For generations, Oberson has been a meeting place for skiers. The company founded in 1963 is today in the hands of the second generation, Alexandra Oberson has taken over from her father, Maurice, with a partner, Daniel L’Écuyer.
Before settling into the president’s chair, however, he had to overcome parental reluctance.
“My father did not identify me as a possible successor because he did not want to sell the family. He had witnessed many transitions that led to disputes or company failure. So this option was not considered”, says Alexandra Oberson.
However, drawn to business, Alexandra Oberson earned a bachelor’s degree in operations management at HEC Montréal, followed by a master’s degree focused on consumer psychology. He worked in marketing research before joining the family business in the early 2000s.
“I joined the company because my father needed a helping hand. I held various positions in operations and management of the company. Because I loved the field, I decided to position myself as a successor. Over time, my father’s perception changed, especially because my brother also showed interest,” he explains.
Started in 2015, the transfer process ended in 2020 with the total buyback of the company’s shares. Alexandra Oberson took over operations with her partner, Daniel L’Écuyer, her father’s “right-hand man” for years, who serves as vice president. As for his brother, Marc-André, a lawyer by profession, now runs the Ateliers Oberson subsidiary, which specializes in the repair and maintenance of ski and snowboard equipment.
Today, Oberson operates two stores in Laval and Brossard that serve a clientele that sometimes comes from Gaspésie and Abitibi to buy their snow or cycling gear. The company is studying the possibility of expanding its territory. “We are waiting to acquire existing specialty stores. We favor this option due to the current recruitment difficulties”, says Alexandra Oberson.
Thanks to a digital shift started in 2008, the retailer recorded strong growth in its online sales. “They currently represent 24% of our turnover, compared to 1% when I took over,” explains Alexandra Oberson.
This digital transition has not only allowed Oberson to increase its presence in the Canadian market, but also to face the pandemic with resilience. “Our ability to adapt allowed us to quickly turn around to handle order shipping or in-store pickup. The popularity of sports activities during the pandemic has boosted our sales.”
Rising inflation doesn’t seem to have slowed that momentum, at least not yet. “Sales growth continues. Winter sports fans tend to have higher incomes, inflation doesn’t have a big impact on our sales. Only long periods of recession could really affect our activity”, explains the manager.
In their development strategies, she and her partner rely on the growth of online sales on a pan-Canadian scale. They also aim to grow a new market segment: the sale of second-hand equipment and clothing, which has a growing demand.
Its other big project is the attraction and retention of staff. The company, which employs nearly 200 people, has implemented several measures to provide a stimulating work environment for its employees.
“We focused on training to make sure we keep them season after season. We employ many students who stay with us throughout their school career, from CEGEP to university, explains Alexandra Oberson. Also we have improved social benefits by offering up to six weeks of vacation based on years of service. In terms of salaries, they have increased by more than 20% since 2015.”
Recently, Oberson expanded its offer by integrating the sale of bicycles and equipment for cyclists. A market that is doing well, as it represents 38% of turnover. In this diversification effort, the retailer stays close to its DNA, the mountain.
“It’s the only way to differentiate yourself and become specialists. We continue to honor my father’s philosophy, which was always to offer well-chosen products and good advice to customers,” says Alexandra Oberson.
Date of foundation: 1963
Shareholders: Alexandra Oberson, Daniel L’Écuyer
Number of employees: 185