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La Maison Simons Expanding ‘Fabrique 1840’ Digital Platform Amid COVID-19 Store Closures 

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By Mario Toneguzzi

Quebec City-based Simons, the 180-year-old, family-owned fashion retailer, is significantly expanding Fabrique 1840, its digital platform that supports skilled artisans from coast-to-coast.

“We are clearly seeing a renewed interest and desire from Canadian consumers to support and sustain local design and makers of hand-crafted goods,” said Peter Simons, President of Simons. “Fabrique 1840 is now a well-established, proven ecosystem that can help artists realize their digital potential.

“We want to offer our support to a wider group of Canadian artisans who might now, more than ever, need a new sales channel and marketing team to find success.

“As we look to the future and try to determine what our new normal might be, I am most excited about the role we can play to shine a light on the exceptional artisanal talent that exists in Canada. The creativity that is emerging as a result of this moment in time and how consumers appreciate it will help guide the evolution – or revolution – of our creative communities in Canada.”

The digital platform currently has 117 makers, creating everything from home décor and modern art to fashion accessories and stationery, with more than $1 million in sales in the last 14 months.

Simons’ goal is to grow the Fabrique 1840 community to 500 Canadian artisans.

The company said that artisans who are selected to join Fabrique 1840 become part of a digital community that benefits from the expertise behind a world class e-commerce platform with more than 55 million annual sessions, addressing the critical challenge of exposure and customer acquisition in an increasingly crowded digital world.

The online market was launched in the fall of 2018. The name comes from the year the retailer Simons was founded in 1840 by John Simons as a dry goods store in Quebec City and its location there at 20 Côte de la Fabrique. Fabrique also in French means an artisanal workshop.

“(The name) references our history and it references what the site is all about,” said Peter Simons.

“About five years ago we started to field this interest in supporting local artisans and smaller artisans. We felt that there was a way to tap into that desire that our customers were expressing. We were also looking at enriching our web ecosystem. When the ecosystem becomes richer it really helps your organic traffic. That was an aspect.

“We also had developed a competency in e-commerce in all sorts of areas that we felt we could leverage and finally for us there’s some really incredible characters and people that are passionate about what we’re doing. It was that extra bonus of being able to be around and work with these smaller artisans that often we couldn’t incorporate into our stores because they just couldn’t handle that sort of production.”

Fabrique 1840 offers turnkey digital marketing services including merchandising, sales analytics, professional copy writing and product photography, SEO, SEM and display advertising, and a user-friendly management portal to support unlimited growth. With 1.2 million newsletter subscribers and over half a million users on social media, Fabrique 1840 makers also gain visibility to Simons’ growing audience of North American consumers. Simons also plans to spotlight Fabrique 1840 merchandise within its network of 15 stores across Canada.

In the last five months, 13 Canadian artisans have joined Fabrique 1840 including: Annie Axtell, a screen print artist from Vancouver; Yusuke Akai of Akai Ceramic Studio in Toronto; Alicia Phillips and Kevin Leboeuf of Educated Beards, men’s natural grooming line from Fredericton; and two brands from Montreal – MardiROS, makers of modern home design products and La petite Leonne, a mother who uses organic fabrics and plant-based dyes to make home and baby items.

“We had a real discussion even more intense around local fabrication, manufacturers, retailers supporting the local economy. I think it’s going to continue to be part of the conversation. We were just ready to scale up. We really felt ready at this time,” said Peter Simons. “The whole (COVID) crisis and confinement just got us focused on saying we could accelerate this. It would be good for the artisans and good for our website and e-commerce as we move forward into the future.”

Simons has 15 locations in Canada: nine in Quebec (three in Quebec City, including its headquarters in Old Quebec, plus Montreal, Anjou, Laval, St. Bruno, Sherbrooke, Gatineau); two in Edmonton (West Edmonton Mall and Londonderry); West Vancouver; Calgary; and Mississauga, and Ottawa.

Peter Simons said the response by consumers to the reopening of stores amid the COVID crisis will be gradual.

“Consumers have suffered what behavioural scientists call a somatic shock and it has certain characteristics in terms of it’s more primordial, it’s a little less rational and it takes time . . . We’re going to open up May 19 (in Quebec). We’re working right now on our procedures and everything. I think it’s going to take some time for people to just get used to the new shopping environment and for all of us to learn what that’s going to be like exactly and to take some to recalibrate everything following what we’ve been through,” he said.

“In the other provinces we’re waiting for guidance right now and we’re obviously following each province’s plan. The priority is doing it right for us, for our people and for our customers.’

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior National Business Journalist with Retail Insider in addition to working on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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