Montreal-Based Outerwear Brand ‘KANUK’ Plans ‘Very Surgical’ Store Expansion in Canada [Interview]

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Montreal-based retailer KANUK is poised for growth after 52 years in business.

The brand, with three current locations in Montreal and one in New York City, is looking to expand its growth to several key markets.

“KANUK is an outerwear company and we specialize in mostly urban outerwear. So everything designed for city living,” said Richard Laniel, President of KANUK.

“We design our garments with the highest technical components we can put in them but also we conceive them to be as warm as possible for a city climate.”

KANUK (Image: Oakmont Retail Services)

The company’s Montreal locations are in the downtown, on the North Shore and on the South Shore.

The first store opened in downtown Montreal in the early 1970s.

Richard Laniel jr.

“We’re currently expanding our digital presence and our brick and mortar presence as well as growing our distribution channels through wholesale. So a combination of three channels,” said Laniel.

“Although we’ve been operating a store for over 50-some years, we’ve only really started operating our own stores outside of the island of Montreal as of last year. This is new. We’ve added three more stores since the Fall of 2021. The first one was New York and the next two south and north of the island in Montreal.

“It’s obviously a pretty interesting category worldwide. I think we know that Canadian outerwear has really positioned itself kind of like Belgium chocolate, Swiss watches, something like that if you want to use a comparison. And we have an opportunity to bring this craftsmanship outside of the island and really bring some warmth into the urban outerwear market. We see an opportunity to open some brick and mortar stores so that we could really bring more of a full lifestyle component of our collection to the customers.”

Kanuk New York (Image: Kanuk)

Laniel described expansion plans as “very surgical.”

“We don’t want to overexpose ourselves at this point as it’s a fairly new venture,” he said. “The next market for us would most likely be Toronto for sure and then we’d be looking probably at the West Coast, somewhere around Vancouver. We’re also thinking about New England, maybe Boston could be interesting. This is kind of where we’re looking at right now. 

“We’re typically targeting markets where the demographic and the consumer habits resemble the most of Montreal habits. It’s basically the demographic of age, academic background, household income. All these factors are things we’re looking at where they come similar to Montreal and where there’s an interest for kind of luxury garments. We can combine those and go into those markets. We feel we can be successful much sooner than other markets.”

Ben Labrecque

Ben Labrecque, Managing Partner with Oakmont Real Estate Services Canada, which is spearheading the retailer’s expansion plans, said the strategy is not a shot-gun approach.

It will be a very disciplined and strategic rollout consisting of a mix of “AAA” shopping centres and high streets,” he said.

“We’re looking between 1,500 to 1,800 square feet in major markets with a emphasis on higher end co-tenancies. The brand again while remaining disciplined, will focus on Toronto for the 2023 fall season, this could be in the form of a permanent deal or a temp ‘try before you buy’ model, following Toronto the focus will be redirected to the West Coast.” 

“We’re basically going to go where consumers want us to be,” added Laniel.

Laniel said he was not sure how many locations the brand will expand to in the near future.

“My philosophy is more or less that brick and mortar will support what I consider the biggest store which is the ecomm presence, contrary to maybe 15-20 years ago, we built ecomm to support stores, I’m looking at our stores to support our ecomm, so that our consumers can have a point of presence. Physical presence helps digital growth and digital growth helps physical presence,” he explained.

“It’s going to be surgical. I don’t think we’re going to overbox. I think we’re going to most likely end up with a few flagships in a few important cities across North America and that would be it. I don’t have a number.”

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
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 News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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