invested $400,000 in the company. “He also had
innovative, technical, high-end products that gave
him a good chance of success.”
A head of the pack
The most promising product was a new hel-
met that Garneau personally designed and
invented after dissecting 25 helmets. The first of
104 patents, industrial designs and trademarks he
now owns, the MSB—a narrow, hard-shelled,
lightweight cycling helmet—was the culmination
of Garneau’s search for a hot new product. “The
cycle-wear market had reached a ceiling,” he says.
“By then helmets were mandatory for racers, and
more people were using them on roads, too. I was-
n’t champion of the world as an athlete, so I
decided to be the world’s best builder of helmets.”
After a slow start, sales of Louis Garneau hel-
mets skyrocketed worldwide. “They made us
famous,” says Garneau of the two dozen models his
company now manufactures. He is particularly
proud that his helmets will be worn in the 2006
Tour de France by more than two dozen cyclists.
Since the mid-1990s, Louis Garneau Sports has
Eye of the tiger: Garneau brings the become a major player in North American and
same intense focus of his racing days
to his business operations. overseas markets. It began offering a dizzying array
of cycling accessories. The company acquired
Chlorophylle, Quebec’s leading cold-weather expe-
three dozen seamstresses. As the orders were filled, dition-wear producer (“A perfect fit to Garneau’s
however, new ones poured in. “It never stopped,” says niche as a supplier of high-end technical apparel,”
Garneau, who, in a matter of months, had sales reps says Desharnais). And the company began handling
across the country and was Canada’s first national a range of bike models, including Sonix, which is
bike-clothing manufacturer. “We were flying by the used by the U.S. pro team.
seat of our pants, learning as we went along.” According to Jack Nash, a U.S. cycling and bike-
ONCE A HELMET has satisfied the safety standards
required by law, what makes
one better than the other?
According to Costco buyer
Eric St-Amand, the important
criteria to consider are the helmet’s weight, ventilation, fit
and, last but not least, how
good it looks on your head.
Louis Garneau helmets, he
says, satisfy all those requirements, and more.
“Louis Garneau helmets
are lightweight, stylish
cycling helmets that are well
ventilated and offer excellent
protection,” says St-Amand.
Despitesomenear-fatalproductionerrors(such industry icon who once coached Garneau and
as a $6,000 roll of Lycra that was cut wrong and had helped him get established in the U.S. market, the
to be thrown out, forcing Louis to borrow money Canadian manufacturer’s secret is the quality of his
from his grandmother to buy another roll), the cou- designs and finished products. “Because he does so
ple managed to keep the company going—and much manufacturing in-house, he also has the abil-growing. “For years we worked from 7 a.m. until 11 ity to change products quickly,” says Nash.
p.m. every day, including weekends,” says Garneau.
Garneau’s adult helmets
use a unique method of
thermal moulding that creates a single unit. This forms
a remarkably stable, protective helmet. This stability
does not come at the cost of
extra weight, however.
“I used to tell Monique that all the energy I put into The cycle continues
sports I was now putting into the business. It was the Despite the growing size and complexity of his
same for her. We had no vision of being a big com- company, Garneau remains grounded and true to
pany. We just reacted constantly to the demands that his roots. His father, now 78 and long retired, is the
were being made on us.” Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures plant’s handyman.
“Garneau’s adult helmets
are designed with as many as
23 vents,” says St-Amand.
“Not only does this make the
helmet extremely lightweight,
but it keeps the helmet [and
your head] cool.”
In addition, the design of
Garneau’s patented EasyLock
and SpiderLock stabilizers at
the back allow for a custom fit.
A series of important design and production And Louis and Monique still live in their old house,
innovations helped to diversify product lines and which has undergone regal improvements in recent
boost sales. One was to make cycling shorts avail- years. The couple is particularly devoted to their
able in 24 colors. Another was the use of sublima- three young children—William, Edward and
tion printing, which allowed clothes to be made Victoria—all of whom race bikes, like their father.
with pictures and words. In 1988, the same year In addition to being good exercise and family fun,
his company made its first sales in the U.S., Garneau hopes, the sport will prepare them to one
Garneau spent $1.5 million to build the 2,900- day take over his company.
square-metre plant in Saint-Augustin-de- “They’ll know bikes really well if they do,” he
Desmaures. “People said I was crazy to make an says. “But most of all I hope they learn the valuable
investment that big,” he says. lesson biking taught me as a kid: Never give up.” Ne
Although his bankers got cold feet and tight- jamais abandonner. C
ened his credit, private investors liked what they
saw. “Louis knew his field of activity very well and Freelance journalist Mark Cardwell will never repre-
had surrounded himself with excellent people in sent Canada at the Olympic Games, but he does try
manufacturing and distribution,” says Gilles to stay in shape and have fun with family and
Desharnais, a venture-capital financing expert who friends at his home near Quebec City.
“Other brands have tension adjusters that increase
the pressure on the back of
the helmet, but on Garneau’s
the adjustment is on two
opposing and contracting
plastic straps, so the adjustment is more like that of a
baseball hat than a spring-loaded cup like many of the
others,” says St-Amand.
“Louis Garneau uses
this same retention system
on all of its helmets—child,
youth and adult—which
makes them the best-fitting
—T. Foster Jones