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Joseph Mimran, the visionary behind Loblaw Joe Fresh line and creative head and head of apparel, home and entertainment at Loblaw Cos. Ltd., recently talked with Diane Brisebois, president of the Retail Council of Canada, at the organization STORE 2011 conference. Mr. Mimran, who co founded Club Monaco before selling it to Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. market with a Fifth Avenue flagship store, the impending arrival of Target to Canada and his first timer approach to putting clothes into a grocery store. Here is an edited snapshot of their conversation.QDid you ever expect [the Joe Fresh line] to be such a success?A I think there was this notion that it was hard to have fashion credibility from that kind of a platform. We focused on design, and we are very fortunate to have the Westons and their support in putting together a team and a way of working which is very unique. We have invested very heavily on the design development side of the business. Also, there is no denying the power of the Loblaw organization, and to be able to have access to that distribution and parachute in these stores within a store across the country the way we did helped cement the success.QWhat was the “Aha” moment for you?A I don think it is about any little moment. Everything you do comes together into a big one moment. It was very difficult in the first season; we had no idea what the consumer would want from a food store; we had no idea whether the prices would resonate, whether they wanted casual dress versus something dressier. Everything that was done at that time, we did it really without very much research. We just said let build a line, let design the stores,
the marketing, the [rounded dollar] price points. We went with bright colours and tasty colours because it was a food store, and all of these things were all done intuitively, and it worked.QWhy go to the United States? There are different challenges and it is a small fish in a big pond, and there is a big cemetery [for Canadian failures] out there. How are you not going to be in that cemetery?A I think today to be truly competitive you have to be international, and you have to have the scale of an international player in order to continue to be important to all of your vendors across the pond. and beyond, I think we are shortchanging ourselves. Whether it by Americans or other international brands, we have been colonized by retailers for the past 20 years and it always rubbed me the wrong way and I hated it. It a gamble, and relative to our size it a very small gamble I know the market. is a very difficult place right now, but I still think you can build a presence from New York.QHow will you compete with emerging brands [in Canada] such as Target?A In 1990, the Gap came into this market and [at Club Monaco] we were purveyors of khaki pants and white shirts. And when the Gap came in it was just miserable because they came in as purveyors of khaki pants and white shirts. brands. And here the thing. After about a year and a half, two years, they will be here, and they will be one of the last of the competitors to come across the border. It one more American that we will have to try and fight off and that the nature of the business. They are a great store, a great concept. I think they will take a lot of the market, and up everyone game in the process. I be down in the United States growing there [chuckles].