Pierre-Benoit Duhamel of Clusier, Dress up the Montréal executive
It is by following the Clusier boutique on social networks that I discovered it some time ago, I immediately saw a fit with the mission of Gentologie. I met Pierre-Benoit Duhamel, the founder, at the launch event of their renovated store (you can see everything here). It was enough to want to know a little more about Pierre-Benoît’s story, so here is the resume of our meeting.
After having served me an excellent coffee [Pierre-Benoît had to be Barista in another life], we start our discussion and he asks me a little about the genesis of Gentologie, and I explain to him that during my research, at the School of Entrepreneurs of Quebec, I found that there was not a big niche for men, whether in Quebec or Canada. Our discussion quickly falls into fashion [we are still in a clothing store], and me, to say:
“I find that with the arrival of Virgil Abloh in the fashion world, I feel that the elegance has decreased a little in the wardrobe of the man, that streetwear has taken a lot of importance. “
There is a lot of commercial fashion, I’m not against streetwear. Moreover, I think that a small part of a wardrobe for men can be dedicated to beautiful quality products, joggers pants, but depending on the context in which it is worn. Obviously, everything should not be focused on that, yes there must be a balance in a wardrobe. Look here, you’ll laugh, but here we have the kind of high-quality streetwear quality. We do it, but very precise in our niche.
As in occasions to relax at the cottage on weekends or whatever. So it is by digging a little in fashion that I discovered Clusier. I found the brand interesting and everything. You created Clusier a few years ago right??
Yes, it’s been 12 years. I left that in a very small room. I did not have clients, I built everything one client at a time with my team. And today, we serve the “executives” of Greater Montreal and a clientele that passes through Montreal.
“Technically, a guy can come here and buy everything here, be advised, we build personal files, we have all the history of purchase,
so it makes visits easier since the time of our customers is limited.” – Pierre-Benoit Duhamel
And where did the idea come from to start Clusier?
I have an entrepreneurial background, I went to McGill University, I have Bachelor of Commerce degree with a marketing side. I did not know what to do when graduating from McGill, I had interviews, job offers in good companies, in marketing departments. But as soon as I put my foot on it, I did not feel at my place, it was not for me. So I took the summer off and I went to Browns to sell shoes, just to work and have nice weekends and just take the summer to think. And that’s where the idea came from, I went for a lot of cycling (Pierre-Benoît just finished the Grand Défi Pierre-Lavoie with the Cycles Néron team) in Griffintown who was not finished yet, Old Montreal, there were offices already at Square Victoria, where there were several people who wore clothes. I told myself that we could serve the Montreal executive, because there were not many offers in Old Montreal in quality clothing.
I start this small, just to locate you, my entry level now, it was my high-end at the time. The clientele ask for a better product, better fabrics, confections, find the right manufacturers throughout the world, but still we always end up looking mainly in Italy and in fact Montreal is still a hub of suit manufacturing. In Montreal, we are pampered, we have the best manufacturer of men’s suits in North America called Samuelsohn and another company that make the confection is much better than BOSS, Italian fabrics, made in Canada, but who will arrive in the same market segment as Hugo Boss. We choose to work, if we do not deal with brands, we do business with good manufacturers.
Through this, there are brands, which are also excellent manufacturers who produce their own goods, like ETON, (The cover of our most recent magazine) for example who buy their fabrics in Switzerland, they are shirts that perform well and do not crease. So that’s the example of a brand that does that well. I could name dozens. We have Re-HasH (photo) which is jeans made in Milan and it is still the family that produces this. They have Italian stretch fabrics that are exclusive to them. So we do this research and even if it’s a brand, there is all the know-how of these families.
It goes to the company of socks like the one we we have, Marcoliani, it is a family of 4 children; one who does the design, the other the marketing, another the sales and the last the accounting, they have about fifteen employees, but they distribute around the world, selling to Saks, they sell to us, but you purchase from Italian or Canadian families that specialize in certain products.
So you built, and there is also Michel Brisson who moved to Old Montreal since 2010. And you are doing both very well.
Yes, he’s doing very well in his niche, I think being around a few of them brings men’s clothing up and that gives a diversified offer. The buying philosophy of our competitors is different, and it creates places of discovery for customers and everyone decides where they prefer to shop. One thing we built our reputation on is tailor-made, and people have the idea that Clusier, in the tailor-made, is very very high-end and therefore very expensive, but the reality is that we can come out of beautiful suits made to measure in Canada in Italian fabrics to just over $1000 and sometimes even a little less. We are talking about a suit that is in the same segment of the market as the competition in the commercial luxury like Boss, Tiger of Sweden, Mabrun, Mabro, we will seek this niche to measure and what one sees is that many young people, let’s say of 29 to 34 years, it’s like a hub in their career, they have promotions, want to dress better, and this is where it becomes interesting for the young businessman.
“Here, the process, when you come, we make you try clothes. We will not just take your measurements and make you a suit, we will make you try styles of shoulders, different cuts of jackets, to know your vision of your style, because we are very neutral.
We are here to advise you, but we want the customer to be good in what he has.” – Pierre-Benoit Duhamel
At Clusier, we outsource the production of our Clusier brand. Our shirts, I’m ready to tell anyone, it’s the best value on the market. We have fabrics that come from the same mills as Eton, but as I go directly, the price is significantly lower for the consumer and the guys are walking with top quality shirts for less than $160. It’s good to pick up new kids who want to get dressed and enjoy it. Because clothes are like wine. When you taste a good wine, you want to try something even better, it’s the same for clothes, you make an experience of beautiful fabrics, beautiful confections, you have a level of comfort, things breathe well, so it’s a bit in the same vein.
It’s funny that you say that, because I spoke the other time with one of my friends (a great manager in human resources, Alexandre Corriveau), we go shopping, and the jackets fit us more or less, a little much too long, a little too wide, too short, etc. when we were younger, it bothered us less, but now, while we have a little more experience in clothing, we want to be comfortable and good in what we wear and I am convinced that the tailor-made can offer that.
Really, here the process, when you come, we make you try clothes. We will not just take your measurements and make you a suit, we will make you try styles of shoulders, different cuts of jackets, to know your vision of your style, because we are very neutral. We are here to advise you, but we want the customer to be good in what he has. Maybe you are going to like a very natural shoulder, while another person prefers a more structured shoulder. Making you to try all this is that you will already know what to expect when the product is delivered. It makes it much easier for people who do not know about tailored.
It’s super interesting. And if you look back over the last 12 years, the evolution, precisely, of the shop, which has become a reference made-to-measure compared to the beginning, how would you define it?
I think that at a given moment, we have to decide in which niche we operate and focus on it. We are talking to business people, who are starting to appreciate quality, who want to be well dressed, and who are willing to trust us. We must have a product that basically, as if by. For example, I have polyester made in China, I try to align everything, it will not work. We decided that this is a niche in which we cannot be, if we want to offer the Clusier look and standard.
The idea is to always have something more unique, more modern and more refined. It’s like our 3 forces that “lead” our business.
Pierre-Benoit Duhamel: Investing in a physical store in the digital age
Here, we are in the evolution of the shop, how did you come to do that compared to the old?
Yes, why, in the digital age, do we invest so much in a physical store?
So, it’s been 10 years since we moved into this room. We have a nice business, business people coming and going. But here it was time to change. I did it for the customers, I did not do it for us. The idea is to give back, the quality standards of the last 10 years have changed a lot. People’s expectations have changed a lot. And we are lucky to have customers who have the option to shop anywhere in the world, but they come to us! We need to be a world-class shopping experience. It must happen everywhere. We reviewed the whole process. How does a customer enter at Clusier, how is he welcomed, what is served to him, what are these options in terms of product portfolio? Here we are in phase 1 of renovations, phase 2 it will be to develop more brands, manufacturers, in this box that our shop to offer more diversity. The idea is that a man can come here and dress from head to toe. Whether you go to Florida or Italy, whatever, we have jerseys, towel t-shirts, then he has a meeting and he wants to be in a sports jacket with jeans, we have it. Everything is available for the customer, from the pair of socks to custom tuxedo.
Technically, a guy can come here and buy everything here, be advised, we build personal files, we have all the history of purchase, so it makes visits easier since the time of our customers is limited. They have children, travel by business, personal trips, they are outside the weekend, so you have to make their visit very effective. We have good internal systems that give the purchase history. So if a customer tells me, I come tomorrow at 2 p.m., we can prepare wardrobes that are already ready in their size.
You know a little also their styles, what they like, whether in relation to colors or others.
Exact, we know our customer profile, we see what he bought in the past. What we also do is try to add things that will fit with the jacket he bought last year, the jacket he bought 6 months. So, build a wardrobe that makes sense, that will be easy to arrange and that it can use in various occasions.
It’s interesting to watch all that and maximize the customer’s purchase. That the jacket is not just portable with the suit, but with something else.
Exactly, we want the customer to be comfortable coming here. If, admittedly, he prefers to buy Clusier shirts, we will not sell him Eton shirts or Xacus that is 2 ½/3 times the price. Must be “fair” with everyone. And the idea is that people try our product that they come to adopt and that Clusier is 100% of their wardrobe. This is the ultimate goal, but it is not realistic today. The idea is to build with customers over several years.
By doing this, you become the resource for them, and also as an entrepreneur, you increase your purchasing power to find more brands, and more choice for your customers.
It comes to investing in the company. And it is certain that the more our business volume increases, the more we invest in our team, we invested heavily in the place, there we will reinvest in new collections. The focus is the customer experience. If you go in the optics of making only profits, it does not follow. We want people to be good at Clusier. We have relationships of trust with our customers. Our best business card is our customers, they leave super “sharp,” happy, and that people tell them it’s beautiful what you wear, where you found that? Clusier…
We’re talking about Clusier, and that’s probably the first question I should have asked you, the name comes from where in fact.
It’s funny, it’s my father who found that. When I opened my first store, it was much further south of McGill Street, and there was the Café des Éclusiers, so we took the contraction, Clusier, and the.com was available. It sounds European, and we do European fashion, and at that time, it was Clusier dresser, so to dress people, to take care of their clothes and it’s simple like that. Clusier is also a good name for a brand. Easy to read, easy to say.
Compared to the website, how are we transposing this new evolution of the brand into digital?
We’re looking at it right now, in phase 2 that I was talking about earlier, and as I said, we are developing a lot of our brand and we have no interest in competing on brands that are commercially sold by 200 websites worldwide. Our vision is to develop our private label, it’s going to be done in the next 6 months, and we have a certain category of products that we are still a prototype and then launch it in e-commerce. We are the only distributors, we have the guarantee seal Clusier, so it’s a little that way that our digital strategy will be implemented, and we dedicate our next year to that.
In the past, we sold online multibrand, like other competitors, and what we sold the most is our brand Clusier. And, do not hide, it takes a good team to do it all. Without my great team, I could not go far. We have all our strength and it’s perfect like that.
Questions in a hurry for Pierre-Benoit
Your favorite city in the world?
Should I name only one? I would say Montreal. I like the balance between a little European lifestyle where you can go to the market and you are not in a state of extreme stress. And I also love the other side where you can eat in places like New York and you can live that kind of life too. My two cities other than Montreal, I would have said Florence for the European side where you can walk everywhere, small cafes and all or New York because it’s just extravagant and everything is extreme, you can discover many things. So Montreal is a good balance.
Your favorite restaurant?
Business lunch, the Graziella. Dinner with friends The Tuck Shop. I’m going to be silly, because I have lots of friends who have restaurants and who will tell me why you said that (laughs).
And if we go on the cocktail scene, what is your favorite bar?
In fact, my favorite place to have a drink is Le Parloir. I have been a member for a year. You have your little cellar. I bring friends, I make small cocktails, I take a glass of white wine with my girlfriend. I work with a financial advisor at Jarilowski Fraser and we have a lot of events together. We have a wine club at Clusier. We do tastings, to meet people, to promote the art of living. Le Parloir is also used for this wine club there.
Our next question, your favorite car?
Honestly, I’m not a car that much. My friend Norman J. Hebert from Park Avenue Group would tell you I need to change. He also passed me an Audi Q8 during a weekend and I liked it. We collaborate together on a series. But a car that I like is a Black Porsche Carrera 4, hard top, very classic. Impeccable, I love it.
What is your favorite airline?
Swiss, when I go to Europe I always take Swiss.
Favorite place to travel
I like Europe in general, Portugal, Italy. My job gives me the chance to travel to Italy quite frequently to see suppliers. So, I came to love Florence for its culture and gastronomy. And I’m going skiing with my father every winter in Val d’Isère.
Favorite place to shop?
Cycles Nero and the SAQ. Sunday morning, I’m going to my market, I have my advisor, it takes time with me, we eat beautiful things, we plan a beautiful evening. I think that for a crown corporation, a monopoly, there are really people who are there to advise you, as is done at Clusier.
Your favorite place to disconnect?
The Eastern Townships, biking, lakeside. I know that when I took the exit 106 of the highway, I know that I am already disconnected.
Something you could not live without.
Thank you very much Pierre-Benoît, it was really interesting, and the best of luck with this Clusier 2.0 and we remind our readers that with our new partnership with Clusier, club members are entitled to $100 on their first purchase of worth $300! And take a look at the looks that Pierre-Benoît offers you on the latest magazine. Discover the new store here.
Find Pierre-Benoît on the brand new Clusier website.