Canadian Bag Retailer Bentley Looks to Expand Business Significantly with Store Concepts [Interview]

Mark A. Carlson

After surviving the pandemic, Bentley, a Montreal based luggage and handbag retailer, is looking to expand its pop up locations, grow its omni-channel, and add vending machines throughout Canada and globally. 

“We are building our foundation so we can do as many things as we think is logical to see where the growth potentials are. We have done studies already to understand what we are offering to the world of travel. We are still coming out of Covid and we didn’t come out rich, we just came out surviving and we are doing well,” says Walter Lamothe, the President and CEO of Bentley. 

Pop Up Concept Experiments 

Image: Bentley

Lamothe said Bentley experimented with pop up shops for its Riona line, a vegan handbag line, to see if it could live outside of Bentley stores. Although sales were a bit low, Lamothe said the pop ups saw incredible engagement from the consumer, had a lot of influencers show up “so it was successful from a marketing point of view, but not from the retail sales point of view. Right now we do have a pop up of Riona in Markham and we have one in Newfoundland, and that is our last two we are doing for the year.” 

The more serious pop up locations are Bentley’s tracker stores which have everything to do with transportation. 

“We have the airport pop up in Montreal and we have been there for a couple of years and we are going to build our first in line store in one of the malls here in Quebec for March. We are building it modular so it will be a very flexible pop up that can explore a new market. It can be fitted so it can stand alone in a hallway, it can be a shop and shop, it can be in any kind of environment. The pop up will be for anything to do with transportation, like airports and train stations so it is what we are working on. When you look at the Montreal airport, it allows us to be a lot more flexible on where we can try these new concepts, so there are still places in Canada to try but the real goal here is to go international.” 

Customers can expect the Bentley pop ups to have everything to do with travel as Lamothe said there are handbags for every moment in your life, relevant travel products such as straps that can go over your luggage, and Lamothe said they want to make sure all the products are built for travel. Customers can find anything from luggage, secure bags, backpacks, cosmetic bags, accessories – everything a customer would need for traveling. 

Walter Lamothe

“For the pop up locations, we see the airport and we see that becoming more permanent than a normal pop up but as we expand in Canada, we will see probably half a dozen that we would experiment with in different types of mall formats such as the Toronto Union Station, which is a possibility down the road.” 

In terms of other expansion plans, Bentley is going to renovate existing stores.

“We have a plan to do a couple of renovations. We have taken our old school concepts and changing out the tables, racking, shelving, and altering our window concepts so we can give a better presentation to the consumer and we are spending more of our money there in the short term and also creating an experience that is self-serve.” 

Self Service Shopping 

As technology evolves, so does the consumer’s shopping experience. Bently is growing its ONMI channel to allow consumers to interact with the products with a QR code to find out more information about the product, why it is good quality, how it compares to other products, and customers can also pay for the product on their phone. 

“Everyone walks in with a phone and within that, they can scan the QR code and get information about the product. It doesn’t sound out there, but when you look at the type of products we are selling, it is very technical and it is hard just by looking at something to know if you will be getting good quality. So we will be able to explain to our consumers just by them clicking to see the quality, why it is better than other products, and what the testing procedures are if they want to see that. So it is just making the ONMI channel come alive to the next level.” 

If a customer wants to buy the product in a colour the store doesn’t have, they can also order it right from their phones or through the cashier. Customers will be able to have more information on their hands than ever before as they will be able to look at the source of the product, what product is better for their travel needs, and the quality. Lamothe said these will be the options that will be available come 2023.  

Travel Accessories in Vending Machines 

Tracker (Image: Bentley)

Bentley is looking at introducing vending machines that will have accessories. The concept has already been tested as it is already available in Dorval, Quebec. Lamothe said they took a chip machine and transformed it into a tracker box where they have been selling accessories and has been successful. 

“The vending machine is anything that you need that you forgot while traveling. What we sell in a lot of these travel areas are things like luggage tags, scales in the airport, inflatable pillows that are in small packs. We have all kinds of things that are last minute carry-on items that were needed but left at home.”

Lamothe said it is looking into expanding the vending machine products to include more items such as compacted day packs. And if all goes well, Lamothe is hopeful he will expand this concept and will have a few machines by the summer of next year, and the goal would be to have them throughout the world. 

“We are happy to serve our customers and we have never stopped developing products. I have spent my career looking at what it is the customer wants and how we can exceed expectations. By doing that, we have an offering that is constant and I think that anybody who has not thought about Bentley before should check us out. I think we have the best offerings and that is our goal – to be in the number one position of all things that we sell to our consumers.” 

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