With Peter Simons stepping down from his leadership role in the company, Leblanc, with a strong history and connection to both the retailer and the industry, became the brand’s new President and CEO, with a mission to continue to build on the enormous success the Simons’ family has generated over the years.
“I am honoured by the trust placed in me by the Simons family. I begin this mandate with a responsibility and duty to look after the posterity of Canada’s oldest private family business, and to preserve the legacy left by five generations,” said Leblanc.
“We will continue to pursue the brand’s development in store and online, while we continue our reflection on the future of retail. I am privileged to work with all our employees so that Simons remains a special place where we offer an extraordinary experience and exceptional customer service. This change is made with the desire to preserve the unique formula that has built our reputation for over 180 years.
“Imagine the privilege I’ve been given and the vote of confidence. It’s an immense honour for me.”
Leblanc was with the company back in the 1990s with responsibility of the product development team, leading all of Simons’ exclusive brand development in Quebec City. He was also responsible for some of the categories as a merchant as well. He was with Simons initially from 1994 to 2000.
He then went to BRP for 15 years. Leblanc came back to Simons in 2015. It was timed with the retailer’s national expansion.
Leblanc said when someone picks up the mandate of CEO for any company, the first few days you feel that weight.
“In this context, I wouldn’t be honest with you if I didn’t say there’s a little bit of tickle in my stomach. But on the flip side, I have a really nice, great working relationship with Peter (Simons). The fact is that he’s still around, it’s not as if he was announcing his retirement, the fact that we can continue that collaboration, we’re mutual counsellors to each other,” said Leblanc. “We have been that forever. We work in a very synergistic approach. We have very complementary talents.
“I guess that’s my safety net to say the least and the fact he’s not too far away if I need his counsel or his help on certain things.”
La Maison Simons has 15 stores operating in Canada with a new opening in early May at CF Fairview Pointe-Claire in the west island of Montreal. It will be the company’s 10th store in Quebec. Stores are also located in Ottawa, Mississauga, two in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.
“We’re still seeing quite aggressive growth on the e-commerce side. That’s a growth vector for us. We still have some work to do quite honestly in our notoriety outside of Quebec. There’s still some awareness build that we need to work on throughout our markets outside of Quebec. There’s such a rich history in Quebec. It’s extremely difficult to build that same level of awareness once you hit new markets,” said Leblanc.
“Clearly, a lot of work still needs to be done on those investments that we have made in the markets throughout Canada. We have nothing yet in the Atlantic so that’s on our radar screen. We’ll see if there’s something that might come to light there in the next little while and big cities like Toronto, like Vancouver. If you think we have three stores in Quebec City, five in Montreal, clearly there’s space in both Toronto and Vancouver.
“Honestly, we don’t have anything in Toronto or Vancouver in the works right now but we’re always staying abreast of what’s going on, seeing the redevelopment projects that are happening. We never really had the ambition to grow just for growth’s sake. It was always kind of a thoughtful growth. So that will continue. We want to take on ambitious goals and be audacious in the choices we make. So we’ll see. We’ll keep monitoring the market and post-pandemic as things pick up I’m rather bullish about physical retail frankly. I think, if anything, people will be seeking to reconnect with that human side.”
Leblanc said Simons has always had customer service at its core and how the retailer defines itself. The key is making sure that customer service remains very centric in all of its choices.
“This leads me to this concept I’ve termed frontierless commerce . . . This absolute seamless customer centric journey where we’re able to accompany the customer through multiple channels at the same time. And whether they’re coming through social media, or whether they’re coming through live streaming, or whether they’re coming through the website, or through physical stores, how do we interconnect all those pieces,” he said.
“The ambition of frontierless commerce in my mind is to be able to pick up from where the customer left online and then when they show up in store know exactly what they’ve done to date and the associate will be able to pick up the story line directly from that point forward. Technology is not there yet but we’re trying to find ways where we can interconnect all those pieces and really eliminate still some of the friction points that exist.”
Leblanc said he also thinks all elements touching on sustainability will evolve quite quickly. People are discovering that the retail sector has a bigger impact on the environment than they ever thought and they’re demanding it offers alternatives with a much lesser impact.
Leblanc grew up in Montreal and lived about seven years of his childhood in Toronto. He moved to Quebec City in the early 1990s. He went to Concordia University in Montreal and graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree in International Business with a minor in finance.
“I actually worked in retail part-time through school. So it was already part of something I enjoyed doing. I have a pretty strong service mindset. I really enjoy being with people and being with the customers and being of service,” he said.
“This industry is very close to my heart. I enjoy it.”