A well-known women’s fashion store is expanding outside Ottawa.
By Jacob Serebrin
In early March, the Victoire Boutique opened on Toronto's Ossington Avenue. That store is the company's third location but first location outside the capital.
“We’ve been thinking about it for a few years,” says Regine Paquette, who co-owns the store.
The idea first came from customers at Victoire’s ByWard Market location.
She says tourists visiting from Toronto frequently told her there was nothing like Victoire, which Ms. Paquette describes as selling “a mixture of vintage-influenced girly pieces with a bit of an edge,” in Toronto.
It was something she and her business partner, Katie Frappier, had noticed as well.
“We didn’t have a favourite boutique in Toronto,” she says.
With a large percentage of Victoire’s online sales coming from Toronto, she knew there was a market.
But it wasn’t until one of Victoire’s employees decided to move to Toronto that the timing seemed right for the expansion. Ms. Paquette says she asked the employee, who had worked at Victoire for three years, if she wanted to co-manage the store, along with a former Victoire employee who had previously moved to Toronto.
Ms. Paquette says it was important for her and Ms. Frappier to know the managers who would run their Toronto store. This, she says, would allow them to replicate what they have in Ottawa “without relying on a stranger.”
The company puts a lot of effort into hiring the right people, she says.
“We’re really choosy,” she says, but it leads to results. While “retail tends to have really high employee turnover” Victoire doesn’t have to hire very often, she says.
Ms. Paquette says the store works to keep employees happy by supporting their initiatives.
“We’re a small team where their contributions actually matter,” she says.
It’s also good business, she says having long-term, committed employees helps to build the relationship with regular customers.
“We’re selling relationships,” says Ms. Paquette. “It’s more than just shopping. It’s an experience.”
Along with careful merchandising, service is one of the ways the store tries to stand out from the pack.
“It’s a very competitive environment,” Ms. Paquette says, adding that with the company’s small size, Victoire can’t compete on price.
The store also specializes in clothes and accessories that are designed in Canada. Because those products are as easily available as international brands, that focus helps give the store a bit of caché.
“The customers feel like they’ve discovered something,” Ms. Paquette says.
Victoire didn’t set out to focus on Canadian products, instead Ms. Paquette says it was something of a natural evolution: the customers liked it and she says she enjoys buying from smaller, more local, designers.
“With bigger brands it becomes impersonal,” she says.
As well, Canadian designers know the market and create seasonal clothing that is appropriate for Ottawa, she says.
Doing business with smaller brands also means that Victoire can give feedback to, and then see changes from, the designers.
“We’re important to them,” says Ms. Paquette. “It’s a lot more satisfying on a business level and a personal level.”
The store does appear to be getting some recognition for its uniqueness and quality.
Elle Magazine recently named it one of the top six boutiques in Canada. It's the only one on the list that wasn’t founded in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver.
Ms. Paquette says Victoire also has lower prices than many of the other boutiques on that list, something she takes pride in.
“We’re a bit more accessible,” she says. “We’ve found our niche of selling really nice things to regular people.”