Expanding into Quebec

Peer advice on entering La belle province

Written by PROFIT-Xtra
The CEO of a Vancouver-based retailer wrote to ask PROFIT readers: “I own a chain of retail outlets that I’ve spent the past decade expanding eastward, first across Western Canada and then into Ontario. The logical place to go next is Quebec, and it’s a big market that I think my stores could do well in. But I’ve heard that expanding into Quebec from English Canada can be as challenging as expanding overseas. Can anyone offer advice on how I can successfully enter the Quebec market?”

Best reader responses

Moscou “MC” Coté, Voyages Constellation, Montreal:

Having owned retails outfits in Quebec as well as in Ontario and previously expanding in the U.S. (albeit not in retail), I have found that expanding into the USA is harder than setting up shop in another province.

Quebec represents roughly 25% of the Canadian retail market (of course depending on your line of business, this may be higher or lower), and is probably worth getting into to make your chain national.

There are, however, differences to operating in Quebec, such as its civil law system; different employee/employer legislation; and French-language compliance issues—nothing that a good adviser cannot help you overcome.

It light of this, I would recommend you find a good regional manager that has managed businesses in Quebec and is fluent in French, and ideally someone who has managed a retail business with a similar product line to your own.

Also, it might be good to make sure that your marketing/image is not in conflict with Quebec cultural values (red signs, maple leafs, etc.), otherwise you will need to carry a double image and that might defeat the point, given the costs involved, or only go after the English-speaking market, which will limit your sales potential greatly.

Mitch Blanchard:

I am not sure it is any different, as long as you target the English areas. If you have a local manager that is familiar with the areas and what will work, you should do fine. The first thing I would suggest is to see if you are allowed to use the name. Quebec has some outrageous laws in that regard.

Sharon G. Druker, Business Law Partner, Robinson Sheppard Shapiro LLP, Montreal:

The most important thing is to engage local, bilingual legal and other advisors who can guide you through any specific provincial issues (such as compliance with the Quebec Charter of the French Language) and publicity that is compatible with local tastes and works in both languages. Conducting preliminary market research to see if you will be taking on a well-established local competitor and positioning yourself accordingly would also be a good initial investment. Generally speaking, Quebec is a sophisticated market that loves innovation, so we look forward to welcoming your business here!

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