|Type||Public (TSX: CTU.A)|
|Founded||Montreal, Quebec, Canada (1959)|
|Headquarters||Montreal, Quebec, Canada|
|Key people||Jane S. Segal (CEO)
Emilia Di Raddo (President, Secretary, Director)
|Revenue||303.88 Million CAD (2007)|
|Net income||24.75 Million CAD (2007)
(8.14% profit margin)
Le Château Inc. is a fashion company founded in 1959 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada that designs, imports and retails a wide range of women's and men's apparel, accessories and footwear. In 2006, the company generated sales of nearly $303.88 million CAD. The company sells directly to customers with over 232 retail stores in Canada, one in the New York metropolitan area, as well as five throughout the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. As of 2007, Le Château employed more than 3,000 people worldwide. Le Château manufactures about 35% of the merchandise itself in Canadian factories with the remainder being imported.
Early years: 1959-1982
Founded by Herschel Segal in 1959, as "Le Chateau Men's Wear", it began as a menswear store in downtown Montreal's Victoria Square, on St. Catherine's Street, a bustling shopping district at the time and a third store in Verdun on Wellington street. Segal gave his store a French name because of the budding francophone feelings occurring in Quebec. At first, Le Château was not a "fashion-forward" store, as it would later become, as Segal sold overstock from his father's old store. In 2003, Segal described his early customers as "old ... blue-haired ladies." Le Château did well at first, and three more stores were opened. However, by the early 1960s the company was close to bankruptcy, and all but the original store were closed.
In 1962, Le Château added women's clothing, shortened the name to "Le Château," and switched to selling the latest imported European fashions. The store imported from Carnaby Street in London, a fashion centre at the time, as well as other imports such as French suits and Italian turtlenecks. This worked well, and within a few years, Le Château completely phased out the original traditional clothing style to concentrate on selling fashionable imports to youths. Segal claims that Le Château was the first to introduce bell bottoms to Canada, and had the latest European fashion before it even arrived in New York. Le Château played an integral yet little known role in John Lennon and Yoko Ono's 1969 Montreal bed-in, providing the signature velour jumpsuits worn by the pair. By 1972, the chain grew to 10 stores, and by the end of the decade Le Château had over 50 stores across Canada. By this time, Le Château had shifted to selling mainstream fashion instead of the latest imports from Europe.
IPO and expansion: 1983-2003
In December 1983, Le Château had its initial public offering on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX), where it has since remained. It raised $7.3 million. By the early 1990s, Le Château had 160 stores and had switched to doing most of its design and manufacturing itself. In the early 1990s, there was a prolonged recession in Canada which hurt most business in the clothing industry.
In the mid 90s Le Château experimented briefly with Goth styled clothing and in 1997, it launched a short lived adolescent girls brand "Jr. Girls."
In the 1990s, Le Château had become criticized for cheap clothing and achieved a nickname "Le Crapeau." By 1999, the company's stock fell to an eight-year low and the company took a large quarterly loss of $1.3 million in the three months ended July 29, 2000, compared with a profit of $1.1 million a year earlier. This led to a management shakeup, store redesign, changes to the merchandise, and according to Le Château, a concerted effort to improve its quality and image. Executives at Le Château said the company's designers went too avant-garde and the chain's younger market "recoiled."
In 2003, Segal acknowledged the "disposable fashion" stereotype, and said the company "forgot about" the product. "We might have been sloppy," he said. "But now we're putting in more money and time. We have an inspection system and a young lady who's a grad of a textile school. We never had that before." Since then, Le Château has been trying to build up its brand image, and shed the image that its clothes are "only for wearing to nightclubs," a view that still persists. That year, it released a collection based on the 1960s-set Renée Zellweger movie, Down with Love and was the exclusive supplier of clothing to Canadian Idol contestants.
With many US retailers expanding into Canada, including competitor Express, and fast fashion stores such as H&M and Zara gaining market share, Le Château relaunched their brand in 2012. The company went from apparel for young, trend-hungry shoppers to “new concept” stores carrying better quality, grown-up clothes at affordable price points. The rebranding was complete with a new logo and new white, sterile, more upscale stores, with nickel fixtures and glass shelving. Known for their tailored and form-fitting clothes, it sells formal wear, casual wear, evening wear, and footwear. Le Chateau now has over 240 stores in Canada. While Le Château is publicly traded, the company is tightly held with 67% of shares owned by Silverstone, the company's board, executives and two institutional investors. In addition, the shares have less than 2% of voting rights. The current CEO is Segal's wife, Jane Segal.
In 1985, two years after the IPO, Le Château opened its first store in the United States. Le Château opened 26 stores in the U.S. over the next couple of years, including in Boston, New York, Chicago, and Baltimore. However, the stores fared poorly, something Segal attributes today to bad locations, poor fashion choices for U.S. tastes, and "entrepreneurial arrogance." Within a few years, all the American locations except for one location in New York would close.
In 1997, Le Château began opening several new stores in Manhattan and New Jersey and by 2003 had five stores. In November 2000, Le Château said it planned to open as many as 300 stores in the United States, concentrating in the Northeast at first; however, seven years later after making that remark, it still had only four American stores, all concentrated in the New York metropolitan area.
- Google Finance
- Le Château History
- Le Château Company Profile
- Starr, Ryan, "The Clothes That Made the Man," Canadian Business, February 17, 2003, p. 36
- Kletter, Melanie, "Le Château's American Dream," WWD, November 2, 2000, p. 8B.
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- Giese, Rachel, "Consuming Passion," This Magazine, November-December 2002, p. 23.
- Kletter, Melanie, "Le Chateau's American Dream," WWD, November 2, 2000, p. 8B.
- "More 34th Street Changes," WWD, March 13, 1997, p. 30.
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- Vogl, Cara, "Quitting the Club," Marketing Magazine, September 29, 2003, p. 16.