Clément helps parents spoil their kids
Declining birthrate means parents spend more on each child

If a Montreal kid had a birthday 30 years ago, the gifts he got would likely have been fairly modest.

Mom knew that whatever she spent, she'd eventually have to disburse an equal amount on his siblings when their turn came. But key trends including a declining birthrate, aging population and more women in the workforce, mean that kids these days are much luckier.

Today's typical family is more likely to have one child, who gets birthday gifts from two working parents, four grandparents and scores of childless aunts, uncles and parent's friends, who have no kids of their own to spoil.

"We are spending much more money per child than ever before," Jean Clément, vice-president of Clément Ltd,, a children's clothing and accessories chain said.

That's good news for Clément, because a lot of the increased spending has been taking place in his chain's 26 outlets.

The stores carry medium to high-end clothing that targets kids between the ages of zero and six, much of it designed internally with the manufacturing contracted out to local suppliers.

Several of the stores also sell products under the Mad Max and Mady banners, which target the seven to 14 year-old "tween" market. The chain has seen considerable recent success. Sales have more than doubled during the past five years to almost $50 million.

The Clément family got its start in the retail clothing trade during the Second World War, when Jean's father André began selling military clothing.

But it was only when Jean and his brother Charles, who is now president, joined, that the company began focusing on the children's market, opening its first outlet in Place Ste-Foy in 1979.

The Clément family's interest in children is more than just professional. Jean and Charles have three sisters who are all active in the business, and between the five they have 17 children. As a result, most of the products in the Clément stores have already undergone considerable road testing.

In fact Jean Clément credits his personal experience with the company's successful foray into selling children's accessories.

In 1987 Jean wife was expecting their first baby, and he was asked to pick up a stroller. He did the rounds but couldn't find anything to his liking. Since sister Marie and brother Charles were also expecting, and both needed strollers, he decided to call a manufacturer to find out if they could get a deal on three of them. But the manufacturer refused to sell less than ten.

Clément bought the strollers, and put those he didn't need in one of his stores. When he came back the next week they had all been sold, and Clément knew he was on to a good thing.

Today, accessories including cribs, pillowcases, furniture and so on, comprise 20 per cent of the company's sales, a percentage that is expected to double within the next five years.

"Today's split families have provided a real boost for us. Many children have bedrooms at their father's and mother's houses," Jean Clément said. "Two bedrooms means two sets of furniture."

Clément has also been running a bit of a lucky streak.

Although the children's retail clothing industry is highly competitive, in recent years, key players including Au Coin des Petits and Frisco Kids have either left the market or have been greatly weakened.

According to Charles Clément many existing competitors are American-owned firms that just don't understand the Quebec market.

"If a U.S. retailer sells snowsuits throughout his chain, do you think he is going to sell a special brand in Quebec?" Clément said. "He couldn't care less. It's peanuts for him"

"But our winters are colder here. Quebec kids need warmer suits that zip up high to cover the whole neck," Clément said.

While selling 40,000 snowsuits a year doesn't explain all of the company's success, the Clément family's understanding of Quebec consumers is undeniable.

The aisles of its Fairview location tend to be liberally sprinkled with pregnant women and mothers pushing carriages, many with a dreamy or trance-like look in their eyes, as they survey the merchandise.

"Why don't you open a store in Ottawa Mr. Clément?" asked Chantale Pomerleau, who stopped by on a recent visit to Montreal.

Pomerleau and her partner Glenn Moran recently added a daughter to the family. But she regrets the fact that she has to cross the river to visit Clément's Hull store.

"The prices are a little high," Pomerleau said. "But the selection and quality is good. There are a lot of nice things here."

According to Jean Clément, the company's geographic and market focus unlikely to change much in the near future.

"Lot's of stores sell kids' products, but few of their sales people can explain them," Clément said. "Here that's all we do."



Photo caption: According to Jean Clément, vice-president and co-owner of Clément stores, much of the chain's recent growth has come from increasing sales of children's furniture and accessories.


Fact Box:
Company Name: Clément Ltd.
Web-site: https://www.Clé
Owner: Clément family
Products: Children's clothing
Employees: 500
Sales: $50 million
Phone #: 514-630-5646


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