For a short time in 1973 I worked out of the Towers Head Office - then located on Orfus Road in Toronto. Jack Genser, an executive with Towers, had me working on a photo project. The buzz in the office was all about the pending opening of a new concept "super" department store in Laval. The man in charge was Glyn Hacking. I worked with him to put together a 35mm slide show for executives. It opened but didn't stay in business for long. Its descendants live on in - think Walmart Superstores. ~Bill
The Montreal Gazette, October 31, 1973
Mass-merchandising hypermarche opens here
by Frank Solver
The lost workmen may not quite have put the finishing touches on Centre 2000 Laval when it opens its doors this morning, but its largest occupants and most of the smaller independent speciality stores, will be open for business.
The enclosed mall situated at the corner of St. Martin and Mavens boulevards in the Chomedey section of Laval will he dominated by North America's first hypermarché, transplanted here from France where the concept originated.
The hypermarket, a giant supermarket-department store combination and said to be twice the size of any supermarket now existing in Quebec, occupies 268,000 square feet of the centre's 540,000 square feet of retail space.
Leon's, a furniture store, accounts far another 165.000 and Independent shops make up the remainder.
The $11 million project is a joint venture involving Oshawa Group Limited of Toronto and Mondev Corp. Ltd. of Montreal.
The idea behind the hypermarché is to take advantage of as many mass-merchandising efficiency techniques as possible to keep prices as low as possible.
This concept is made explicit In the current saturation advertising campaign now Introducing the store to Montrealers — largely in French as the store's operators estimate the francophone sector of its clientele at about 80 per cent. The campaign centers on the theme that Hypermarché Laval is the store where "the higher they pile 'em, the lower they price them."
Editor's Note: Kristian Gravenor remembers some of the lyrics: "I'm going to build the largest store in North America.. a food and discount store in one great area... a thousand different items piled up to the sky... and the higher we pile them, the lower we price them, the lower we price them, the more you buy them... We've got meats by the meter, and toys by the ton"
The campaign is running right now without its television commercial, which could not be shot until the store was sufficiently complete, that is scheduled to come on air later this week but may not make it until next week.
The high-pile feature Is one that Oshawa Group director of public affairs Sam Crystal says can be further developed to further cut operating costs.
It refers to the basket-like containers, "pentainers." filled with merchandise and stacked several-deep almost to the building's high ceilings.
Right now some of these pentainers arc sent directly to the hypermarché, which uses its stacking space as a warehouse, by the manufacturers ad some come from a separate warehouse owned by the Oshawa group.
"We'd like to have all our products come straight from the suppliers, already in pentalners and already stamped (with price and inventory information)," Crystal says.
"We think more of them will do it once they see how it works. It's like anything new - you have to show people it can perform."
He explains that direct shipment in pentainers. supplied by the hypermarché, saves his firm money in such areas as handling and saves the supplier on things like cardboard containers.
Once in the store, the pentainers are moved around by forklift trucks that shuttle around the wide aisles removing empties from the floor level and moving full baskets to the floor level where customers have direct access to the marchandise either through the top or the side of the pentainer.
As stock becomes depleted, computerized inventory control orders new goods to be sent to the hypermarche and stacked on its shelves.
Another efficiency move is the magnetic ticket that is used on almost all of the non-food items and carries price and inventory information. It is read at one of 60 registers by a cashier who passes a pencil-sized wand over it starting a process that sends information all over the place including the cash tape given to the customer.
Food items will be handled in a similar manner when the universal product code, developed on a continent-wide basis by the food industry, comes into use in 1975.
The cash register terminals can now handle the information that will go into this code. The largest modification that will have to be made for the transition will be in the conveyor belt. A section will be installed that reads the code information as the food item passes over it and the entire cashier process will be accomplished without the cashier touching either the food or the register.
The store itself carries food products, men's, women's and children's clothing, toys and various other soft goods.
Thc food section Includes large selections or gourmet meats and fresh seafoods as well as the regular merchandise. It also has a complete in-store bakery to produce all its baked goods.
The clothing departments have been partially enclosed at their extremities to create a bit of a boutique effect and try to rid the customer of the feeling he is in an over-sized store.
The hypermarche uses special extra-large shopping carts that have hangers a n d partitions to keep various categories of merchandise separate.
Many vegetable products are being offered both trimmed and wrapped and untrimmed and unwrapped at a slightly lower cost.
As for price, Crystal says, "On opening day our prices will be the lowest on the Montreal Island. I have no idea what our competitors will do (to their prices).
"I expect there will be sense response after we enter the market."
Billboard (March 30, 1974)
"LAVAL, P.Q. - Hypermarche, an Oshawa Wholesaler's store located in Laval, Quebec, held one of its largest record and tape promotions from February 25 to March 2.
On the stores' 250,000 foot floor space, 70 dump tables of tapes and records were set out.
An extensive radio and television advertising program was used, in addition to advertisements in the local papers to draw attention to the promotion.
A number of Canadian recording artists including The Stampeders, Pagiaro, Patsy Gallant, Claude Dubois, Francoise Gay, Isabelle Pierre and Rene Claude were brought in to appear at the store to sign autographs and talk to the shoppers.
The project was coordinated by Serge Laurendeau, the branch manager of Handelman's in Montreal, and by Ward Poole, one of the buyers for Towers, "another Oshawa Wholesaler-owned chain."
First Hypermarche coming here
North America's first "hypermarche" will open in Laval next September.
The hypermarche is being built by Mondev Corporation as part of a shopping-centre complex — Centre 2000 Laval — in a joint venture with the Oshawa Group of Toronto at a cost of $11 million.
Mondev, a local development firm which completed the Westmount Square complex and the Banque Canadienne Nationale building, is financing and building the project and will have overall management responsibility for it when it is completed.
The Oshawa Group will own and run the 245.000 square foot hypermarche — which will be more than twice as big as any existing supermarket in Quebec — around which the shopping centre is planned.
The Oshawa Group is a major Canadian wholesaler, supplying IGA stores across the country. It also operates 34 discount department stores in Ontario. Quebec and Nova Scotia.
Centre 2000 Laval will be located at the corner of Boulevard Marois and Boulevard St. Martin close to the Laurentian autoroute.
In addition to the hypermarche there will be a 160.000 square foot furniture store and 103,000 square feet of space for specialty stores.
While new to Canada and the North American continent the hypermarche has been part of retailing in France for the past 10 years.
William Sherman, Executive Vice-president of the Oshawa Group, explained he and an eight-man team have been studying the French hypermarches for two years.
He described the hypermarche as a fourth generation retailing establishment, following the small independent store, the supermarket and the discount supermarket.
The hypermarche sells both food and non-food products under one roof. A more important innovation is that the hypermarche does not separate the warehouse from the display area. All merchandise is deployed at the point of sale.
"In France. the North American supermarket concept never seemed to catch on." Sherman said. "They went right from the small shops to the hypermarche."
Now there are more than half-a-dozen hypermarche firms in France, he said. He called the hypermarche in France "a phenomenal success".
Sherman said that the Oshawa Group looked at four or five locations in Eastern Canada before deciding on Laval.
He said the Laval site's proximity to a large population, combined with easy and fast access to the site via the Laurentian autoroute, determined its choice.
He said the Oshawa Group already has plans to build another hypermarche in Prince Edward Island very soon. He indicated the PEI hypermarche probably will be built by a development firm.
Total land space necessary to contain the new Laval shopping centre will be 1,950,000 square feet. There will be room for parking for 1,500 cars!
The Centre 2000 Laval project was announced yesterday by former Premier Jean Lesage, now a director of Mondev Corporation, and Ray Wolfe, the president of the Oshawa Group.
In Quebec, Oshawa operations include Hudon et Orsali Ltee, a wholesaler, Les Aliments Bonimart food markets and Bonimart Department Stores.
"Pile it high, sell it low"
What is a hypermarche?
Well, for one thing, it's big. The hypermarche now being built for Centre 2000 Laval will be more than twice as big as any existing Quebec supermarket.
But its main claim as a merchandising innovation, according to its promoters, is that it cuts costs and therefore prices to the bone.
Ray Wolfe, president of the Oshawa Group, which will own and operate Hypermarche Laval, said the hypermarche will drastically reduce warehousing and distribution costs.
The hypermarche will buy many merchandise lines, including food products, directly from suppliers and primary producers who will ship their goods to the hypermarche in containers designed for floor display.
“Pile it high and sell it low" is the dictum followed by Hypermarche owners. Rather than merchandise being stored in a separate warehouse, it is piled in special containers one on top of another in the store itself.
Little fork-lift trucks zip about lowering the stored merchandise from its position atop the heap to the ground to replenish used stocks.
The containers are not unpacked: they are merely are opened up and customers choose their clothes or canned goods directly from the rack or box.
In other words the hypermarche is the ultimate in discount stores.
The other great advantage claimed for the hypermarche by its promoters is the speed at check-out.
The Laval Hypermarche “will have no less than 40 electronic computerized check-out counters to handle its customers".
Computerized checkout counters are presently used in some at the bigger supermarkets in the U.S.. It is estimated that each terminal at a checkout counter will cost around $4,000.
The terminals are linked to a central data collector. The system will give the Hypermarche managers instant information on what is selling and how quickly.
The hypermarche in Toulouse, France, has 60 check-outs. Hypermarche Laval will have 40, all computerized.
The hypermarche does not separate the warehouse from the display area. Reserve stocks of food and other merchandise are store in special containers at the point of sale. These containers (upper part of picture) are merely lifted down and opened up when needed. The customer chooses clothes or cans directly from the container rack or metal basket.