Pascal Houle: retail needs to innovate to grow

Before a crowd of almost 400 people, BMR CEO Pascal Houle discussed the challenges facing the retail trade sector, in particular the construction and renovation industry.

Recognizing the need to adapt to changing purchasing habits, with the expansion of big box stores and ecommerce sites, Mr. Houle added that BMR is ensuring its own continuity through a strong regional presence, attention to the customer experience and a unique business model.

With 50 years of experience and a network of 300 stores across Quebec, Ontario and the Maritime provinces, BMR Group has annual sales of $1.2 billion. With 8,000 employees, it is a mainstay of renovations in Quebec, with 75% of its products originating in Quebec and 90% in Canada.

According to Mr. Houle, BMR Group’s success lies in the commitment of owners to their community and their expertise. He added that a number of franchisees have been operating in the renovations sector for generations, allowing them to consolidate their presence in their community and preserve the organization’s values.

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Dr. Guy Breton, Rector, Université de Montréal

A unique, cooperative business model

In keeping with the cooperative model that has guided the company since its beginnings, BMR Group became a subsidiary of the Coop fédérée in 2015, a partnership that has enabled it to tackle the challenges of competition by forming a network that generates $6.5 billion and has over 14,000 employees.  

Mr. Houle maintains that the company’s ability to adapt has led to a diversification of its activities and acquisition-fueled growth. With the acquisition of Lefebvre et Benoit, a company that distributes construction materials to contractors, BMR is breaking into the expanding market of commercial building construction.

A 21th century hardware store

Pascal Houle recognizes that big box stores and new competitors such as Amazon have had a major impact on retail trade, which has no choice but to innovate and adapt. Despite this, there is still a need for brick-and-mortar brands, and Mr. Houle reiterated the importance of offering its customers a multichannel experience. 

To address these recent changes, which are “wonderful challenges,” according to the CEO, BMR Group launched La Shop, an urban hardware store concept located in Montréal’s Griffintown. The new brand offers a range of services to respond to a Millennial clientele, including self-serve cashes and parking to pick up online purchases, bulk products, and handyperson services. According to Mr. Houle, the La Shop concept proposes an innovative offer that enhances the purchasing experience for an increasingly demanding clientele that is more accustomed to ecommerce.  

A strong employer brand to address the labour shortage

In discussing the labour shortage, which has not spared the renovations industry, Pascal Houle explained that the company is banking on a new employer brand that focuses on the well-being of its members and a strong organizational culture to recruit, retain and mobilize employees.

Mr. Houle concluded by acknowledging that despite intense competition in BMR Group’s niche, the company can count on the vitality of its partnership with the Coop fédérée and its regional presence to grow and “live for another 100 years.”

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