Quebec Retailer ‘Benisti Group’ Providing Funding to Struggling COVID-Struck Businesses [Interview]

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Among the murk of the current global health crisis, there are few bright spots to be found. The reporting of new COVID infections continues daily, at an alarming rate, with the number of confirmed cases reported worldwide since the start of the pandemic recently surpassing 60 million. Impacts of the virus’ spread have affected everyone from all walks of life, severely altering the ways in which we do just about everything.

To a large extent, it’s served to restrain, restrict, and even halt our progress. For those operating within the retail industry, the impediments have resulted in devastation reflected in a recent surge of bankruptcies and business closures. And, with many more merchants across the country and the world teetering on the brink of survival, the year 2020 will almost certainly be summed up by most as a very dark time for retailers. But penetrating the darkness, lending light and support to those within the industry wherever possible, is one Montrealer with a big heart and a deep passion for the continued health and success of the fashion and retail industries.

A Compulsion to Help

In response to the immediate and negative repercussions that began resulting from the pandemic back in March, bearing witness to the struggles and hardships of so many of his retail compatriots, Maurice Benisti, CEO and Co-Founder of Quebec luxury giant Benisti Group, stepped up in an effort to relieve some of the pressures felt by the businesses that carry his company’s iconic Point Zero brand, aiding many of them financially while also offering them operational support where he and his company could provide it. It’s an extraordinary philanthropic gesture that comes at a time when many of its benefactors require it most. But, according to Benisti, in light of the gravity of the situation at hand, the company felt compelled to take such actions.

“The past eight or nine months have been incredibly difficult for many retailers,” Benisti reflects. “The impacts on most businesses have been harsh and have resulted in an incredible amount of store closures. And for those that have managed to survive, the impacts of COVID-19 continue to attack their balance sheets. We knew as a company when this first started that we had to do something, to reach out and offer our help in as many ways as we could to as many of our retail partners as possible to help them not only survive, but to succeed during this time.”

Caring Outreach

With this goal in mind, Benisti Group, which operates over 20 Point Zero stores in Quebec, Ontario, Mexico, and the Middle East, and runs its prestigious Nicole Benisti luxury brand – a line worn by a host of celebrities including Celine Dion, Jennifer Lopez, Hailey Bieber, and others – didn’t waste any time in responding, rushing to the aid of retailers as soon as the first wave of government-imposed restrictions and lockdowns on businesses were announced. Benisti describes the days and weeks that followed as a “frenzy of phone calls”, during which time he and others within the company contacted the CEOs and CFOs of as many of its retail partners as possible in an effort to find out the extent of the challenges that each business was facing.

“We wanted to speak to all of the amazing people that have supported us through the years, the large banners and the small boutiques, to better understand their situations,” he says. “We wanted to hear from them what their challenges and pain-points were, and the ways by which we could offer them our help, to assist them in getting through this crisis.”

Photo: Nicole Benisti
Photo: Nicole Benisti

Investing in its Partners

In the cases of those who had been most negatively impacted, the retailer, which just recently celebrated 40 years of business, helped finance their operations to alleviate the pressure and burden of rent and other costs that were biting into their results.

For others, Benisti and his team contacted building landlords to renegotiate more favourable lease terms and contracts for the merchants. In addition, the company did what it could to ensure that the supply chains for many of its partners continued to operate in order to keep merchandise flowing into their stores and onto shelves. In some instances, it even offered to hold containers of goods in its warehouses, some of which consisted of the brands and products of competitors. But competition, explains Benisti, was never a consideration for the company when making these decisions. Nor was the amount of its financial outlay.

“We never viewed the impacts of the pandemic as a way to gain competitive advantage within the space. And we don’t consider the financial assistance we provided as a cost to our business, either. In fact, all of the work and support that we provided is really a long-term investment that will help our partners remain successful and strengthen our relationships with them. We strongly believe that the future of the world depends on humanitarian acts, people caring about the health and success of other people. We’re all in this crisis together. It’s no longer about one community, one city, one country, one continent or one business. The entire world is struggling to cope with the impacts of this virus. And we all have to work together in order to get out of this mess and continue moving forward.”

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