(Filed Under wholesale Lingerie News). In a wide ranging interview with BODY, François Roberge, president of Boutique La Vie en Rose Inc., discussed his company’s extensive collection of lingerie and swim stores as well as his plans for growth.
La Vie En Rose launched in the early 2000’s and has expanded organically and through acquisition to include 186 company-owned stores in Canada. There are also over 50 international locations (mostly franchises and joint ventures), located in some 17 countries, including many in Saudi Arabia. La Vie En Rose also owns the Bikini Village chain of 62 stores in Canada.
Roberge estimated that the stores will bring in over $400 million (in Canadian dollars) in 2019. Of that total, he said he is projecting sales of about $350 million from his Canadian stores and around “$60-$75 million” from his international operations.
While one of his American competitors, Victoria’s Secret, is planning to close 53 U.S. stores this year, and is moving slowly internationally, Roberge said he will soon open his first store in China, in Guangzhou in the province of Guangdong. He explained that he already has a company office in the area. In addition, he expects to open two stores, with partners, in Russia in October, and is expanding in Canada. Other future plans include India and Australia.
Despite his obvious appetite for new shops, Roberge argued he is careful in selecting new territories. “When the market is mature you have to fight much more for some share of market compared to when you go to market when there is less competition. You have a chance to make better money.”
Case in point, Roberge found the market in Saudi Arabia ripe for La Vie En Rose when he first opened a store in that country over 15 years ago. The chain there quickly grew to 25. Other locations were added in the Middle East, including in the United Arab Emirates.
Montreal-based Roberge has been particularly cautious with his nearest neighbor, the U.S. He said he is considering opening here, but not until he installs a new ERP system (Enterprise Resource Planning) for his organizations, a move scheduled for 2020.
“There are a lot of failures in the States,” he said, admitting he is somewhat “afraid” of the challenge. That said, “we will start to go and look at the U.S. market” and figure out a way to succeed.
One recent potential acquisition that could have included some stores in the U.S. was La Senza (the lingerie chain with 118 locations in Canada and 12 in the U.S., which was recently sold to an investment bank by Victoria’s Secret owner L Brands).
“Yes, we looked. Yes we did a bid. And yes, we decided not buy because the time frame was too stressful. In December it is the biggest month of the year.” After passing on La Senza, Roberge said, “I am sleeping better now than before. I think sometimes the decision you don’t make it is the best decision. Sometimes, but not all the time. But I think this one is better for me. To keep my focus.”
Roberge said he is always open to consider acquisitions, but not outside his are of expertise. “My success is because I am focusing on lingerie and swimwear. We are a destination for a woman.” His next move “could be anywhere in the world.”
Roberge explained the overall strategy for his La Vie En Rose stores as “different than the other players.” He caters to a “more mature” audience, one that appreciates intimates that are “more soft, more comfortable.” The product mix for Canada is “33-33-33,” he continued, listing the percentages of sleepwear, swimwear and bras in his stores. He added that while a woman of 36 might be his target customer, “it doesn’t matter. We can go to the 22 and we can go to the 55” year old customer. During the year the stores offer five different collections.
Roberge is firm believer in the benefits of physical stores. “I come from the brick and mortar. Of course brick and mortar is a challenge, but it think it is very important.” He added that the internet works very well in conjunction with his stores. “80% of my customers go to my web page to check out what I have before they come to my store.”
Also, “when you have a store, the web business is growing in that area. Because they have better confidence. They can return to the store. They can pick up. There are a lot of advantages.”
La Vie En Rose is family owned, and Roberge said he has no interest in becoming a public company.
The La Vie En Rose stores in Canada are “usually 3000 meters, outlets are 5000 meters,” according to Roberge. Of the “186 stores, 60 are outlets.” Of those “outlet” stores, he cautioned, only about 10 correspond to the large, all discount outlet stores in the U.S. — NM
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