Taking It Higher

Diane Lanctôt of sports apparel company Lanctôt Limited thinks there’s always room for innovation—you just have to learn where it is—and it’s usually not where you think

President Diane Lanctôt leads a meeting pertaining to the company’s efforts in golf apparel.

Diane Lanctôt loves snow—not just because she skis, but because her company, Montreal-based Lanctôt Limited, sells skis, along with a variety of other sporting equipment and apparel.

“We operate in a world of trends, and whether you feel a soft economy depends on the trend,” says Lanctôt. “In 2012, there was little snow in Canada, from east to west, and we had a softer economy, so it was a challenging year. This past holiday season, we got fantastic snow, and our sales went through the roof.”

By the Numbers

Employees and reps
in Canada

and partners

Cost of a pair of Vacuum
Alpine ski boots by Fischer

Worldwide position of Fischer cross-country skis, with 30% market share

Age of the DR hockey brand

Fortunately, snow isn’t the only thing the company counts on for success, given the unpredictability of the weather. “We’re diversified, and we usually have more than one area that is doing well because it’s supported by the trend of the moment,” says Lanctôt.

That wasn’t always the case. The company was founded by Lanctôt’s father, Raymond, in 1950, as a ski-equipment distributor exclusively. He was a passionate skier and skilled instructor, and the company began by offering customers leading brands in that sport, which today include Fischer, Swix, and Uvex, among others.

Later, Lanctôt Limited branched out, and today it operates five distinct divisions: ski, apparel, eyewear, outdoor, and team sports. “You’ve got a lot of walls when you’re driving a company forward, and I’ve learned that when I hit one of those walls, it’s important to focus not on the obstacle but what lies on the other side,” says Lanctôt of the company’s expansion into different areas. “Focus on where you want to go, not on the day-to-day challenges.”

And there are many challenges. For one, Lanctôt, who won the 2012 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, says the distribution process is more complex than many people realize. “Distribution isn’t just buying a product and shipping it to a retailer,” she explains. “You have to sell at multiple levels throughout the supply chain. You have to sell your own service to your suppliers, sell the suppliers’ products to the retailers, then make sure retailers are going to sell the products to the consumers. It’s a complex chain from beginning to end, and it requires good marketing skills to succeed at each level.”

Twenty years ago, Lanctôt Limited decided it was time to take the complexity a step further by adding its own products to the mix. “We’ve done distribution since day one, and being decades into it, we understand it very well, so we decided to add our own brands, which is good protection,” says Lanctôt. “You can never lose your own brand because your supplier decides to take his business directly through its own subsidiary or another distributor.”

That’s particularly important today, says Lanctôt, because Canadian retailers are being squeezed out of business by large US chains entering the market. “The major retailers entering the market have their own source of supplies, so there are fewer retailers for us to work with,” she explains. “To keep market share and maintain our revenues, we have to work more broadly by developing our own brands and increasing our distribution base. We now sell in the United States and in Europe as well.”

Lanctôt Limited carries a variety of skiwear and gear, including those from Fischer Sports, the global market leader in Nordic skiing, shown here in action.
Lanctôt Limited carries a variety of skiwear and gear, including those from Fischer Sports, the global market leader in Nordic skiing, shown here in action.

Today, Lanctôt Limited sells the company’s own products under the Nivo brand in ladies’ golf apparel and the DR brand in hockey equipment. “We have a lot of experience in product selection but had to develop our know-how in product design and manufacturing,” says Lanctôt. “Once this is achieved, the product flows in our distribution network, and benefits from our network. This is a very good synergy for us … with our distribution business.”

The innovation required of product development, however, is the part of the job that Lanctôt likes, and it’s reflected in the company’s business processes as well as its products. “You need to have a good product, but there are a lot of good products in the marketplace, so you also have to have good infrastructure,” she says. To her, good infrastructure means systems that allow the company to respond quickly to the changing demands of the consumer. “To do that, you need tools that give you access to the information you need, when you need it,” she adds.

To that end, in 2012 the company invested two million dollars in information technology, adding an enterprise-resource-planning system and an online purchasing platform that allows clients to buy their products more easily. “In today’s world, where competition is not just local but comes from global companies that can ship the same all over the world, the consumer has access to so many things,” Lanctôt explains. “You have to be on top of your business and provide good service, or you’re not in the ball game. The new technology allows us to react to the market really fast.”

It’s changes like these, says Lanctôt, that are helping the company thrive. “I think you have to be very creative in today’s market to identify opportunities,” she says. “Even if we’re living in a world of innovation, there is always room for more. You have to find the quiet waters where there are no sharks, and discover a trend no one has thought about yet. It happens all the time. New players are always coming into the market. You can be one if you think and react quickly.”