Visionary. The game changer. Generous. There was plenty of words yesterday to describe Gilbert Rousseau, a Quebec pioneer in the world of hockey equipment sales and founder of the Sports brand Gilbert Rousseau, who died at 71 on Tuesday following a cancerous cancer.
It was in 1973 that Mr. Rousseau gave his first skates in the field of retail sales. He had opened his first store where he offered various sports articles on Dudemaine Street in Montreal.
He had $ 4000 in his pocket when he visited his banker to finance his adventure. “He put all his pay aside to achieve his goal,” says his wife for nearly 30 years, Sonia Quéry.
As the saying goes, little train goes far, Mr. Rousseau has managed to build over the years a network of 23 stores across Canada under the Sports Rousseau, L’Entrepôt du Hockey and Pro Hockey Life brands.
Then in 2013, a subsidiary of the giant Canadian Tire, owner of Sports Experts, spent $ 85 million to grapple with the specialist in hockey articles. The latter then had a turnover of $ 95 million.
But let’s go back to the 1980s. In 1986, Sports Gilbert Rousseau had three stores in the greater Montreal area, says the group’s former vice-president of purchasing and Mr. Rousseau’s friend, Louis Fortin.
The brothers of the Montreal businessman, Marcel and Daniel, also held shares in the family business for several years.
“In 1986, we were still selling items for all sports,” says Fortin. “Mr. Rousseau was a visionary. He was my mentor. His plan in life has always been to become the largest retailer of hockey equipment in Canada. He succeeded in a way, ”he rejoices.
One of the turning points in the growth of Sports Gilbert Rousseau was to abandon the sale of bicycles around 1988 in order to concentrate exclusively on hockey articles. “It was very avant-garde. However, the future proved him right, ”emphasizes Mr. Fortin.
Over the following years, the management increased the number of openings. In 1998, along Highway 440 in Laval, Mr. Rousseau inaugurated what was “the largest hockey store in the country, according to his relatives.
“There was almost nothing in this area. He was considered a little crazy, ”recalls Ms. Quéry. “Bauer called it The game changer. He had received a special mention from this company for his vision of hockey in the retail trade, ”she continues.
Then in 2007, to support its growth across English Canada under the Pro Hockey Life banner, the company joined forces with a group of private investors led by Corporation Financière Champlain.
The first boutique outside Quebec had opened in Ontario. Subsequently, there was the acquisition of L’Entrepôt du Hockey in Quebec City.
When the company was sold to Canadian Tire, Mr. Rousseau was at the head of a chain with branches in five Canadian provinces.
After this transaction, the businessman continued to invest in companies, says Martin Roy, friend and manager of the wealth management of Mr. Rousseau. “He was an exceptional being. He was trying to make people better. You couldn’t get the entrepreneur out of him ”.