When she took over Comptoir Sud Pacifique in November 2010, Valérie Pianelli-Guichard was aware that the challenge she was imposing herself would be difficult to take up. The small size French company, sold by its founders to investors operating in the world of high-end perfumery was in a delicate situation after several negative years. “A series of bad strategic and marketing choices led to a loss in turnover and notoriety”, explains this pharmacist who graduated from the ESSEC before previously working for the Pierre Fabre group.
A strong but battered identity
The story of Comptoir Sud Pacifique started in the early 1970s. The brand emerged from the imagination of Josée and Pierre Fournier, a couple fascinated by perfumes and travels. The fragrances they composed at the time from varieties of flowers, of resins, or of fruits brought back from their journeys disturb the codes of the time but gradually increased the loyalty of demanding customers in search of originality and quality. The brand then developed itself using a concept of traditional, creative perfume niche, and opens some outlets in Paris, Le Touquet or Saint-Tropez, and owned up to five outlets in France bearing its name. The outlets also proposed some luggage, toiletries and even beach linen.
When in 2002 the founders sold their company, the new owners sought to get the brand out of its cottage industry-like world by focusing more on multi-brand distribution networks. They closed the outlets, dropped complementary lines to focus on perfumes of which they streamlined the portfolio, the number of fragrances in the catalogue being then cut down from 54 to 17. The brand’s creations then claiming to be more accessible to a wider audience. But this new strategy turned out being disappointing. The brand lost its followers, without however managing to find its place in the face of its competitors in the selective market. The traditional customer base in search of differentiation no longer seemed to find its share of new products that also failed to attract a new audience.
Stimulus comes from exports
Since she took over with passion the reins of the company, Valérie Pianelli-Guichard’s first objective was to bring accounts back into balance. Which was successfully achieved, since with a turnover of 1 million euros, the balance has become positive again, thanks to the good results performed by export sales where the brand achieves 2/3 of its turnover, the United States, Italy (200 outlets) and Germany (80 outlets) being the three most important markets. Operations were also developed in new European countries, like the Baltic States and Ukraine. And projects are underway in Asia.
France, which accounts for one third of sales, is of course a strategic market. Comptoir Sud Pacifique currently has 180 point of sales in France, plus department stores (Printemps, Galeries Lafayette), but this network is being rationalized. “Our goal is to reposition the brand in exclusivity. We want to give ourselves the means to work well with key accounts, in particular by investing in the training of counsellors and in the animation of outlets”, explained Agathe Finaz de Villaine, Marketing manager.
New projects for 2012
Because after this transitional year, the goal is now to reconnect with the brand’s DNA to give it a new impetus. “Comptoir Sud Pacifique is a fun niche brand very much unlike this segment sometimes characterized by an austere, cold intellectual side. It’s a brand that plays with ingredients, giving free rein to its customers audacity. In a nutshell, it’s the brand of pleasure perfumery”, explains Pianelli-Guichard.
The brand’s revival will involve the development of many novelties, with first, the launch of a series of five new fragrances on the theme of travel, intended to bring the brand’s discourse and imagination in line with its history.
Souffle des Indes, the first fragrance of this collection, developed in collaboration with the perfume creator, Henri Bergia, is a gourmand oriental, rich in contrasts between intoxicating spices and invigorating citrus. True to its origins, Comptoir Sud Pacifique is back again on the road that leads to exotic essences and surprising accords. As for packaging, it has also evolved towards a reconnection with the codes of the brand while also enjoying an update. The brand-specific model of steel-like coloured glass bottle remains unchanged but silk screen printing is abandoned in favour of a more sophisticated and more vintage label and an elegant beech cap to top the bottle. The case (Invercote cardboard, worked with the shiny side inside) was transformed. Comptoir Sud Pacifique inaugurated with this launch its new finish: a stitching of mixed turquoise and brown fawn, a nod to its history and a reminder of its former collections of bags and travel accessories associated to the brand.
The next step will consist in giving the brand a range of skincare products worthy of its position. The current range consisting of three body care products made of tropical butters with a very summery positioning, is being completely revisited and should be enriched with face care and toiletry products. Finally, a luxurious line of scented candles is also planned. “The common thread remains the same: the search for surprising and natural raw materials inviting us on a wonderful journey”, emphasises Pianelli-Guichard.
The implementation of these various projects should enable the brand to enrich its offering and to dispose of a set of consistent products with, in focus, the reopening of an exclusive boutique in Paris planned in 2013 or early 2014. “This is the horizon we have set ourselves with. But we don’t want to cut any corners, we don’t have unlimited means. Our priority is to strengthen the brand.”