Simon-Olivier Côté, Raphael Champagne, and Mathieu Bergeron started Le Québec Hors Circuits (“Quebec Off the Beaten Path”) about 10 years ago, running tours in and along the Fjord du Saguenay in Quebec, Canada. But while their city, Saguenay, is known for its rafting, kayaking, and hiking opportunities, it can be hard to get gear there.
A few years ago, they found themselves driving 300 miles to Montreal to buy the gear they needed to run their business, which was expensive and inconvenient. So they decided to make the gear come to them, and opened Boutique Hors Circuits, “Shop Off the Beaten Path.”
"We started thinking about how we could get gear ourselves," Côté says. "My partners and I decided to work on a project, and open a shop."
"We didn’t want just a place where you go and you buy your camping gear and your kayak, and that’s it," Côté says. "We wanted something with more personal contact with people. So we combined the adventure company with the shop as a service to help people organize their trips."
They started really small, with a few pieces of high-end, ultra-specific gear, like dry suits and neoprene hoods for kayaking and rafting.
Two years after opening the Boutique, both the retail and adventure sides of the company are flourishing, Côté says. They’ve doubled their adventure business thanks to the additional marketing opportunities the store provides them, and they’ve been able to get more people into outdoor sports.
Because the store is small, it gives the staff ample opportunity to talk at length with each customer and figure out what they need for their adventures. They'll pull out maps and help customers plan their own trips.
“Maybe he doesn’t need what he thinks he needs,” Côté says. “We have a lot of maps, a lot of rental gear as well. Sometimes someone will say ‘Oh! I want to buy this!’ And we’ll ask, ‘OK, how many times are you going to use it a year? Why buy it, when you could rent it?’ We’re really honest.”
Boutique Hors Circuits offers an extensive array of rental gear, including skis. A kid's full-season alpine ski rental costs just $90 CAD, less than $68 USD. Unlike most ski shops, they also offer backcountry setups for people to try before committing to buy thousands of dollars worth of gear. And if someone wants to try out a canoe or kayak long-term, they can rent-to-own in case they decide, a year in, that it’s not for them.
"The guests are going from one company to the other," Côté says. "This is really good for us. It makes a lot of sense."
The two arms of the business, retail and adventure, work together seamlessly. When someone comes to the store to buy a helmet for whitewater kayaking and sees that Québec Hors Circuits runs tours, too, they’ll often sign up for an adventure, which is great for business. Especially because the company can buy equipment for its own tours at wholesale prices thanks to running the store, which makes everything more affordable.
“We don’t want to make money to make money,” Côté says. “We want to make money off what people need, not what they don’t need. People like that a lot.”