided to build on our Tristan name positioning to make it clearer for our clients and our communications/ corporate display (bags, tags, etc.)

Q: Around the year 2000, Tristan acquired a retailer called ‘West Coast’, also operating in the United States. What happened to this brand? 
A: In 2004, the economy took a bad turn and we then had to make some choices. Because of these difficult times, on top of a number of new and important American brands that decided to come to Canada/Quebec, we decided to concentrate on our strongest brand: Tristan. In the past, we indeed had stores in the US (New York City, Boston) and some of these stores worked very well. The decision to leave the American market as a retailer was purely a business decision, since we had gotten an offer for the remaining period for our lease in SoHo and it was an offer that we couldn’t refuse. This turned out to be a very good decision for the company because six months after the transaction, the events of 9/11 completely paralyzed the neighborhood.

Q: Let’s talk a bit about your stores. Where does the Tristan store design come from, because we can’t deny that all Tristan stores have a bit of a timeless look?
A: The concept for the stores has evolved throughout the years, but the design for the majority of our stores find their origins from our flagship store (1001 Saint-Catherine St. in Montreal) which used to be an old bank. The store’s lozenge mesh, stone and several other interesting design elements come from this inspiration. Our new store concept is more refined, and is found in stores that we renovate as well as our new stores. Raw wood, Parisian trims and artisanal lamps give a warm atmosphere to this new modern decor.

Q: In downtown Montreal you have three stores contained within one square kilometre. What purpose does it serve to have so many stores close to each other?
A: Indeed, we have three stores relatively close to each other: however they target different clientele. Take the store in Place Ville-Marie, for example — this store targets working people as it is in the centre of the office buildings. The flagship store (on Sainte-Catherine Street O.) targets the passer-by and tourists, while the store in Promenades de la Cathedrale is more targeted towards people who use transit.

Q: Do you have any franchises?
A: All of the Canadian stores are corporate, for which we are responsible for every level of their operations. We have a franchised business model for international locations (including in Peru and the Middle-East).

Q: What do you do with your overstock?
A: We have supplied product to outlets in the past, but we have decided to distance ourselves from the bargain market as well as outlet stores for Tristan. We currently only have three outlet stores: two in Montreal and one in Old Quebec. We make sure, through a good management of our inventories, to liquidate all our merchandise in our regular stores. The little unsold merchandise that is left is liquidated in our outlets at the next season’s market launch so that there can be a complete end of stock in store.

Q: Where are Tristan brand products made?
A: In our two Canadian factories (in Farnham and Cookshire, QC) we produce about 30% of our products, especially suits and tailoring. The rest of our merchandise is produced overseas by our partners, whom we have developed some very good relations with over the last 20 plus years. These good business relations that we have with our providers assures us that we can have better control over the quality of our products and a more secure procurement.

Q: What are the implications of online retail for Tristan?
A: Our website traffic has been constantly growing ever since we launched our transactional site ( in 2012, and it now boasts substantial turnover. There are a tremendous amount of challenges and efforts associated with offering a personalized service worthy of our Tristan stores reputation online, however. In fact, every web order is handled directly by a sales specialist in store, who is then responsible of processing and assuring after-sales service that will meet the expectations of our ‘cyber clients’. Moreover, web purchases are processed in store on the same day, which permits us to offer a very short delivery time on top of avoiding languishing stock in a warehouse. We also have a centralized order centre for our web platform for high sales periods (such as Black Friday, Holidays, etc.) to permit us to expedite on the same day when the capacity in store reaches it’s limit. Our platform is built internally, which makes it flexible and allows us to transition from one expedition point to all of our stores in a few clicks.

Q: Tristan is quite discreet when it comes to marketing. Can you tell us why?
A: We are effectively too discreet. We put a lot of effort and investment in our product (design team/internal padronism, factories, etc) to the detriment of publicity. All that is left for us now is to invest in advertising to communicate our exceptional quality products, for people who don’t already know us. For our next campaign (summer 2017), we’re working on raising our visibility, be sure not to miss it!

Q: What should we expect at Tristan for the next year?
A: New stores are planned for Canada, a return to the US will start through our online store and between now and 2017, we are planning to have several stores in the Middle East. Actually, I just came back from a trip in the Middle East where we visited a few shopping centres with our partners there.

(See the French Version of this interview on Montreal Weekly)


Click on the image for more information and to participate: 

H&M reopens Montreal Flagship

Last week, H&M reopened its downtown Montreal flagship with a new basement level. The store has been under renovations since April, and H&M has finally revealed the flagship’s ‘version 2.0’.

The store features all the classics: women, men, accessories, denim, as well as a few new exclusives such as the first H&M Beauty section in the province of Quebec, and the H&M Studio collections. The store is also the exclusive distribution point for many H&M capsule collections in Quebec. We’re excited for H&M x Kenzo, for example, launching on November 3 of this year. 

Article Author

Craig Patterson
Located in Toronto, Craig is the Editor-in-Chief of Retail Insider and President/CEO of Retail Insider Media Ltd. He is also a retail analyst and consultant, Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton, and consultant to the Retail Council of Canada. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for over 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees.

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