Nathalie Pichard, founder of toPNotes

Nathalie Pichard, founder of toPNotes

Premium Beauty News - As physical stores are being challenged by online selling, what becomes of shop assistants?

Nathalie Pichard - They are still playing a crucial role, but it is increasingly difficult for them. Today, things are quite confused in points of sale. The perfume market has become very complex. Launches have multiplied without any training work done, and new concepts have emerged without much explanation.

For example, a perfume brand based on a vegan concept was recently launched, and in-store, most staff members could not really explain what it actually meant.

Much too often, no one has anticipated beauty assistants’ perception of the brand, and the issue is raised only when problems arise. Then, it is too easy to criticize shop assistants. It is a demanding job, people are not very highly considered and well-paid: brands do not invest much on them.

Premium Beauty News - It is often said that with customers who have become experts, because they get informed on the web, shop assistants are out of their depth.

Nathalie Pichard - Again, this is too simplistic. Beauty advisors also get informed online, and the majority of people visiting points of sale are far from being experts. In any case, accurate, well-structured sales arguments definitely have unequalled impact and efficacy and can complete, and even amplify digital marketing actions.

However, it is true there is a lot to do. It is still not that common to find “augmented beauty advisors” equipped with connected digital tools, and who can provide both expertise and additional experiences. Again, the problem is the lack of investment. To me, although tomorrow’s retail will be highly connected, sales will still depend on humans.

Premium Beauty News - And yet, training cannot be the only answer, can it?

Nathalie Pichard - That is not exactly what I am saying. If training is a powerful tool for brands, it cannot substitute for a good product and strong concept. Still, it can create a favourable environment and boost performance, in particular by “sticking” the brand’s arguments to people’s minds. If the brand cannot sell among shop assistants, it is likely the latter will not engage in their relationships with customers, failing to make them live the brand’s famous “experience”. Training is a long-range, most powerful weapon whose tangible effects and positive impacts are not sufficiently measured right now.

Premium Beauty News - What are the key ingredients for successful training?

Nathalie Pichard - First, training needs to be continuous. One session every now and then does not really make sense. Being a shop assistant is a difficult job, and like in any trade, weariness and routine sometimes prevail. So, you need to keep feeding stores with information and emotion related to the brand. You need to support your advisors, encourage and help them over time. You need pragmatic arguments and easy-to-use recipes, especially for perfumes, because they are such tricky products to sell.

Premium Beauty News - Does a good product that sells well online really need assistants?

Nathalie Pichard - Probably not. But you cannot create a brand only with products. A well-designed, well-positioned product can definitely sell very well, almost on its own. But, there is always a risk for the brand to lose its grip, disappear behind the product, and see its story no longer passed on or firmly anchored in consumers’ minds.

Premium Beauty News - Last August, you celebrated the 10th anniversary of toPNotes, your consulting and training agency dedicated to perfume. What lessons have you learnt from this experience?

Nathalie Pichard - The adventure even started a bit earlier, when we launched the toPNotes newsletter dedicated to perfumes, 12 years ago. This tool helped perfume professionals reflect and exchange. It is now published every three months and is also used as a networking, visibility-enhancing tool by players in the perfume world. Plus, it promotes the training and consulting business I created ten years ago.

In practice, we offer both sales professionals and perfume brands & suppliers tailor-made materials and workshops. Then, brands can also benefit from complementary activities in marketing and communication writing, in particular focused on the digital world. Our expertise covers the customer journey and in-store experience, selling techniques, the brand’s ceremonial, etc. Paradoxically, in a market eager for creation and innovation, sometimes we get too pretentious, trying to get something out of the extraordinary… So, our role also consists in helping brands keep it simple…

Our customers are both multinationals and young brands aiming to train their teams, in France and abroad. For example, we recently worked with an Indian distributor who wanted to educate his shop assistants about the niche perfume world and its specific selling techniques.

Our added value lies in the fact that we come from the perfume world and have an essential, specific experience of the trade, when many other players are generalists. Almost all our customers work in the perfume industry, although some of our methods can be reproduced in other categories.

Fragrance Innovation Summit

Nathalie Pichard will deliver a presentation at the next Fragrance Innovation Summit in Paris, on November 7, 2019.

Programme and subscription: Fragrance Innovation Summit 2019