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The bumpy fate of Réno-Dépôt

The bumpy fate of Réno-Dépôt

The history of Réno-Dépôt department stores is but a long, quiet river. During the course of thirty years, its owners were Quebecers, Frenchmen, British and Americans. We forget that the Molson family is the origin of this concept and that Home Depot had the opportunity to get their hands on it. “A more complex journey than residential plumbing,” my colleague Mark Tison aptly summed it up in 2018. And it's not over yet.


Tests will be carried out in the coming months to determine whether the Réno-Dépôt name is worth sticking around. Of the 20 branches, some will be converted to Rona+, which will make it possible to see the impact of the change on sales and profitability.

The first step was taken on Thursday with the opening of the first Rona+ in Quebec, in Gatineau, in the former Reno Depot.

Two more conversions, in Sherbrooke and Charlemagne, will take place in April. In Canadian English, the name Rona+ is already visible. It has been hung in all 56 Lowe's stores in recent months. This change in identity has been necessary since US giant Lowe's sold Rona to New York investment fund Sycamore Partners in 2022.

Photo courtesy of Rona

The new Rona+ façade in the Hull sector, in Gatineau

Despite these three conversions from Réno-Dépôt to Rona+, top management maintains that the fate of the brand that has long reduced the cost of renovation in Quebec, according to Normand Brathwaite, is not sealed.

“We want to make sure we're making the right decision,” Katherine LaPorte, senior vice president of marketing and customer experience at Rona, told me. So it is possible that the chain with the turquoise logo will not disappear. We also have the option to “return to Réno-Dépôt” if Rona+ does not produce the expected results!

However, the company recognizes that the brand has “lost a lot of strength”, that it has lacked love and that investments have not been sufficient in recent years. The retailer's internal data also shows that the Réno-Dépôt name resonates much less than Rona in the minds of consumers who say they are dissatisfied with customer service and product assortment.

In fact, Léger's most recent in-store customer experience survey in January told us that Réno-Dépôt came at the bottom of the list of appliance stores.

Its score of 54.9 points was far behind Quebecers' favorite company that renovates or gardens, Qaanaaq, in the lead with 86 points. Even more worrying is that out of 228 companies evaluated by Léger, Réno-Dépôt came in 211th place.H Rank. The climb is steep.

Under these circumstances, one might wonder why Ruona continues to insist on keeping Reno Depo alive. The justifications are not clear. It is reported to be a “very strong” brand for Quebecers who still remember its beginnings, and one that has been “set aside a bit” for Rona.

The Réno-Dépôt concept was already in trouble 10 years ago. A budget of $20 million was allocated to renovate the concept.

Rona wanted to restore it to its original model, a Costco-like warehouse with pallets on the floor and low everyday prices. The product range has been cleaned up and the presentation has changed. In retail parlance, this is called repositioning. The strategy can work as long as the changes are visible enough to impact customers' faces and useful enough to generate loyalty.

In the case of Renault Depot, Lowe's divestment (from 2016 to 2022) and the current state of the network suggest that the strategy announced in 2014 may not have paid off.

Initially, on paper, the idea of ​​the Réno-Dépôt co-founders was promising.

Molson, through its Aikenhead subsidiary devoted to hardware, and the family of Pierre Michaud, owner of Brico Center, have joined forces to imagine a Home Depot-inspired concept, combining hardware and woodworking.

In 1993, the magazine Business Plus He wrote this about Pierre Michaud: “The renovation specialist destroys the competition with the Réno-Dépôt concept.” Nothing less!

Four years after opening the first Réno-Dépôt store, the company is already sought after by French appliance giant Castorama. Home Depot could then take advantage of a pre-emption clause negotiated during a previous deal to outbid the French company. This did not happen. The following year, Castorama was swallowed up by British company Kingfisher.

Réno-Dépôt again became a Quebec company in 2003, when it was acquired by Rona. The chain then had 20 titles, the same number as today if we exclude the Thursday shift in Gatineau.

Compared to other Runas, this branch, which displays a “+” sign on its facade, is larger, which makes it possible to sell household appliances, more floor coverings and lawn mowers, for example.

  • Beauclair boutique inside Rona+ in Gatineau

    Photo courtesy of Rona

    Beauclair boutique inside Rona+ in Gatineau

  • Beauclair boutique inside Rona+ in Gatineau

    Photo courtesy of Rona

    Beauclair boutique inside Rona+ in Gatineau

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Another new feature: the arrival of the Buckler mini-store offering more than 200 products such as cushions, chairs and curtains. The collaboration ended quickly. The decor company's owner and president, Peter Goldberg, told me he received a call from Rona shortly before Christmas.

After an “internal debate” about the risks of dismantling his own stores, the businessman saw that the agreement could only be positive. “For me, it's an opportunity to expand my business and showcase my brand across Canada to new consumers.” It must be said that the financial risks are low, as the shares are sold to Rona.

Two more Rona+, in Ontario, are poised to make way for a variety of products designed by Bouclair in Montreal. These tests could spread the concept across the country. “I'm sure they will,” Mr. Goldberg says with a smile.

After decades of changes, uncertainties, tests, investments, announcements and new strategies related to Rona's brand portfolio, the future of Rona+ raises as much uncertainty as curiosity.

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