The Germain family was recently celebrating 30 years of success and togetherness. We met them to talk family...and business.
At the age of 24, Christiane and Jean-Yves Germain were running four restaurants and a club together. In the late '80s, they took the most important turn of their lives, switching from restaurants to hotels. Thirty years later, 18 hotels and 3 brands spread the Germain name from coast to coast.
Christiane and Jean-Yves Germain were born with it. It all began when they were very young, behind the scenes of their parents’ restaurant in Québec City. “It set the stage; it fostered our entrepreneurial spirit,” state the two partners in crime who complement each other in an undeniable way. Jean-Yves adds that, while financing is his forte, design, operations, and marketing are where Christiane really shines.
When they were still very young, they opened their first restaurants, Cousin Germain and St-Honoré, in Québec City. A success! In the late '80s, a unique hotel project took shape after an inspiring trip to the Morgans Hotel in New York: the boutique concept was born.
THE GERMAIN CULTURE
From the very beginning, the two associates wanted to forge a strong emotional bond with their clients, employees, and partners. “For us, they’re all part of the story,” says Christiane. To achieve this, the human scale had to be a priority. “The boutique concept was perfect for making sure our personalized approach came first,” mentions Christiane for whom the point has always been to have people enjoy themselves. “To do that, you need to enjoy yourself too,” adds the co-president.
MAKING A NAME
A pioneer of boutique hotels in Canada, the Germain-des-Prés—now known as Alt Hotel Québec—opened in 1988. It’s where the new hotel owners cut their teeth with the intention of doing things differently. “Doing things differently means ensuring everyone’s well-being through the authentic approach and the need for innovation that defines us,” says the duo. Since they wanted a solid foundation to build on, it would take ten years before the Germains opened a second boutique hotel in Old Québec, which Richard Germain ended up managing. “The Dominion 1912 Hotel—now known as Le Germain Hotel Québec—allowed us to express the brand’s spirit even more clearly in terms of comfort and aesthetics,” explains Christiane, whose knack for design is clear.
Beyond image, numbers also come into play. Blessed with sharp business acumen, Jean-Yves Germain has mastered the art of financing strategies, a must when a company experiences such spectacular growth. “For the past ten years, we’ve made the Platinum list of the 50 best-managed companies in Canada. With 3 brands and 16 active hotels from coast to coast, it’s now much easier to convince our financial partners,” admits the visionary who, in 2011, created an investment fund to support the company’s explosive growth.
The Group now operates the Le Germain, Alt and Alt+ hotels in Québec City, Montréal, Toronto, Brossard, Calgary, Halifax, Winnipeg, Charlevoix, Ottawa, St. John's, and soon Saskatoon. “Our objective is to have 20 hotels in operation by 2020,” says Jean-Yves, who, in 2017 alone, supervised no fewer than five construction sites. The end goal? Becoming the first independent, truly pan-Canadian hotel group.
ECO-RESPONSIBLE AND COMMITTED
The Germain difference also lies in its innovative practices. They strongly believe in environmental protection, proudly advocate buying local, and support regional artists by showcasing them in each of their projects. Le Germain Charlevoix Hotel & Spa, the group’s first resort hotel, is a good example.
Involved in the community? Jean-Yves is president of the Orchestre symphonique de Québec board of directors, while Christiane is the board chair forthe Musée national des Beaux-Arts du Québec. The Germain’s third generation is already following in their footsteps: Marie Pier with La Maison Dauphinelle, Hugo with the Festival d’été de Québec, and Clarah supports Garde-Manger Pour Tous with her heart on her sleeve.
GERMAIN'S NEW CROP
Several years ago, the third generation of Germains broke onto the scene, adding a bit of new blood to an already well-oiled machine.
Based in Montréal, Marie Pier Germain has been with the group for the past 12 years. She’s currently Director of Operations and oversees the design and architecture of the hotels. Design runs in her blood. “I studied mechanical engineering at Queen’s University in Ontario. It allows me to work closely with the architects, engineers, and designers. I love it.”
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. As Christiane’s daughter, Marie Pier spent her childhood behind the scenes, her curiosity growing. “We thought it was almost normal to sleep at the hotel and eat in the restaurant,“Marie Pier remembers. Now, she makes sure the Germain culture is felt across the entire organization. “For us, the transmission of knowledge and soft skills is a priority.”
From his Québec City office, Hugo Germain scours the entire country with a fine-tooth comb. “I really enjoy looking for first-rate locations and partners who, like us, strive for excellence,” states Hugo, who spent his childhood on Jean-Yves’s heels. When he was 13, he gave his father a Christmas card that said, “I can’t wait to go work with you.” After completing an MBA at Queen’s University, Hugo “returned home” in 2006; today he’s the Director of Development. I love laying the groundwork and identifying potential markets, sites, and partners. Westward expansion allowed me to get to know my country better,” laughs the one who, just like his father, can see the big picture. “We keep moving forward, but without compromising on site quality and customer experience.”
Clarah Germain is the communicator in the family. Born with the Germain-des-Prés, she practically grew up in the group’s hotels. For the past three years, she has been the content and social media manager. "Digital has completely changed how people choose their destinations. It forces us to be even more creative." In St. John’s, where last year she attended the Alt Hotel’s pre-opening, she fell head over heels for the people and beauty of the area. "Why go to Iceland when we have Newfoundland?" In Winnipeg, the architecture and underground culture completely won her over. Her role? "Inspiring people to discover new places and cultures." And especially, creating a real conversation on social media.
The future might be in good hands, but Christiane and Jean-Yves haven’t had their final say. With the pedal to the metal, the teachers and pupils are going full speed ahead.