En pleine pandémie, Luminaire Authentik a repensé son modèle d’affaires en mettant l’accent sur l’expérience client.

En tant que vice-présidente et leader nationale, Entrepreneuriat au féminin à BDC, Laura Didyk passait beaucoup de temps avant le confinement à parcourir le pays pour échanger avec des femmes entrepreneurs. Poursuivant ces conversations de manière virtuelle, elle s’est entretenue ce mois-ci avec Maude Rondeau, fondatrice et présidente de Luminaire Authentik, une entreprise québécoise de création et de fabrication de luminaires.

 

Après l’obtention de son diplôme en administration des affaires, Maude Rondeau a évolué pendant 13 ans dans le monde de la mode, mais elle rêvait depuis toujours d’être à son compte. Lassée des voyages d’affaires et du peu d’occasions d’exprimer sa créativité, Maude décide, en 2015, de démissionner pour se consacrer à sa passion : la conception de luminaires.  

Depuis son domicile, Maude fonde l’entreprise Luminaire Authentik dans le but de combler une demande pour des produits stylés et originaux à prix abordable. Soucieuse des besoins de ses clients, elle a vu son entreprise croître au cours des cinq années suivantes.

Si tous ses produits sont toujours conçus et fabriqués au Québec, Maude a déménagé ses pénates du sous-sol de sa maison à un atelier de production et d’entreposage de 5 000 mètres carrés. Aujourd’hui, ses produits sont vendus partout en Amérique du Nord à des particuliers et à des entreprises, en ligne et dans trois salles de démonstration exclusives.  

J’ai demandé à Maude comment elle a réussi à développer son entreprise tout en l’adaptant efficacement pendant la pandémie afin de garder le cap.   

 

Laura : J’aime toujours parler des débuts. Comment avez-vous eu l’idée de Luminaire Authentik et comment l’avez-vous concrétisée?

Maude : J’ai travaillé pendant 13 ans dans le monde de la mode, où j’ai acquis beaucoup d’expérience en vente, en marketing et en distribution de marques. Je devais toutefois beaucoup voyager et, à 33 ans, j’en ai eu assez des déplacements d’affaires et des salons professionnels. J’étais également lasse de devoir faire les choses en me conformant à un moule. La tête pleine d’idées, j’avais toujours rêvé d’avoir ma propre entreprise. 

D’un autre côté, tous ces voyages ont nourri mon amour pour l’architecture et l’éclairage et ma passion pour le design. Forte de cette sensibilité et de mon expérience en commerce, j’ai vu une occasion d’affaires. Il y a cinq ans, le choix de luminaires abordables ayant du style était limité. Les produits étaient soit très coûteux soit très bon marché; il n’y avait pas de juste milieu. 

J’ai décidé de quitter mon emploi et commencé à fabriquer des luminaires dans mon sous-sol. J’ai rencontré quelqu’un qui m’a aidée à comprendre les éléments de la construction, et une fois bien établie sur cette assise, j’y ai ajouté une touche personnelle. 

Laura : Cette touche personnelle fait aujourd’hui partie intégrante de votre modèle d’affaires, n’est-ce pas? 

Maude : L’important, c’est l’expérience du client. Les gens sont heureux de participer à la conception de leur propre produit – qu’ils soient des architectes travaillant sur un projet spécifique ou des clients qui veulent créer leur propre éclairage de maison (avec l’aide de nos experts, bien entendu). En nous occupant de la conception, de la fabrication et de la distribution des produits, nous avons pu obtenir le bon prix et vivre cette expérience avec les clients. 

Laura : À en juger par l’état actuel de votre entreprise, cette formule a été très fructueuse. Pouvez-vous m’en dire plus sur votre parcours au cours des cinq dernières années?

Maude : Nous avons fait nos débuts dans mon garage de 65 mètres carrés et, deux ans plus tard, nous avons emménagé dans un atelier de près de 300 mètres carrés. Nous aurions pu rester là, mais je voulais ajouter un circuit de distribution, celui des hôtels et des entreprises, ce qui exigeait une accélération de la production et plus d’espace d’entreposage des produits finis. Il y a un an, nous nous sommes installés dans des locaux de 5 000 mètres carrés, dont près de 1 500 servent d’atelier. Cela a créé beaucoup de nouvelles perspectives et de l’espace pour croître.

 

« Suivez votre instinct, n’ayez pas peur et soyez épaulé par les bonnes personnes. »

 

Laura : Une telle croissance en cinq ans, c’est très rapide, non? Comment avez-vous réussi à gérer tout cela et quels enseignements en avez-vous tirés?

Maude : Il est difficile de répondre à cette question, car je dois encore aujourd’hui gérer la croissance. Mon conseil est de toujours suivre son instinct. Je l’applique tous les jours. De plus, il ne faut pas craindre de passer à l’action, car l’inaction empêche de croître. 

En début de croissance, le principal défi d’un entrepreneur est toujours l’embauche de personnel. Il n’est pas facile de trouver les bonnes personnes, au bon moment. Je suis entourée d’une équipe formidable, mais certains postes semblaient impossibles à pourvoir. Une fois que c’est fait, cependant, l’atteinte de vos objectifs est possible. C’est impossible de tout faire par soi-même. Je n’y suis pas arrivée toute seule. Mon équipe m’épaule, et je dirais que c’est le facteur le plus complexe et le plus important dans la croissance de l’entreprise.

Laura : La pandémie a-t-elle eu une incidence sur vos projets de croissance? Vous avez mentionné que vous commenciez à exploiter le marché hôtelier, mais ce secteur a été l’un des plus durement touchés par la pandémie. 

Maude : La pandémie de COVID-19 a indéniablement freiné nos projets de croissance. De grands projets avec des hôtels ont été annulés. Si je compare les projections budgétaires pour l’année et la situation réelle, c’est un désastre. Mais la comparaison ne doit pas se limiter aux chiffres. Nous vivons une situation anormale.

Les ventes interentreprises, avec les hôtels et les restaurants, par exemple, sont sur pause, mais elles reprendront – on ignore seulement à quel moment. Il s’agit donc maintenant de trouver de nouvelles façons de composer avec le changement et de nouvelles pistes d’exécution de notre plan d’affaires. J’ai vite compris que la seule façon de traverser cette crise était d’être le plus proche possible des clients. Le volet des ventes commerciales étant fermé, nous avons misé sur l’approche résidentielle.

Tous ces gens confinés à la maison ont commencé à investir dans leur espace, parce qu’ils s’y retrouvaient « coincés ». Cela nous donnait une formidable occasion d’offrir un service à la clientèle plus personnalisé et plus accessible, et de concevoir et de fabriquer de nouvelles collections de produits aptes à susciter l’enthousiasme. Nous voulions être perçus comme une entreprise locale novatrice et dynamique.

Laura : Comment y êtes-vous arrivés? Pouvez-vous nous donner des exemples de mesures que vous avez prises pour stimuler vos ventes dans le secteur résidentiel?

Nous avons toujours eu un volet de commerce électronique, mais nous avons investi beaucoup de temps et d’énergie pour améliorer grandement l’expérience des clients en ligne.

Une semaine après le début de la pandémie, j’ai compris que nous ne pouvions pas recevoir de clients, mais que nous pouvions leur proposer des visites virtuelles de la boutique. Nous pouvons maintenant joindre des clients partout au Canada par rencontre virtuelle privée avec un conseiller en éclairage, ce qui est même mieux, car nous pouvons voir leur espace de vie et leur faire des suggestions. Cela a débouché sur un modèle d’affaires auquel je n’aurais jamais pensé auparavant. 

Nous avons également créé une plateforme 3D, axée sur un outil que nous avions développé à l’origine pour que les architectes et les concepteurs puissent comprendre toutes les possibilités d’intégration de nos composants. Nous l’avons rendu plus convivial à l’intention des consommateurs. De leur domicile, nos clients peuvent à présent voir toutes les formes, couleurs et fonctions qui s’offrent à eux. Nous leur offrons 2 800 possibilités! Ils auraient la même expérience de personnalisation en boutique, mais nous l’avons recréée virtuellement, en leur donnant les outils pour concevoir leur propre éclairage et l’accès à des conseillers.

Le mariage de ces deux éléments a été la clé du succès. Cela nous a aidés non seulement à traverser la crise, mais aussi à éclipser des entreprises n’offrant pas de tels outils ou services. L’adaptation et la rapide mise en marché de ces outils et services ont demandé beaucoup d’énergie, mais cela nous donne aujourd’hui accès à de nouveaux clients au Canada et aux États-Unis.

Laura : Comment se porte votre entreprise physique? Vous avez toujours des salles de démonstration à Montréal et à Cowansville, et un nouvel emplacement ouvrira ses portes à Toronto en septembre prochain, à un moment où de nombreux détaillants réduisent leurs activités. 

Maude : Comme je le disais plus tôt, il faut se montrer stratégique et ne pas craindre de passer à l’action. Les gens travaillent à domicile, et cela deviendra la norme pour beaucoup d’entre eux. Ne voyageant pas et ne fréquentant pas les restaurants autant qu’avant, les gens ont de l’argent à investir dans leur milieu de vie. Notre avenir est dans le résidentiel. Nous devons avoir pignon sur rue à Toronto pour exploiter davantage ce marché très porteur. Les outils virtuels sont efficaces, ils nous aident à traverser cette crise, mais rien n’est comparable à l’expérience complète, qui s’est améliorée à cause de la pandémie.

À la réouverture de notre boutique de Montréal, les clients pouvaient venir sur rendez-vous seulement, et même si tout revient à la normale, nous allons conserver ces rencontres privées. L’expérience du client est bien meilleure lorsqu’il bénéficie d’un accès exclusif à toute la boutique et de l’attention complète d’un conseiller en éclairage. L’ouverture sur rendez-vous seulement signifie que nous avons besoin de moins d’espace et qu’il est plus facile d’y assurer l’hygiène.

Laura : Il semble que vous ayez réussi à créer l’expérience client que vous recherchiez, et qu’ironiquement, la pandémie vous ait montré un moyen plus efficace d’y parvenir.

Maude : Absolument. Je n’aurais jamais pensé qu’il serait plus efficace d’ouvrir la boutique sur rendez-vous seulement. Si nous regardons la conversion des ventes en boutique, c’est comme le jour et la nuit. C’est tellement bien que ce n’est pas comparable. Nous investissons le temps qu’il faut avec un client motivé, et cela porte ses fruits.

Laura : Je suis heureuse de l’entendre. Forte de vos succès jusqu’à présent, quels conseils donneriez-vous à d’autres entrepreneurs qui peinent à traverser la pandémie?

Maude : C’est simple : suivez votre instinct, n’ayez pas peur et soyez épaulé par les bonnes personnes. Entourez-vous bien et regardez droit devant.

Meet Darby Lee Young, founder of Level Playing Field

Darby Lee Young founded Level Playing Field, an accessibility agency, in 2015. Born with mild cerebral palsy, Darby works to mitigate barriers that people like her face daily. Accolades for her strides creating a more inclusive, accessible built environment include a Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 Award, the Calgary Stampede’s Western Legacy Award for Innovation, and an Inspired Albertan feature.

My first job ever was…

At the Calgary Stampede, as a gate attendant, when I was 14. Back then, there were no apps—you had to buy a paper ticket and show it at the entrance. I loved meeting all the different people from all over the world, saying hi, and of course the mini doughnuts. 

I created Level Playing Field because… 

I was born with mild cerebral palsy and as a person with a disability, I was tired of trying to go out for lunch or dinner with my friends and not being able to find a great place where we could all meet for a simple social gathering. Where to grab a bite for lunch, drinks after work, a coffee: these should be a simple, quick decisions, not a two-hour logistical headache. It was frustrating and isolating—until I realized that lack of accessibility was a problem for many others but it was rarely seen, yet I had a first-row seat. And I knew we could solve it if we could get more people to understand the issue and work together.

Leaders should prioritize accessibility because… 

If we have leaders who understand and think about accessibility and inclusion in their professional life, in their daily life, they will use that perspective when we think about where we want to meet. We think about what our office would be like for someone to visit as a client or to join our staff. Lack of accessibility is an issue that once seen and understood cannot be “unseen”. 

Once you see the issue, it becomes unthinkable to overlook accessibility as a priority. Leaders with this insight literally pave the way and open doors. Leaders break barriers so that people with disabilities who had been isolated to get involved in their communities, to become active in the workforce, to enjoy parks and public spaces together. Accessibility is part of inclusion; it enriches our society because we all have something to offer and when we all have this chance to be included, everyone is better off.

My proudest accomplishment is… 

Not giving up and standing up for others. Growing up, I heard that because of my disability, sports were going to be a difficult option for me. It was heartbreaking because sports looked like so much fun and I longed to jump in the fray. It’s hard to keep hearing “you can’t do that” over and over. The words stung but I didn’t let them get to me. So I not only participated in sports, I volunteered with Hockey Canada the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and competed in Para-Alpine downhill skiing. It was great fun! 

In sports I found not just some of my truest lifelong friends, cheerleaders and mentors, but also my self-confidence. Those lessons I carried forward into starting a business. It was hard to be taken seriously in the beginning. Over and over, I got the condescending looks, the judgemental top-to-bottom looks. The same looks that Julia Roberts got in the movie “Pretty Woman” when she went into a boutique in Beverly Hills.

Five years in, I feel proud and grateful to run a business that has survived two world crises. To have a strong, inclusive team. To be building not just more accessible spaces, but also a network of forward-thinking architects, designers, space owners, builders and policy makers who “get” why accessibility is important. Together, we are breaking down barriers and building pathways of hope and inclusion for people with disabilities.

My proudest achievement has yet to happen because there is really so much more that needs to be done. 

 

Being an entrepreneur is hard. It is exhausting because you’re always on – there are no days off. But it’s worth it if you and your team are building something that’s greater than yourselves.

 

I surprise people when I tell them… 

That I have a shoe obsession. I was having trouble finding cool, fashionable shoes that were practical and accommodated my disability. Last year, Canadian shoe designer John Fluevog decided to build a shoe and even named it after me! Now it comes in multiple colors due to the popularity

I’m heavily involved in volunteering in sports—Hockey Canada, the Vancouver Olympics, and most recently, until COVID, tennis—on the team services side. We take care of coordinating the details, the user experience, so that athletes can walk right up to the court and are able to concentrate on the game. It’s coordinating little things like making sure that the have clean laundry, clean equipment, dressing room setup, logistics. These are low-profile tasks that nobody wants to do, but I’m happy to pitch in to help us win. 

My best advice to people starting out in business is…

Rally a good core team around you, and support others in whatever big or small ways you can. A clean towel might be what helps the team win a gold medal—you never know!

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Nobody can go it alone.

Being an entrepreneur is hard. It is exhausting because you’re always on – there are no days off. But it’s worth it if you and your team are building something that’s greater than yourselves.

People might question your ability and they might judge sometimes, but don’t respond in kind. Just bring your A-game consistently. Prove them wrong. Listen to their point of view and have a conversation. I have found that 99% of the time, people of integrity will always be ready to support what’s right. The other times, they might be really tired because they’re also on all the time…

Last but not least: please think about accessibility! It’s the right thing to do, but it’s also good for business. Your next big client or top-performing staff might have a disability. Be open for that and plan for it. 

The once piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… 

Have a work-life balance. I was up at 4:30 today, but I guess passion never sleeps.

I would tell my 20-year old self… 

To work out more. Find the time to exercise and not just work, work, work. I still haven’t been able to figure that out. It was hard at 20 and frankly it’s still a struggle for me.  Maybe I just need some clean towels…!

My biggest setback was… 

Financing. It’s hard to get started and to get ahead in a small business. There is some funding eligibility but it’s far from being enough. It’s hard to be small, build credibility and prove ourselves in a field like accessibility that is not well understood.

I overcame it by… 

Creativity, perseverance, and talking to people. One thing that helped me overcome the financing catch-22 was growing my voice through Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2018. ATB is a local sponsor. They believe in accessibility, they believed in me, and I got a small loan. 

If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… 

My friends and family. In my inner circle of supporters and mentors, we have each other’s backs, and in tough times we remind each other that giving up is never an option.

The best thing I’ve done for my business so far is…  

Looked after my team and clients to build a superior brand. At the end of the day, we are a business but businesses are made up of people, and people are at the heart of what we do. Problems can happen but when they do, we have a conversation and listen to each other.

 

In accessibility and inclusion, what we are building is so much greater than just dollars and cents. We are all working towards a more accessible world.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… 

(Until today!) that my legs sometimes give me lots of trouble, so I slip and fall. 99% of the time I fall backwards and therefore I turtle. But you know what’s bigger than a fall, though? The laugh. I’ve learned to laugh at myself when I fall. It makes getting up again so much easier.

I stay inspired by… 

Trying to make a difference for others, so that they don’t have to face the same challenges that I have faced. 

My parents. One of the strongest women I know is my Mom, Joanne. She is a tough businesswoman with an amazing sense of humour. I take after her in those things. My love of sports I got from my Dad; one of our favourite things to do together is to watch a good game. Go Raptors! Go Flames! Go friends and family in sports! 

The future excites me because… 

Accessibility is coming more and more to forefront and people with disabilities deserve to be considered and included in their community.

My next step is… 

To make my company one of the top new accessibility firms in Canada.

In business, yes there is competition and there is a place for that. But beyond competition, there’s a bigger picture, too. In accessibility and inclusion, what we are building is so much greater than just dollars and cents. We are all working towards a more accessible world.

When we truly do accessibility right, we compete, but we also cheer for each other. It can’t just be about whose company took what particular step. We have a very long way to go, and every well-grounded step towards universal design and inclusion moves the needle for everyone. So that’s a win for team Canada.

How Luminaire Authentik made a pandemic pivot with customer experience in mind — and found better ways to do business

As Vice President and National Lead, Women Entrepreneurs at BDC, Laura Didyk used to spend most of her time traversing the country, interacting with women business owners. She’s keeping those conversations going virtually — and this month it’s with Maude Rondeau, founder and president of Luminaire Authentik, a Quebec-based lighting designer and manufacturer.

 

After earning her business degree, Maude Rondeau spent 13 years working in fashion — but she had always dreamed of being an entrepreneur. By 2015, she’d had enough of business travel and the lack of an outlet for her creative ideas, and so she quit to pursue an opportunity that aligned with her passions: lighting design.  

Working out of her house, Maude created Luminaire Authentik, filling in a gap in the market for mid-priced products featuring creative designs. By understanding and catering to her customers, her business continued to grow over the next five years.
Everything is still designed and manufactured in Quebec, though they’ve transitioned from Maude’s basement into a 53,000-square-foot production and storage facility, and now sell across North America, both to consumers and businesses, through a combination of eCommerce and three exclusive showrooms.  

I caught up with Maude to talk about how she was not only able to scale her business quickly, but also successfully pivot during the pandemic to keep her company on the right track.   
 
Laura: I always like to start with the origin story. How did you get the idea for Luminaire Authentik, and get it launched?

Maude: I worked in the fashion industry for 13 years, and I got a lot of experience with sales, marketing, and branding. But I had to travel a lot, and by 33 years old, I was fed up with traveling and doing trade shows. I was also fed up with doing things that had to fit in a box — I had so many ideas, and it was always my dream to have my own project. 

At the same time, all that traveling brought me a love for architecture and lighting, and a passion for design. Having that sensibility, plus my business background, I saw an opportunity in the market. Five years ago, we didn’t have really creative, accessible lighting design. It was either very high-end or super cheap, and right in the middle, there was nothing. 
I decided to just quit my job and started making lamps in my basement. I eventually met someone who helped me really understand the elements of the construction, and once I had that base, I was able to add in personalization. 

Laura: And that personalization is a big part of your business model now, right? 

Maude: It’s all about the customer experience. People get emotional about being a part of their own design. Whether that’s architects designing for a specific project, or customers that want to have the experience of creating their own lighting for their homes (with our experts to help of course). And by handling the design, manufacturing, and distribution, we were able to have the right price, as well as this experience with the clients. 

Laura: Looking at how your business is doing now, that formula worked really well. Can you tell me a bit about that trajectory of the last five years?

Maude: We started with just 700 square feet in my garage, and two years later we moved into a 3,000 square foot workshop. We could have stayed there, but I wanted to be able to reach out to a new channel of distribution, working with hotels and businesses — which not only required a higher volume of production, but also more room to stock the finished product. One year ago, we moved into our 53,000 square foot facility, and we’re taking 16,000 of it for the workshop. It opened the doors to lots of new possibilities, and there’s room to grow. 

 

“Follow your gut, don’t be scared, and have the right people supporting you.”

 

Laura: Doing all of that in five years is, from a business perspective, a rapid timeline for growth. How have you managed it successfully, and what lessons have you learned from it?

Maude: That’s a hard question, because even today the growth is something I have to manage. My first piece of advice is to always follow your gut. That’s something that I apply every day. Also, don’t be scared of taking action, because without taking action you’re not able to grow. 

Once you start to grow, human resources is always the first challenge for an entrepreneur. It’s not easy to find the right people, at the right time. I have an amazing team, but it was a challenge — some positions seemed impossible to fill. But once you do, that’s the key to reaching your objectives. You’re not able to do anything by yourself. I didn’t do this by myself. I have my team with me, and I would say, it’s the most challenging and the most important thing that has affected the growth of the business.

Laura: Has the pandemic affected your growth plans? You mentioned you were starting to tap into the hotel market, but this sector has been one of the worst hit. 

Maude: COVID has definitely put a pause on our growth plans! We had some massive cancellations from hotels. If I look at what the budget was for the year and what the actual situation is, it’s a disaster. You just can’t compare with numbers. It’s not a normal situation we are in.

The B2B sales, like hotels and restaurants, these I see as taking a pause — it will come back eventually, we just don’t know when. So now, it’s a matter of finding new ways to embrace the change, and finding new ways or new channels to keep up with the plan. I quickly realized that the only way to survive this crisis was to be as close as possible to our clients. On the commercial side everything was closed, so the key to our approach has been residential.

All these people at home started to invest in their own space — because they were stuck in it. For us, it was a great opportunity to be much more present than ever in terms of customer service, in terms of accessibility, and in terms of designing and creating new collections to generate excitement. We wanted to be seen as a local, fresh, and driven company.

Laura: And how did you manage that? Can you share some of the specific actions you took to foster your residential business?  

Maude: We’ve always had an eCommerce business, but we invested a lot of time and energy making big improvements to the customer experience online.

Just a week after the pandemic, I realized, ‘We’re not able to receive customers, but we can offer them virtual visits inside the store.’ Now we can reach clients all over the country through private virtual meetings with a lighting expert — which is actually better, because we’re able to see their living area and make suggestions. It opened up a business model that I would never have thought of before. 

We also created a 3D platform, based on a tool we were originally developing for architects and designers to understand all the mixing and matching they could do with our components. We tweaked it to make it more user-friendly for consumers, and now our clients can be at home, see all the different categories they can play with, change the colors — we have 2,800 possibilities! It’s the same experience they would have in store, building and personalizing, but we’ve recreated it virtually, giving them the tools to design their own lighting as well as access to expert advice.

Having these two mixed together has been a real success. It has helped us to not only survive, but also to outshine other companies that didn’t have these tools or services. It took a lot of energy to adapt and get to market so quickly, but now we’re accessing new customers across Canada and the US.

Laura: And what about your brick-and-mortar business? You still have showrooms in Montreal and Cowansville, plus a new location opening in Toronto this September, at a time when many retailers are scaling back. 

Maude: It goes back to not being scared, and being strategic. People are working from home, and a lot of that is going to stay. They aren’t traveling or eating out as much as normal, so they have money to invest in their space. Our future is in residential. Toronto is a big market opportunity, and we need to have a presence on the street to tap into it more. The virtual tools work, they are helping us to get through this, but nothing compares to the full experience — which has improved because of the pandemic.
When our Montreal store reopened it was by appointment only, and even if everything goes back to normal, we’re going to stick with these private VIP meetings. The customer experience is so much better when they have the whole store to themselves, and the undivided attention of an expert. On our end, opening by appointment only means we don’t need as big a space, and it’s easier to keep things sanitary.

Laura: So it sounds like you’ve really nailed what you want the client experience to be, and the pandemic inadvertently showed you a way to do it better.

Maude: Absolutely. I never would have thought that it would actually be more impactful to only have appointments. If we look at the conversion of the sales for the stores, it’s like night and day. It’s so good it’s not comparable. The right time is invested with the right clients, and that is paying off.

Laura: That’s great to hear. Based on your success so far, what advice would you give to other business owners trying to navigate the pandemic?

Maude: Super simple: follow your gut, don’t be scared, and have the right people supporting you. Build your team and just look forward!