When Groupe Dissan CEO Mario Lamarche took the helm in 2002, his mission was to drive the janitorial and sanitation company in bold new directions. The idea of a cutting-edge soap might seem farcical, but Groupe Dissan started by launching a private label of cleaning products. “No one in the industry thought we could do it, but now we have the biggest private brand in our industry, with 400 products,” says Lamarche. The latest addition to the company’s offerings is Instinct, a line of goods with names inspired by street gangs: There’s Addik (a washing detergent), Outrage (hand soap) and Goon (degreaser). It’s certainly some bold branding.
The private label is part of an expansion strategy that has turned Groupe Dissan into Canada’s largest business-to-business distributor of janitorial products, services, equipment and accessories. Over the past decade, Groupe Dissan’s Montreal headquarters has expanded from five employees to 65, and sales have doubled. The group’s “members”—30 smaller distributors across the country who buy their merchandise through the headquarters—have seen their sales increase 71%.
Lamarche got his inspiration from successful Quebec retail chains like Sports Experts and hardware retailer Rona; both created their own brands and then expanded the number of outlets in which they would sell them. “In 2002, we were just a buying group. [The members] used our combined volume to get better conditions,” says Lamarche. “Now we are a marketing group.” In 2008, Groupe Dissan opened three SaniDépôt retail outlets in Montreal, where janitorial service companies can purchase the company’s private-label products.
Lamarche’s strategy has been to carefully select distributors of jan-san (janitorial and sanitation) services from B.C. to New Brunswick and invite them to join the group. “We want the future leaders in their markets,” he says. The companies each pay a nominal membership fee of $250 per month but remain independent, and in return, Groupe Dissan helps them reach their potential by providing a “tool box for growth,” says Lamarche. This includes a central billing system to handle orders and accounts with suppliers, and a central warehouse where products are stored. Groupe Dissan also manages members’ websites, offers internal training to their sales representatives, produces an in-house magazine with market information and more. “I take mom-and-pop businesses and turn their owners into business managers, rather than operators,” says Lamarche.
The next step in his plan? “Make our members rich,” he says Lamarche’s intent is to buy member businesses when their owners retire. “Our ultimate goal is to absorb all our members in Groupe Dissan and, while we’re at it, buy some competitors,” he explains. In 2014, the company started the process by acquiring Produits Sanitaires Eco-Logixx, a competing distributor, adding Produits Sanitaires Yves Nadon in 2015 and Produits Sanitaires Bélisle et Carrière in 2016.
There’s been no growth in the janitorial and sanitation products sector in the past few years, according to the Canadian Office Products Association. But Groupe Dissan isn’t worried about losing its momentum. “The tool box we developed for our members has worked,” says Lamarche. “They are having a lot of success.”