Empire: 2011 TransWorld Business Canadian Retailer Of The Year

Phil Grisé

North of the border the boys at Empire started building their, well, empire in August of 1999. Today the shop continues to grow its base in Quebec as well as across the nation through its online presence.

In between meetings about opening its next location, we caught up with Empire President Phil Grisé to learn more about what it takes to be named the 2011 TransWorld Business Canadian Retailer of the Year.

Take us back to your decision to open your first store in ’99. Why did you think you had what it took to pull this off?We had all worked in the industry for years as a shop manager, sales rep and distributor. We found it was time to step the retail game up and do something new and refreshing. We partnered up and decided to open a bigger and better shop then what was out there at the time. We got our concept going and made sure we kept it “real and true”: skateboarding and snowboarding only. We did not want to get into a bunch of different “action sports” and lose our “specialty” roots. By doing this we knew we would appeal to the “purist” skater and/or snowboarder. Things picked up like a rocket ship and we were catapulted into instant success. People from all over the place would drive up to check out our shop, so we decided to open a few more locations a few years later. Twelve years after opening our first shop, we have close to 10 shops and an on-line store also.

What’s the most rewarding thing about working with your brands and customers?
We definitely feel great when people come into our stores for the first time and are blown away by our concept. Sales reps, riders, sales managers, and customers all seem to really appreciate what we do. This gives us the momentum to keep the ball going and stay focused on development. We are blessed to live the lives we live!

What’s your philosophy on the role of core retailers?
Core retailers are very important to the industry’s survival. So many core stores have gone under in the last few years and business has changed a lot with all the economic uncertainty. So we tend to try and give more back to the community by doing more events and keep support to the maximum with riders and supporters. Investing in hard times often proves to be beneficial later on!  Mainstream stores that sell our type of product help boost sales for certain brands, but also take away the “core” factor. Skating and snowboarding are often a way for a kid to be different and marginal. You ain’t that marginal if everyone in your school is wearing the same pair of shoes as you. Core retailers need to carry some mainstream product to help pay the bills, but MUST also support core products to help the next generation of companies grow bigger.

What makes your shop different?
We tend to think a few elements make us what we are–It’s a combination of staying focused solely on skateboarding and snowboarding, store size, inventory selection, competent staff, great team of ams and pros and great customers! You mix all this up and you get Empire!

Take a virtual tour of Empire:

What have been the biggest highlights and lowlights of 2011?
Well there are many things that were cool and not so cool. I guess that seeing distributors open up more “non-specialty” accounts in and around our area was a kick in the balls! On the other hand, we just signed Seb Touts on our pro snow team. We also just signed a lease for a new huge shop in a key area. This took over two years of negotiating! Finally paid off! Super pumped!

This year was tough for core retailers. What have been the keys to your success through the recession and what have you done differently than in year’s past?
We sort of saw certain things coming. We prepared by making sure inventory levels were on point. This made sure accounts payable didn’t choke us and we also worked our asses off!!!

What are your predictions for 2012?
The end of the world! Hahaha! A few things are coming up for us on the real–two new shops and hopefully a new warehouse. Things are looking pretty good.

Empire would like to thank all the people that gave our name as top shop!!! It’s always cool to get some recognition for all the hard work you put into a project like this! Hope to see you all at the Shakedown in early April!!!