If it weren’t home to a thriving business, the corporate headquarters of Groupe Dynamite might easily be confused with the halls of a Canadian high school. No, there aren’t lockers, cheerleaders, or drama students. There is, however, a perpetual buzz about two of the most popular girls in town: Alexia and Rachel.
Alexia is 16 years old. The prototypical “girl next door,” she lives with her parents in the suburbs and likes to hang out with her friends. She’s wholesome—fun and fashionable but also modest and just a little bit conservative. Rachel, on the other hand, is 26 years old. A single woman who lives in the city, she already has a good career that pays her an enviable salary. She works hard but also plays hard, making her equally at home in a cubicle or in the club. In fact, she transitions seamlessly from lunch hour to happy hour and from courting clients to courting suitors. She’s sometimes serious, sometimes sexy, but always stylish.
“I entered the legal profession by accident. My father was a lawyer, but the last thing I wanted to do was be a lawyer. I have a bachelor’s of education, so I was bound to be a teacher. But when I got out of university, it was 1986, and the economics around work status in Montréal weren’t very strong. Teaching is a public-sector job, and those jobs are almost impossible to get. So I started working in a store. I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life, so when I met someone who was studying law, I started looking at her books and said, ‘Oh. It doesn’t seem as bad as I thought it was.’ After 20 years of practice, it’s still pretty exciting.”
At Groupe Dynamite, Alexia and Rachel are VIPs. Everyone from the CEO to the summer intern talks about them constantly, including what activities they like to do, what music they like to listen to, and what places they like to visit. Or, rather, would do, listen to, and visit—if they were real. They’re not.
Alexia and Rachel are stand-ins, meant to embody Groupe Dynamite’s real customers. Their priorities, therefore, are the company’s priorities, explains Christian Roy, vice president of legal affairs and corporate secretary. “Fashion is an ever-changing world,” he says. “If you want to be able to cater to the customer—as you should—you have to stay very close to the customer and very connected to her.”
That’s what separates Groupe Dynamite from other clothing companies, according to Roy. Although it was founded approximately 30 years ago, in 1975, the Montréal-based parent of the Garage and Dynamite retail chains stays current and fresh—and, as a result, successful—by maintaining intimate knowledge of its customers.
“We try to adapt to the ever-changing moods of our customers as much as we can,” Roy says, explaining that Groupe Dynamite regularly interacts with its customers—the Alexias and Rachels of the world—via social media and customer-satisfaction surveys. “We get thousands of responses to customer-satisfaction surveys every week, which helps us to stay very focused on and very open to what our customers have to say.”
Lots of companies listen to their customers, but Groupe Dynamite separates itself by constantly reacting to what it hears. “We’re not afraid to reinvent the wheel every once in a while—every day, if we have to,” Roy says. A perfect example was in 2003, when the company changed its business model from one based on reselling other designers’ clothes to one based on selling its own clothes, designed in-house and manufactured offshore by trusted partners.
Facts & Figures
Year Groupe Dynamite was founded
Number of brands the company owns
Retail stores worldwide
Retail stores in Canada
Retail stores in the United States
Retail stores in the Middle East
The change made Groupe Dynamite more nimble, which has allowed it to respond to new fashion trends more quickly. “We’ve shortened the lead time from design to shelf,” Roy says. “That allows us to be more agile and more efficient in providing the right garment at the right time in the right place. When we get reads from our customers and our sales associates in the field—there are approximately 4,500 of them—as to what they want and what they like, we can bring that apparel into our stores faster, which results in fewer markdowns and more sales. Plus, the customer’s happier, and happier customers come back on a more regular basis.”
Although he has almost nothing in common with Alexia and Rachel—he’s a middle-aged male lawyer, not a young, fashionable woman—Roy has proven himself indispensable to Groupe Dynamite as it pursues its goal of providing “the right garment at the right time in the right place.” The company’s only in-house lawyer, he joined the business in 2006 to manage its intellectual property. Now he handles not only that but also contract management and legal support of other business functions, including human resources and IT.
Perhaps Roy’s most important contribution, however, has been his legal oversight of Groupe Dynamite’s regional and international expansion, which began in 2007, when the company opened its first stores in the United States. “We’re one of the very few Canadian companies that is doing well in the United States,” Roy says. “That’s one of the reasons I joined the company in the first place: its expansion plans were very, very interesting.”
Although the economic downturn forced it to pause its US expansion in 2008 and 2009, Groupe Dynamite has continued opening new US stores since 2010, and it currently operates 36 Garage stores and four Dynamite stores south of the Canadian border. Because the United States is a natural extension of Canada, the process there so far has been remarkably smooth. A much bigger challenge, Roy says, has been the company’s expansion into the Middle East, which commenced in 2010. “We wanted to expand internationally and had received some expressions of interest from people in the Middle East,” he explains. “We knew we didn’t want to open corporate stores because of the old saying ‘Far from the eye, far from the heart.’ It was too far from home.”
Simply put, the company wanted to grow but knew it couldn’t open and manage stores that were oceans away. “In retail, location is everything,” Roy says. “Wherever we are, we want to be in only the best locations in the best malls, and the best people to find those locations in any given country are people who already operate there. So we built a franchise arm to our business.”
Groupe Dynamite opened its first franchised Garage store in Dubai in 2010 and now has Garage and Dynamite franchises in eight Middle Eastern nations—thanks in large part to Roy’s legal contributions, which have so far included country-specific trademark registrations, franchise agreements, and compliance efforts. “One of our biggest challenges is making sure we’re not in breach of local laws and regulations,” Roy says. “For instance, there are very strict laws [in the Middle East] about prints on garments. Also, we have to make sure we comply with required disclosures on labels.”
Local legal experts have been key to navigating such issues, and according to Roy, the best legal partners—at home and abroad—are those who understand not only the law but also the business. “There’s always a legal reason not to do something,” Roy says. “What I’m looking for is someone who will tell me where the pitfalls are and how to avoid them but ultimately will find a way to help me do a deal I want to do because it’s good for the business.”
Being besties with Alexia and Rachel doesn’t hurt, either—whether you gab with them in English or Arabic. “I’m not a fashionista by any means, but … you have to be able to live and breathe the customer all the time,” Roy says. “That’s how we’ve managed to stay ahead of the curve.”