Luxury players in Hauts-de-France driven by a dynamic market – Le Journal des Entreprises
Land of “black mouths”, heavy industry and agriculture, Hauts-de-France does not benefit, in the imagination of the tricolor at least, from an image of great refinement. Wrongly, since the region conceals many exceptional skills. And the big Parisian houses are not mistaken, which have created, not far from the capital, a solid network of subcontractors that meet their high quality standards.
At the end of 2020, the Hauts-de-France CCI listed more than a hundred of these VSEs, SMEs and ETIs in the region, for a total of some 12,000 employees. While the textile and luxury glassware sectors are central, directly linked to the regional industrial tradition, others are also present. Like leather goods, gastronomy, furniture-decoration, or even luxury hotels. In 70 years, the number of luxury business creations in the region has quadrupled, “In the industrial field of course, but over the past ten years, luxury hotels and starred restaurants have appeared, explains Grégory Stanislawski, director studies by the regional CCI. Today, the global luxury market is on the rise again, after losing 20% of turnover in 2020, due to the Covid.
The know-how of SMEs in Hauts-de-France remains a guarantee of quality, in a sector where “made in France”, French-style luxury, is highly sought after. And it is clear that, since 2021, these companies have been driven by a very sharp increase in demand. A small protected bubble, but for how long? Because the economic situation – increases in the prices of raw materials and energy prices – also hits these companies hard.
The choice of a positioning of excellence
Who says luxury, says high expectations. Companies positioned on these markets must be able to meet very specific specifications. Ability to make tailor-made, inventiveness, responsiveness, are the key words to seduce more than demanding end customers. On the other hand, it is a market in which companies can capitalize on their know-how… without however being able to claim the margins practiced by their prestigious clients. And where to settle takes time. When he took over Maison Drucker, in Gilocourt (Oise), in 2006, Bruno Dubois immediately wanted to reposition the rattan bistro armchair factory created in 1885 on the luxury market. Even if it means seeking out former employees, holders of unique know-how, to convince them to return to their jobs. It was then necessary to regain visibility in the world’s largest decoration fairs, in New York, London and Paris. “It took time but we managed to re-enter the luxury market. Great designers like Philippe Starck trusted us,” recalls the manager. Its turnover then increases from 1.2 million euros in 2011 to 5 million euros in 2021. “Within five years, it will have doubled”, predicts the manager of the company of 35 employees, who exports its creations to around fifty countries around the world.
As for the glass factory in Masnières (North), the choice of luxury is also a deliberate strategy. Until 2013, the glassworks mainly produced containers for pharmaceuticals and the food industry. Its pivot towards luxury caught the attention of Stoelzle, looking for a production site to create a “prestige” division, and which bought it in 2015. A winning bet for the glass factory with 335 employees, which today produces today 90% of its turnover (not disclosed) with a clientele of perfumers and big names in cosmetics. “On the mid-range and high-end market, competition from Asian countries has done a lot of harm to European glassware. On the prestige market, on the other hand, between bottles and decoration, French manufacturing remains essential”, assures Étienne Gruyez. , the manager of the Stoelzle-Masnières site.
The renewed interest in “made in France” and CSR
For luxury even more than elsewhere, the blue-white-red cockade is more than ever an asset. For the symbol, but not only. “After a big air pocket during the Covid, demand is picking up again very strongly, in particular for perfumes. We invested 20 million euros in 2020 in a new oven, which brings our daily capacity to 110 tonnes, i.e. an additional 30%. However, we are already almost at saturation point as demand is strong. The only obstacle currently is the availability of the material, which is difficult to find, both new and recycled. in addition, French houses, but also American and Asian ones, are looking for products stamped “made in France”, or “Entreprise du Patrimoine vivant”, a label that we obtained in 2018. This is a real plus for obtaining markets. They want a story to tell, but also to put forward a sustainable development approach. And for French or European customers, proximity and agility are an unbeatable argument”, considers Étienne Gruyez.
“My clients, all they see when I tell them about Roubaix is that it’s one hour from Paris. It’s closer than Florence”, also poses Charlotte Cazal, head of the House Residence, which employs about twenty employees. The leathers ennobled by the Roubais-based company launched in 2013, printed, embossed or engraved, parade on the shoulders or on the arms of models at Fashion Week, under the banners of the biggest brands of leather goods and ready-to-wear. “Maison Demeure is my creativity, but it’s also ten years of hard work. Producing in France means suffering Italian competition, which has been very strong since the Covid. But it’s also having the argument of responsiveness , which is very important to our customers. The luxury houses go straight to the point, they want the products as soon as possible. This is our added value, and I am in the process of building up a stronghold of leather in France, with tanners and manufacturers, to establish France as a leading leather processing area in Europe”, rejoices the manager, who does not communicate her turnover but confides that it has “has been multiplied by ten in three years” . Its order book is full for 2023.
A more resilient market?
Rather well recovered from the Covid period, the luxury sector could get through the current crisis with less damage than others. By definition, end buyers are not very sensitive to price variations. And in the current context, which is very inflationary, this can translate into a certain latitude offered to companies in the sector. “It is clear that at the moment, between the explosion of our energy item, which will weigh for 25% of our turnover, and the tensions on the prices of raw materials, our market is a little more comfortable. than another. We are on products, and customers, who can grant us a little flexibility. Within a certain limit of course! We will not be able to pass all the increases, we will have to find other levers to absorb the additional costs”, warns Étienne Gruyez, of Stoelzle-Masnières.
Eli Gifford, the leader of Tea Together (€1.5 million in 2022 turnover, 11 employees), which makes jams in Le Touquet (Pas-de-Calais) for palaces around the world and the greatest French chefs, agrees. “The traffic restrictions and hotel closures of the Covid period have been followed by a total frenzy. Since May 2021, we have not stopped, we have done +130% compared to 2019”, he describes. The energy crisis will perhaps be harder to overcome. “Our customers are understanding of the current price increases, but overall the hotel sector has been very hard hit by the Covid crisis. They remain extremely cautious, we are not going to have a lot of elasticity”, tempers the manager.
Manage strong growth
Key to their success, the quality of their products and the complexity of their processes can also be a brake on the growth of these SMEs, called to remain on limited volumes. To continue to grow, diversification may be necessary. To cope with the very strong demand, Eli Gifford thus approached in 2021 the Valenciennes industrialist Lucullus, positioned on the high end, to give himself the means to invest. A new line is planned, which will quadruple the production of Tea Together in Le Touquet. And the more industrial lines from Lucullus to Prouvy (North) will make it possible to develop other high-end products in volume. But Eli Gifford, the leader, knows he is on a tightrope. “It took me fifteen years to build the company’s brand image, to build a relationship of trust with my customers. That’s what I hold most precious. We need to increase volumes, but we don’t “will never reach those of an industrialist, because the risk of loss of quality is too great. I know that our added value lies in our method of cooking in a copper cauldron, with fruits that are cooked whole. is something that we cannot lose”, reasons the leader. He agrees all the same: “Since we have been working with Lucullus, our standards have come closer to those of manufacturers, in terms of productivity, quality control, traceability. Our customers appreciate it, they want craftsmanship but with industry standards. It’s a big difference that is impossible to achieve for small structures.”
Charlotte Cazal, of Maison Demeure, has just raised 3 million euros by bringing a sector fund, Cuir Invest, as well as a major leather goods manufacturer, into its capital. Enough to invest 1.5 million euros to further strengthen its machine park and remain at the forefront of innovation. But also, to give itself the means to push the volumes, and to start a diversification in the world of yachting.