When Patric Meunier's wife, Jasmine Lachance, started Cocotte in 1993, her goal was to create well-designed bags for some of her bike messenger friends. An outdoor enthusiast, she understood the need for durable and functional carryalls. Her satchels would be heavy-duty and water-resistant, with sturdy padded straps that could be easily adjusted while also absorbing considerable weight.
Meunier came on board four years later, as Lachance—a costume designer—began spending more and more time working at a local college. It was Meunier who realized that his wife's bags had the potential to reach a market beyond the narrow niche of bike messengers. But even as the business grew, he insisted that the manufacturing remain local; five employees (more during peak times) continue to work out of a second-floor space above a plumbing shop in the heart of Montreal's Plateau-Mont-Royal neighbourhood. "Part of our philosophy is to make a well-designed, long-lasting product that can be manufactured here in Montreal and offered in stores at competitive prices," says Meunier. "And we can do that as long as we take the time to do it well."
Employees: 5 Year founded: 1993 Home base: Montreal Time it takes to make one messenger bag: 2 hours Approximate number of bags produced annually: 3,000 Target production goal for 2011 and 2012: 5,000 Price of Picasso, the premium backpack: $199.95
Today, Cocotte (French for pine cone) has a certain street cred among film crews, students and even businesspeople that's born from its authentic image coupled with its sustainable values. The bags—easily recognizable thanks to their solid colours and golden logo—have fans in Australia, Japan, Europe and the U.S.
1. Simple design is key. Meunier sources premium nylon that "won't break, it won't let you down, it's good with the elements and takes abuse." But he also points out that the company has fine-tuned its product range. Initially, Cocotte offered other outdoorsy items for tree planters. Instead, says Meunier, "we chose to concentrate on what we do best."
2. Know your limits. Meunier once entertained the idea of a Cocotte shop, but decided against it. "I couldn't deal with the idea of being open seven days a week," says the father of two. "And opening a store is involving in terms of expenses." But six years ago, Cocotte added e-commerce to the site, which has broadened the brand's customer base. "It's effective and it's inexpensive," says Meunier. "It is the easiest way for a small business to get known across the globe."
3. Word of mouth rules. "The bag sells by itself. We did try advertising a few times, and [nothing]ever got us results. The better result would be when we get it to end users and reviewers," he says. "I cannot sell this like I would sell chewing gum or pizzas."