In less than two weeks, the 20th anniversary of Empire will officially kick off with a weekend you won’t forget. The Empire Open on August 29th to 31st, the Vans Best Trick and the Official Block Party on Saint-Laurent Street followed by an after party at Don B. Comber on September 1st.
Before jumping in the festivities, lets dive into Empire's two decades long story. Check out what Phil Grisé has to say about the origins of the store, plans for the future, dream store locations and, of course, snowboarding and skateboarding.Click here for the event's details →
Before getting to the heart of the matter, how did you decide to start Empire? The first Empire store opened its doors on August 15 1999 at the 1978 Chemin du Fer à Cheval in Sainte Julie. I was working at a board shop called Illusion in Saint-Bruno at that time. After a couple years there, I started to have my own vision of what a board shop should be. The owners vision was very different than mine and that's when I seriously started to think about opening my own store. On May 17 1997, I called Frédéric and Patrick, the two guys with whom I started Empire. We started it like everyone else, we did our research, we developed a business plan and we tried to create something refreshing and new compared to what existed at that time.
Random millennial question: Did you use the Internet back then? How were you guys communicating? The Internet existed in 1999, but it was still pretty primitive at that time. We did not use the internet as regularly as we do today. I remember that at first, we were sending orders by fax! You had to make an order on a piece of paper and fax it to the brands.
You guys have been in the game for a while. What does 20 years mean to you? It’s a beautiful achievement that I'm really proud of. We managed to honor our name and we built a small empire! It’s cool to think that we have become one of the main references in the snowboarding and skateboarding industries in Canada, if not the main reference. Today, we hire more than 300 employees, we have 9 stores across the province, in addition to our online store. We are still very active in the events department and we still care about the development and support of our community a lot. We are proud that after so many years, we’re still able to put as much efforts into marketing. Some people say that marketing isn’t that necessary, but we’ve always attached a lot of importance to it. It's also a pride to be as appreciated by the public today as we were in our early years.
If you could open an Empire store anywhere in the world, where would it be? Hmm... That’s a good question. I don’t really intend to get out of Canada for the moment…
Okay, let's say someone gives you a few millions and forces you to open a store, but you have to decide the location. Where would you go? Today’s skateboarding is really international, but back when I skated a lot, the two skateboarding meccas were California and New York. For this reason, my dream locations would be San Francisco on the West Coast and New York City on the East Coast. As for snowboarding, I would go to Japan for their perfect snow. I would also go there to discover their culture, which fascinates me.
Can you name 3 highlights that have marked the history of Empire over the last 20 years? The first major event that comes to my mind is the opening of our first store! Haha. It's for sure the biggest highlight. I believe that the opening of the Montreal and Boisbriand stores is an extremely important step in the evolution of our brand too. We were established in our region and our store was doing well on the South Shore, but by opening on the North Shore and in downtown Montreal, we realized that even if we are boys from the South, there’s people looking for what we are offering outside of our comfort zone. It gave us the confidence to keep going and open more stores.
The Shakedown is another huge highlight for Empire on the events side of things. It has been a big part of the snowboarding and even skateboarding communities for a lot of years. Everyone knew the Shakedown and we were reaching record crowds year after year! The Shakedown was a unifying element that created a real sense of belonging to Empire. It was like a family annual gathering of epic proportions. Today, people still talk to me about the Shakedown on a regular basis.
What’s next for Empire? Any plans we should be aware of? We put a lot of efforts into rebuilding our stores right now. Revamping our customer experience is our mission and the reason why all stores have been renovated, including our web store. This can sound a bit business oriented, but we're proud of what we've built over the last 20 years and we're proud to say we'll continue to invest and make things better for another 20!
Sounds great! Is there anything else you would like to say? I’d like to thank the entire Empire family, including current and past owners, our employees, our snowboarding and skateboarding athletes and all those who came to our stores, to our events and who have contributed, from near or from far, to our success. Thank you!