Written interview summarized | Digital Business Transformation
What has been your main focus upon taking over as CEO in 2019?
I would say that it is not really a construction site but there have been construction sites that have declined from this mission. I arrived in a fairly complicated climate where the company, which had always been profitable, had experienced a difficult 2018. It was the first time the company had lost any money so I came in with a lot of anxiety. My mission was to reenchant the business.
To reenchant the business, I wanted to give all the company’s employees a clear vision of where we are going and how we are going to get there. When I arrived in this company I noticed that they were a bit lost since the company had a classic, traditional distance selling business model, very “paper” oriented and not very efficient with the digital which is growing more and more. After that, I worked with the whole team on “who are we?” because at some point in a company, when people have lost their bearings, they have to work on their identity. We all worked together on the strategic positioning of the brand; this work brought the teams together and we came up with a baseline by Françoise Saget which is “let’s cultivate inner joy”, which is really the DNA of the brand. This claim was recognized and validated by employees, customers, management and the shareholder, so it really had the effect of giving a vision.
Once this was established, there were organizational changes; digital was understaffed and with juniors. We created a digital factory within the group and we pooled our skills internally, which also allowed us to accelerate our digital activities. We have continued to modernize the product style, the brand platform, the style platform and to push the loyalty on digital by accelerating on the CRM in digital (Customer Relationship Management). But the essential mission was to reenchant the business, to explain to the employees that we were going to make fewer orders but those we did make would be more profitable. We had to change the mindset and explain to them that the business model was evolving.
What difficulties have you encountered in achieving these goals?
The company was a war machine built for the optimization of traditional paper-based distance selling, with overly professional and efficient teams, used to working in the detail of their actions, but without an overall vision shared by all teams. This was one of the first pitfalls, so I immediately created an operational committee every Monday morning at 9:30 with the managers of each department and we shared the successes of the past week, the problems and the challenges of the week to come. At the beginning, people were not very keen to participate, but little by little they understood that at last they were exchanging directly with their colleagues, that they were aware of details that they might never have known, and they noticed that this improved the efficiency of their work and therefore the results. During the covid, we were forced to stop these meetings and at some point the teams felt the need to do them again so we continued to do these meetings but by Teams.
So the pitfalls were really super professional teams but each in their own corner, a lack of global vision, a lack of cohesion, and the under-staffed digital team. But everyone was ready for change, which was really strong. The teams were expecting these changes and initially greeted it with a little suspicion, which is normal, but once they were on board it worked right away.
What were the keys to success?
The keys to success are the same as in your personal life. If we don’t know who we are, what we want and where we are going, for a brand it’s similar, we can’t evolve. We really need to do some in-depth work, especially in times of crisis, on who we are, the values of the brand, its positioning in relation to the competition, its little differentiating voice. And once we all agree, everything else follows. So for me it’s really the basis.
It is not just a matter of top-down communication, but of involving everyone, listening to everyone, while respecting the responsibilities and hierarchical levels of each person, and making sure that no one is left by the wayside. If someone is left by the wayside, the transformation project will fail.
Has covid been a hindrance or a gas pedal or both for your business?
The covid was a great gas pedal, it really validated and accelerated the roadmap that I had proposed to the team, namely: accelerate on digital, communicate with our customers even more regularly with emails, but also on social networks. In fact, Françoise Saget is an eminently emotional brand and so we have a very engaged community of fans, whether on Facebook or Instagram. So it was a gas pedal because unlike some e-retailers who stopped communicating or slowed down their communication to their customers, we on the contrary judged that it was the right time. They are all alone at home, they have a difficult period to go through; so we reinforced the communication, we made them dream with our quilts, we organized contests… which made them follow us, they ordered on the Internet and that allowed us to cross a milestone on the percentage of orders on the Internet. As a percentage of Internet sales, we’ve gone from 26% by the end of 2019 to 35% by the end of 2020, so we’ve reached a milestone.
And then, it also allowed the team on Teams to review the operational modes, to be faster, more efficient, to drop some old habits with a lot of paper support. We had to change our process, to have big collection validation meetings by Teams and even if it was very complicated; but we managed to do it.
So I would really say that covid was a gas pedal and everyone understood that digital was not an enemy internally because there was still this fear, so there was a change in mindset as well.
What remains to be done to complete the company's transformation?
It’s a permanent “working progress” but we want to take a step forward in modernizing the style of our products while keeping the DNA of our brand because our product models give a lot of importance to everything that is nature for example. We also have a narrative treatment that is to say that we try to tell a story, to make our clients travel. So while keeping this narrative DNA with a great importance given to nature with leaves, flowers… we are thinking about how to modernize this style, integrate all the current trends… so it’s a big job that was started in 2018 and that we keep pushing.
For the moment, the team and I believe that we are halfway there, and we are also thinking about strengthening certain product categories, reducing others… we are thinking globally about the product offer and style. So we still have that work to do. Also push and improve the performance of digital acquisition and retention, given that nowadays the first external channel of customer recruitment is the Internet. So we still need to improve our performance and make sure that these digital clients that we have won over once, that we can keep them for a long time.
And finally, to be a brand that is committed to both the selection of products and trying to have more and more eco-responsible materials, to have a supply chain that improves its carbon footprint. Also a socially committed brand: we have a regular partnership with the Josephine association which helps women in precarious situations. We really want to be present with this association in the long term. We also work with a Breton association called Mamansables, whose mission is to offer fun and educational workshops to clean up the beaches, which explain how waste arrives on the beaches.