The businessman Louis Garneau does not hide it. He was “a prisoner of his company”, while he concealed a professional exhaustion and that his company carried out balance sheets in red ink. Yes, CEOs are human, and sometimes they have to drop the guns and accept the help that is needed.

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“I thought I was superhuman,” he admits today, with hindsight and a few more years on the clock. “I saw my life very successfully. I didn’t think that at 60 you could hit a wall. “

The last few years have not been easy for the former Olympian. He almost lost his business when it took shelter from its creditors in March 2020. It had been in trouble since 2017.

The retailer’s debts for its Louis Garneau Sports and Sugoi Global brands then amounted to approximately $ 36 million. But Mr. Garneau’s problems, both in business and in life, were already several months old, as can be read in his book I fell twice.

In July 2018, a serious fall from a bicycle resulted in a hospital stay.

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Poker face

Mr. Garneau confides to the Newspaper that he was no longer the same man during this period. These health problems started in 2017. He refused to talk about burnout. And no question of showing this “weakness” to employees.

A president is never sick …

“I had the role of the boat captain. I said to myself: I’m going to do the poker face. I made my employees believe that I had a thyroid gland problem, ”he says, believing that this mentality no longer has its place in 2021, although it is still present in the business world.

“The proudest people I have known in my life are businessmen. I thought burnout was for weak people, ”continues the one who turned to the arts and cycling to help himself. Yes, he thought about putting the key in the door, but he preferred to continue his race.

Consult a psychologist

It was his son William, then 27, who was the general manager of the company at the time. He was in office for less than a year, from December 2017 to the end of summer 2018. Mr. Garneau admits that it was “a mistake” to put this pressure on him and “to throw him away. in the company’s lion den ”. This has an impact, today, on the relationship between the two men from Quebec.

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“I was sinking, and he’s the only one who reached out to me. I am very grateful, ”says the man who had to consult a psychologist to get up.

The finances of the Louis Garneau company were already under pressure. Two clients had gone bankrupt, Evans Cycles in England and Cycle Performance in the United States, which had left marks. Large investments had also been made in a digital shift.

In short, Louis Garneau was looking for a new financial health.

“Since day one, the company had never lost money,” says Garneau. “When the restructuring happened, I didn’t have the experience and I didn’t have the best judgment due to my exhaustion,” he adds.

Restructuring

The first stage of restructuring that was publicly revealed was the closure of the textile production unit in Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures in September 2019. About fifty people lost their jobs.

The following March, the Garneau group and its various entities filed for protection under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. Sixty-six employees were let go. Then there was COVID-19 and, in June, Mr. Garneau lost his father, Paul Garneau.

It took the company about nine months to recover. Investissement Québec granted a loan of $ 5 million at 10% interest, and the private placement company Corporation Financière Champlain became a shareholder in the retailer.

Today, Mr. Garneau regained his smile. His company expects to achieve sales of $ 45 million this year. He hopes to have returned to his pre-restructuring figures from 2022.

To support his growth plan, the former professional cyclist is targeting the Toronto Stock Exchange within five years.

Stock exchange, coffee and pizza ovens on the menu!

Despite the storm he has just passed through, Louis Garneau still wants to be in business. Within five years, he hopes his company will jump to the Toronto Stock Exchange to secure its future. Today he also sells pizza ovens as well as coffee and waffle mix for athletes.

Forno Garno. It is the new brand that markets pizza ovens. This young company, which does business exclusively on the web, at least for the moment, is run by the son of the former professional cyclist, Édouard. Mr. Garneau is acting as a silent investor in this adventure.

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Édouard also owns the hunting and fishing clothing company Connec Outdoors.

“I am a wood stove freak,” admits with a smile to the Newspaper Louis Garneau. “This business started in the spring. […] It allows me to be in business with my son, ”he says happily.

The latter also sells his own coffee. Mr. Garneau sees this product more as a tool to “promote” his brand.

“It’s a cafe where it says: only for cyclists. […] We have also just launched an energy waffle, ”he says. These products will be found, in the coming months, in partner outlets of the Louis Garneau brand across Canada and the United States ”.

“Eventually, all the stores are going to have them, and these products are going to be available online. We have around 2000 points of sale in Canada, ”says the founder of the company specializing in bicycles and sports clothing and accessories.

Head to the Stock Exchange

As for the future of the Louis Garneau brand in Quebec, the founder believes that everything will be decided within five years, that is to say when the agreement with his business partner, Corporation Financière Champlain ends. Mr. Garneau is targeting the Toronto Stock Exchange in order to ensure a certain succession of the company.

Currently, his children do not want to take over the flagship from here.

“I have an investor who is there for five years. I have the choice to buy it back. He can also buy and sell the company from me. […] I want it to stay in Quebec. I want to go public with my business for reasons that I don’t have an immediate family estate. It will take a lot of money from me if I want to do a big expansion, ”he explains.

The businessman wants to bet on the electrification of bicycles in the coming years. “We own three brands and we have a great business structure,” he notes. “I have the taste to be the company of Quebec inc. in the sport. I have nothing to lose, I am at the end of my career, ”he continues.

Mr. Garneau now dreams of a company that could have a market capitalization of $ 1 billion. “Today, I found happiness again. I’m happy, ”he concludes, during an interview at his home.

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