Interview with George Kehyeyan of MONACO

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A Journey to the Top of Retail

THE BEGINNING

“I started at a young age, around 15-16 years old – I started with a goldsmith doing design and creation for three or four years then worked at a big factory where they did custom-made designs.”

“I learned the business, this was back in Lebanon. In 1988, we came to Canada. I worked for four or five years here with a retailer making custom-made jewellery. After four or five years there was an opportunity to open up my own store in Laval.”

“It was a one-man show. I was the repair guy, the accountant, the buyer – you name it, it was me. Then my brother came along – we were partners together. After two years of that, we started seeing results, we were going in the right direction. We decided to open a second store. He took care of that store, I took care of the first one in Laval. That was the start for us, the first store in 1995 and then we took it from there.”

“From then we bought the second one in 1997. Then in 2000, we bought the third one. It was constant evolution for us, we didn’t sit back on the business that we had. We were always looking for something different, something creative, something new – brand names, products.”

“You know, we’ve been very active. We travel and we go to a lot of shows. Like JCK Vegas, Basel Fair in Switzerland, Hong Kong. Obviously we’ve learned a lot through the years – what is good for our market, what we need to bring and obviously we went and got a lot of brand names like Gucci watches and jewellery, like Tag Heuer Longines, Tissot – every year we try to add something new and get better and better.”

“Having said that, it was not only our main concentration on our products  – we needed to upgrade the look of our stores. And every time we opened a new store, it was a new design, the latest creations designs for the front of the store and so on.”

“At the beginning, it was very challenging for us because we didn’t have the name, we didn’t have the history – it was really tough for us to get in the malls. In some cases we had to buy new stores, existing retailers they were there so we bought their lease, so that’s how we got it.”

 

“And after that, now, it’s very easy for us. The malls they want the look of the stores, the products that we sell, the reputation that we have. So basically today, we are the major player in the malls in the retails business in the medium-high segment in the market in this area.”

 

CHOOSING THE NAME MONACO

 

“Always our objective was to go the high end in the watch segment – we were thinking that Monaco is prestigious  – it happened that I was there visiting and I was impressed by Monaco. More by the things that were happening there. So I said why don’t we call it Monaco? Because in Monaco. Everything is luxury. It’s prestigious, it’s gorgeous. People can remember a store name like that.”

 

“This year at the beginning of the year we had the opportunity to open up in the Cadillac Fairview Rideau Centre in Ottawa and we’re going in the luxury segment now completely.

In the store we had the Omega boutique on one side and on the other side the name La Maison Monaco –  they wanted to make a difference from the other stores so La Maison Monaco would represent a higher-end product.”

 

“In 2019 we are opening that store luxury store. We’re negotiating with Chopin, Gucci, Longines – it’s going to be a really, really nice concept.”

 

“Who knows the future, what’s waiting for us?”

 

“We don’t plan any more expansion into Ontario – not really. Because in the category that we’re going, it’s difficult to manage stores far away like that. We’re known in the Montreal area market. There are other opportunities in the Montreal market. Montreal has been a bit of a forgotten city for many years but all of a sudden investors they are coming to Montreal – big construction is happening in downtown, a lot of high-rises, a lot of condos, a lot of outside investors like Chinese, European, American, are investing in a lot of properties in Montreal. It’s not going to become like Toronto or Vancouver but it’s getting better for the past 10 years. It’s revivification in Montreal.”

 

“I think Montreal is going to become a major city. More international.”

 

CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

 

“Exactly what we are looking for is brand awareness. We want people to see the brands that we are carrying. We know that to do that for us, it was very important to bring what is inside to outside. People, they have to see us without getting intimidated and without getting inside the store to see what kinds of brands you have.”

 

“The latest concept that we did in Ottawa Bayshore, we brought the brands outside. So all the front of the store is all brands one next to each other.  That helped us a lot.

There are all types of consumers. Some of them are shy, some very intimidated they don’t want to come in and have a salesperson pester them: ‘Can I help you can I help you can I help you?’

Now what’s happening is that people are shopping, they’re looking outside, they like something they’re going to come in and say ‘Can I see this product or that product?’ So it was really a great concept I think what we did.”

 

“Today people, if you want to buy something, you want to see what kind of product this guy is selling. You want to buy a diamond ring, you don’t know the retailer. So if you see he has those products, that name, then you say this guy has good names, he’s got to be a good retailer.

So the combination was really good.”

MONACO BRANDED JEWELLERY

 

“We buy it from a manufacturer. It’s an important product. We have exclusivity in Canada.

We go and we change designs – import precious and semi-precious stones. In 2004-5 we started working with a factory – with the one condition of exclusivity.”

 

“We go there and we sit down with them and we modify their designs. Or sometimes we take our own designs and they manufacture it for us. It’s gotta be different it’s gotta be unique. The customer that comes, it’s gotta be something different they cannot find somewhere else. Service – got to come to see us.”

 

“We are really really competitive in terms of pricing. If people like our design, our products we have better clients, we have better quality and the best service. If the customer buys something in our collection, and something happens within two years, three years, they know where to bring it back.”

 

“It’s all about service with us. Nobody has a magic formula. All of us retailers, we have products – my competitors have different products, but the secret of success for the customer is satisfaction. If a customer comes to our store people see me and my brother, all of our staff, that the only thing we can be different from everybody else is with the service. That’s the key to success. If they’re happy, they’re going to go out, they’re going to have supper with friends and they’re going to talk about us.”

 

“I guess we’re doing something different from other people that’s why we’re having success.

It’s not only about selling the product. But the customers have to come back.

 

INDUSTRY

“The challenge of course for all of us is the online business. It’s affecting the most for all of us. The problem with online business is that some of the manufacturers, they’re selling the product at 30 cents on the dollar. Aggressive companies.”

 

“The problem is getting so much cheaper than our costs in those outlet stores and online business.  So for sure, it’s affecting retail business we keep on talking with the manufacturers –

Listen if you want to do that, we need to clean up our inventory.”

 

“Everybody they became aggressive. Today you’ve got to pick and choose what brand you’re going to continue, what brand is the cleanest to continue to work with. Sometimes we have to match is the discount.

Today it’s becoming so you have to give 10 points, 15 or 20 points to sell those products. Lower margins for sure, that’s affecting us. It’s gotta be the package. Basically, that’s what it is.”

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