BPI: innovation and staying selective are secrets for success

FRANCE. As the curtain goes up on a new decade – and hopefully a much better year in trading terms for the global travel retail industry – Beauté Prestige International (BPI) finds itself in a comparatively strong position after determinedly sticking to its script of innovation, partnership and professionalism throughout last year’s economic crisis.

BPI’s dynamic double act: Eric Henry (above left) and Alexandre De Chaudenay

The house unveiled major new launches from both Narciso Rodriguez (Essence) and Issey Miyake (A Scent) in 2009, and in the last quarter announced a ten-year fragrance and cosmetics license contract with couture house Elie Saab.

“Last year was not an easy one,” BPI Chief Operating Officer Eric Henry told The Moodie Report, “but it was not as bad as expected either. Yes, the first quarter especially was extremely challenging, not just because of the market conditions and traffic decrease, but because of the huge de-stocking by the trade.

“But not all the markets were down”¦and overall the year was better than we first anticipated.” He smiled: “Let’s cross our fingers that the worst is indeed over.”

But even when things were pretty grim, BPI held its nerve and did not make sweeping changes to its marketing plan. “We kept the same programme,” noted Henry, “and we kept our investment. We introduced Essence from Narciso in the first half – which was big – and in September we launched A Scent by Issey Miyake [the first new line from the brand for 11 years]. Thanks to those launches, and to continued support for our core lines, things worked for us”¦overall we gained market share in 2009.”

Innovation is clearly key, and it’s one of our strengths. We are in a market which is driven by newness”¦but of course, innovation is not limited to launching a new fragrance, it’s also about creating activities around existing lines, it’s about the way you talk to the consumer and inspire your organisation
BPI Chief Operating Officer Eric Henry

Does Henry consider innovation and investment to be even more important in tough times? “Innovation is clearly key, and it’s one of our strengths,” he replied. “We are in a market which is driven by newness, that’s for sure, and we are always trying to deliver breakthrough innovations.

“But of course, innovation is not limited to launching a new fragrance, it’s also about creating activities around existing lines, it’s about the way you talk to the consumer and inspire your organisation.”

Henry added: “Last year we have tried to innovate in order to keep a good mood; it’s important to enhance everybody’s motivation when the market is tough. You need to be even closer to all your people, but especially the sales team, who are under pressure from the retailers too. We have been working a lot to boost and motivate our BAs.”

Arguably the biggest boost came from the announcement last September that BPI would add to its trinity of designers via a new license with couture house Elie Saab. There had long been speculation that such an addition to the BPI stable was imminent, although few would have guessed that Saab was the fashion house in question.

“We are very proud that Elie Saab has selected us from other competitors,” declared Henry, “and it’s great timing for BPI. We launched the first Narciso fragrance in 2003, and I think we’ve done a fantastic job, so now is the right time to start afresh with a new designer.

“The house of Elie Saab is totally different and therefore totally complementary to our existing portfolio. In terms of geography alone, we have a French, Japanese, American and now a Middle Eastern designer.”

Yet there are also important similarities, Henry stressed. “The house of Elie Saab is well-known in many markets because of its fashion,” he noted. “And we share the same approach to luxury. The fragrance is going to be a premium brand, a sector where BPI already has a strong position. So we are very much looking forward to launching the first fragrance in 2011.”

Beauté Prestige International goes back to basics with the pared-down purity of A Scent by Issey Miyake

Unusually for a leading beauty house – aside from Gaultier’s ground-breaking Le Male Tout Beau Tout Propre collection, and the occasional limited-edition promotional item – BPI has no cosmetics offer. As the brand increases its fragrance licenses, might it also be considering expanding into the lucrative make-up and/or skincare arena?

“We have no intention of doing this,” replied Henry firmly. “We belong to Shiseido and they are clearly a leader in skincare and make-up. Within Shiseido, BPI is the specialist for fragrance – and will remain so. We have no intention of expanding into skincare or make-up; that is just not our business, although there is always speculation.”

He reiterated: “We want to be the best in fragrance – that’s our primary goal – not to develop in other areas. From time to time we create special cosmetics products to animate our brands or create a story around them, but they are a tool to bring emotion and surprise to the consumer, nothing more.”

Last year, just as the economic crisis was really beginning to bite, Alexandre de Chaudenay took over from Louis-Benoît Barth in the role of BPI Managing Director Export & Travel Retail.

A key objective of his was to build upon BPI’s long history of strong retailer partnerships, while keeping the BPI portfolio distinctly selective.

Travel retail has known many crises in recent years, but you have to carry on doing what you do best throughout. Historically, we have enjoyed a good relationship with key travel retailers”¦and this is something we will continue to work on
BPI Managing Director Export & Travel Retail Alexandre de Chaudenay

“Travel retail has known many crises in recent years, but you have to carry on doing what you do best throughout,” noted de Chaudenay philosophically.

“Historically, we have enjoyed a good relationship with key travel retailers, and our market share in the sector is quite big. This is something we will continue to work on. And I think now more than ever the selectivity of our brands works well in travel retail.”

He underlined how pleased the group was with the development of the Narciso Rodriguez portfolio, despite the initial lukewarm reaction of some retailers when the first fragrance made its debut in 2003.

“A lot of retailers said things like, “˜we don’t know this brand and we can’t take a risk’,” explained de Chaudenay, “but a few were prepared to trust us and try and today it’s payback time; Narciso is now one of the fastest-growing brands in the fragrance industry .

“Importantly, the new launch Essence has been showing very healthy numbers, while For Her has been growing in sell-out terms, so we have seen absolutely no cannibalisation, which is a great result. To have two successes like that shows how strong the brand is, despite the fact that we have resisted increasing our distribution.”

Despite its growing popularity, BPI is resolutely committed to keeping Narciso exclusive. “Comparatively, we are extremely selective with the Narciso brand,” noted de Chaudenay, “with around 6,000 doors worldwide. Usually, a prestige fragrance is carried in a minimum of 18,000 doors globally. We are in 6,000 and we don’t intend to expand that.”

Narciso Rodriguez Essence: the latest flagship launch from the fast-growing fragrance brand

Which illustrates perfectly BPI’s overriding belief in quality, not quantity. “It’s very important that retailers think of us first and foremost as an innovative company, a specialist of premium fragrances, in the upper part of the market,” underlined Henry.

“We also want to be seen as a reliable partner for the trade, someone with whom retailers can build a strong partnership and develop business together on a long-term basis. We are committed to developing volume and image together, and delivering a real shopping experience for the consumer.”

He continued: “I also think it’s very important to be seen as a specialist in travel retail, a house that tries to develop a shopping experience that is tailored to the travelling consumer.

“I think we are extremely good at creating innovative in-store activities, at dramatising the point of sale, and we want to be recognised as a specialist of added value, generated from the emotion we create with a product and all associated activities. That’s not always easy to do in this environment but when the travel retail arena gives us the right space and opportunity, we deliver.”

Geographically, BPI believes the US market, despite its competitive nature, holds much untapped potential, particularly for the Narciso brand.

“We believe we can also significantly develop our business in the BRIC countries,” added Henry. “We are already strong in Latin America, thanks to Alexandre, who did such a great job starting and developing the business in Brazil and Argentina. Russia and China also offer good scope for development.”

And while there is little BPI can do to counter such problems as de-stocking and unfavourable currency fluctuations, Henry and de Chaudenay remain relatively optimistic about the future.

“Travel retail has known so many crises in the past 15 years – at least four or five major ones – and we have overcome them all, so we will probably survive this one too,” Henry concluded.

“All the passenger projections are positive, although I think in the past we have been a bit spoiled by such increases. Now we have to be a bit more efficient to increase the penetration, and for that brand and operator have to work together more strongly and more professionally than they ever have before. In tough times that’s absolutely key.”


BPI and Issey Miyake marry water and wood – 16/12/09

Beauté Prestige International inks fragrance and cosmetics deal with Elie Saab – 28/09/09

BPI celebrates Jean Paul Gaultier’s Ma Dame anniversary and unveils new musc collection from Narciso Rodriguez – 13/07/09

BPI bottles the essential with A Scent by Issey Miyake – 15/06/09

Food & Beverage The Magazine eZine