Estée Lauder's Franck Besnard talks about the group's latest aquisitions and its ambitions for the French market
On November 16, after several weeks of negotiations and rumors, the American cosmetics group Estée Lauder Companies finally announced the acquisition of Tom Ford, whose beauty products it has already been producing since 2006. A few weeks earlier, Estée Lauder, which recorded a turnover of 4.39 billion dollars (4.44 billion euros) in the first quarter of its 2022/23 fiscal year, also revealed it had signed a licensing agreement to develop the Balmain beauty line. In the midst of the all the announcements, FashionNetwork.com met with Franck Besnard, President France since October 2020 of the Estée Lauder group, owner of M.A.C, Clinique, and La Mer among others.
Besnard, a cosmetics expert, who has been with the American group for twenty years, comments on these recent acquisitions and details his ambitions for the French market, where the group employs 1,000 people, divided between the headquarters and boutiques.
FashionNetwork.com: We have all heard about Estée Lauder Companies' aquisition of Tom Ford, a brand you know well since you managed it in France from 2007 to 2009. What will this acquisition bring to the group which already managed the beauty license?
Franck Besnard: This is a major acquisition for the group and a very important diversification operation. The only information we can share at this stage is that of our press release from November 15. On the French side, we are curious, impatient and proud. The media coverage of this acquisition shows the market's interest in this announcement and the brand's influence on the French beauty market as well as other markets. Moreover, the growth of the brand on the French market is much higher than that of the beauty market today. The innovation of the products, their quality and the services are in perfect line with the French market which is very sophisticated, just like Tom Ford.
FWN: Another addition to the Estée Lauder Companies' brand portfolio is Balmain, with the signing of the beauty license. It's a name that speaks for itself in France, led by its artistic director Olivier Rousteing...
FB: We are also very excited about this. The first products will be launched in two years, so we'll have to wait! What I can say is that on the one hand there is a lot of talk about exclusive luxury; to attend a fashion show, you have to be one of the lucky few. And then, on the other hand, you have Balmain and its inclusive luxury, parading in the Jean Bouin stadium, where 15,000 people are gathered, so the beauty side should be interesting. Both of these aquisitions make the Estée Lauder family very proud.
FWN: You took over as head of Estée Lauder Companies France in October 2020, while the world was still dealing with the pandemic. What was your roadmap?
FB: My roadmap was first to continue the work already initiated. When I arrived, I found a strong group because we have a unique and diversified portfolio of twenty-three brands, and we operate in all networks: pharmacies, department stores, perfumeries, e-commerce and multi-brand retailers. Our first priority was therefore to focus on the French market, which is very focused on fragrances, and to accelerate the development of our brands.
We have an extraordinary portfolio with Tom Ford, Jo Malone London, Killian, Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle and Le Labo. It's a unique portfolio made up of established brands and others that are still emerging, which is what makes the group so special. To optimize this positioning and make the brands shine, we have invested in counters, services and points of sale. We have also improved our communication with local customers.
FWN: Is Tom Ford the heavyweight brand in Estée Lauder's fragrance portfolio in France?
FB: Yes, in the same way as Jo Malone London. Even if the latter is distributed differently with a hybrid network between department stores, some multi-brands and our own network. That is to say, our e-commerce site and our own stores, i.e. five boutiques.
FWN: Apart from the perfume segment, what are the areas of acceleration for the Estée Lauder group in France?
FB: The priority for acceleration has been fragrances, but it has also been the optimization of e-commerce. Especially with the pandemic, we have lived through a period that carried e-commerce, and the Estée Lauder group is very active in this area, which is a point of differenciation that supports the group's acceleration in France.
The third element is what I call talent development. We have invested a lot to support the teams because this is what characterizes the Estée Lauder Companies group: its sales staff, consultants, make-up artists. It's an ecosystem that comes from the American department stores where the group was born and which cultivates a direct relationship between the client and the consultant. This tradition of service makes the difference, and we find it in each of our brands like Jo Malone London with gifting or personalization. For example, half of Bobbi Brown's business is in services, so we're not just selling products, we're selling an experience. We've emphasized that difference and invested a lot over the last two years.
FWN: Do you experience any recruitment difficulties?
FB: We are quite well known for our family values, and investing in social and health issues, like the Pink Ribbon Association*, which generates a lot of unsolicited job applications to join the group. Today, future employees are looking for benevolence, opportunities abroad, cultural differences. And we have all this to offer, in addition to our rich portfolio of brands. If you don't necessarily want to work for a leader like M.A.C., you can find a start-up like Le Labo that attracts a lot of candidates. Even if the situation at the points of sale is sometimes a little more complicated.
FNW: What have been the main changes in the beauty market over the last twenty years?
FB: Apart from e-commerce, which we have already mentioned, in prestige beauty, I would say the rise of services and data. All these subjects offer the possibility to better understand our consumers' expectations and to offer them a unique experience, and this is a major change.
* Association founded in 1994 by Estée Lauder Companies France and Marie Claire magazine to raise awareness for breast cancer. Franck Besnard is the president of the association.
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