In October of this year, construction permitting, Groupe Boucher Sports will open the largest sporting-goods store in Canada, housing Sports Experts and Atmosphere in a 7,800-square-metre space over two floors. “It’s more digital, it’s more experiential and it will have more products,” says Martin Boucher, the company’s president. He opted to build the store, which will employ around 200 people, in the company’s hometown of Quebec City rather than a market like Montreal or Toronto. “I’m very proud of that,” he says.
The store opening marks a milestone after several years of rapid transformation. Groupe Boucher Sports owns and operates 29 sporting-goods franchises under three banners, the main one being Sports Experts. “Whether you’re climbing Everest or you just want to buy a comfortable pair of shoes for walking, our stores are for you,” says Boucher, noting that they really did help outfit someone who climbed the world’s highest peak.
Since the pandemic hit, there’s been a notable uptick in the stores’ outdoor-equipment departments, where goods like camping gear and kayaks are hot sellers. “It was a tough year,” says Boucher of 2020, “but in our sector, the regular customer is buying more and we’re seeing new customers.”
And while COVID complicated operations — stores were shuttered for months on end — succeeding in the face of a headwind is nothing new for Groupe Boucher Sports. “It’s one of the toughest jobs in the world to own and operate a retail store, especially in the past decade,” says Boucher, who has worked in the sector for 37 years, including 21 at Groupe Boucher. While he and his team still believe in bricks and mortar, they’ve worked to transform the business for the digital age. “We use the web to bring customers into our stores, and we use our stores to bring customers to the web,” he explains.
Rather than having a head office, the company has what he calls the “service centre,” which is focused on serving the needs of the stores and the 850 people they employ. “Our mindset is that the staff in our stores are the most important in our company,” he says. That’s why Groupe Boucher has doubled its training budget over the past two years and why at peak times, like Black Friday or the holiday season, the corporate office closes and everyone works on the floor. “Even our accountant is there,” says Boucher.
It’s also why, at the beginning of the crisis last year, Boucher spent his evenings making phone calls to more than 200 employees, often spending 20 minutes or more reassuring them and explaining the way forward. “For me, we need to lead by example on all levels,” says Boucher. “I always say: the customer is never more satisfied than the employee who serves them.”