A Chat with Christophe Gaigneux,EVP, Boston Apparel Group,
EVP, Boston Apparel Group,
© Profile of Success, Catalog Success magazine, June 2006
Interview by Matt Griffin
Catalog Success: How many catalogs are in the Boston Apparel Group?
Christophe Gaigneux: In the Boston Apparel Group we have four catalogs, we have Chadwick's, the Lerner catalog, or Metrostyle, because we're changing the name this year, and we have Jessica London. And all three of these are located in the Boston area. And we have La Redoute, which is a French brand that we also have in the U.S.
CS: When was that group established?
CG: As it is today? We just changed the setup a little bit — because all the brands have been established for some time. Chadwick's in '83, Lerner catalog in '85, Jessica London spun off the Chadwick's catalog in '97 and La Redoute was brought to the U.S. from France in '99. Now we operate those catalogs as a group, since I've been appointed to the head of the group. I previously was the head of the Special Sizes Group, which was a different setup. Now we're organized by site.
CS: Could you describe the customer demographics within the Boston Apparel Group?
CG: For Lerner Catalog, or Metrostyle, we target 35- to 45-year- old women with an annual income of $50-$60K per year. She's a more sexy, more fashionable woman. La Redoute is younger, 25 to 40, a broader range of income $50K to $80K per year. She's fashion-addicted, more urban. Chadwick's and Jessica London have a similar demographic. Chadwick's is for the missies sizes, while Jessica London is a plus-sized woman. The target customer is age 40 to 45, working women, $60K to $80K per year.
CS: What are your main sales channels?
CG: We have the catalog and Internet. I can't give you the breakdown by brand, but you can say that in the Boston Apparel Group we range from 30 percent to 50 percent Web-based orders.
CS: Where did you grow up?
CG: In Brittany, in the western part of France.
CS: How long have you been with Redcats?
CG: It depends on what you call Redcats. I've been with Redcats since '99 when I joined the PPR group as part of La Redoute in France. La Redoute for us is the biggest brand of the Redcats Group and the daughter group of 4.5 billion Euro group of PPR, of which Redcats USA is a part. I then joined Redcats USA in 2003. I was appointed EVP of the Special Sizes group in New York. And I recently moved to the Boston area. Actually, I'm sort of between positions, as my successor for the Special Sizes group has not yet been named. I've got some work at both places.
CS: Prior to joining PPR in '99, had you had any experience with cataloging?
CG: Well, prior to joining Redcats USA, I got four years of experience in cataloging from 1999 to 2003 at La Redoute. It's a catalog and Web business. Prior to 1999, I was in retail. I spent most of my time prior to that in retail.
CS: What was your biggest challenge in the first few years on the job with Redcats?
CG: Back in '03 when I joined Redcats from France, I had two major challenges. One was related to culture. The big challenge was to understand the cultural differences not just between the two parts of the company, but between the two countries, the U.S. and France. It was my first assignment outside of Europe. A specific challenge was trying to facilitate internal discussions, debates and initiatives. People were not used to speaking up as much as I wanted them to speak up. I had to create an atmosphere where debate was encouraged. I wanted people to come up with their own ideas and initiatives, to be more proactive. Pushing the different departments to work together, the organization was a little bit siloed. Also, pushing mobility and internal promotions.
Another thing that was a challenge was promoting a branding culture. We were really a merchandising driven company, but not yet brand focused.
CS: What did you do to overcome those challenges?
CG: Well, there were two problems there, so with the first, the cultural changes, I listened a lot. I had to meet a lot of people. I had to walk the floors, engage in a lot of observation. In terms of pushing people to speak up, I did a few things. First, I recognized in public a few different viewpoints other than my own, in order to get people to be comfortable sharing their views and thoughts. We also had something interesting which helped me. It was a company-wide initiative. We created a contest based around idea generation. That initiative worked really well. In general it worked to empower people to guide instead of tell. It established team objectives on top of individual objectives. We recognized team efforts as well as individual efforts. We wanted to make people understand that the team partnership was just as important as individual achievements. Especially in our business. The head needs to move with the rest of the body - in sync. Also, as it relates to supporting the team, when you talk about promoting people, you have to support the team in taking risks. When people are promoted, the team has to support that person's promotions and decisions and ability to lead. You always take a risk when you promote someone, but we think the risk is less when you promote internally rather than going outside. We had to push people to promote internally.
About branding, we've launched, since I started in 2003, marketing research and focus groups for each one of the brands to better understand our customer. We also leveraged our Redcats corporate branding seminar. We have a very well rounded branding seminar that has helped me to establish a brand platform and positioning for all of the brands. That's also about empowering people. The brand managers were in charge of getting with their teams about all of the research we did as well as come up with their own positioning proposals with an action plan. This sort of thing doesn't come in six months. It took me two years to get all four of the brands to have a solid analysis of their platforms and positioning, along with a plan they could execute.
CS: Across your entire career, what has been your greatest challenge, and how did you deal with it?
CG: It's always difficult to think of your greatest challenge, but something came to mind about when I joined La Redoute. Back in 1999, I joined as head of the women's apparel, VP of women's apparel for La Redoute, reporting to the CEO. But we changed the organization a few months later. In just a few months, in 2000, I was appointed EVP of apparel for La Redoute including creative and sourcing. And this wasn't just for women's apparel, but for menswear, and children's wear. This was a new job at the company. At the same time, just to make it easier, PPR, created a new training program. It was called U-Next, which stood University for the Next Generation. They established a training program for younger executives at the company. It was a one-year program with a lot work, not only off-site training, but training with Harvard and French teachers - it was an international program. At the same time we had our regular job. It was a stretch for me. You had to take care of the team with the new job and the new organizational structure. So it wasn't just the new promotion, but it creating the new job and the one-year training program. It was an interesting challenge for me. We had to present to the PPR executive committee a project on corporate social responsibility. So I couldn't give up on my project group. It was always a continuous stretch between taking care of my team on the job with La Redoute, and taking care of my PPR teammates for the training program. It was the first promotion where I had to go through this great process. It was an interesting year.
CS: What would you say was the greatest lesson you learned that year?
CG: I learned I had to trust more people. It drove me to a new step of dedication, too. The constraints of all my responsibilities drove me to the next step of management, to trust more people and involve more people. It caused an evolution in the way I managed both people and projects. It was a lot of work, but my family really supported me throughout that period. If you don't have your family behind you, it can be really difficult.
CS: What are some key points to your success in your career?
CG: I would say especially today that what helped me is that I've been able to evolve in a multicultural environment, especially today, after spending three or four years in the U.S. And it's not just the Europe versus the U.S. cultural shift, which has changed my business perspective a great deal, but it's also retail versus direct business. So now I've got both those experience sets.
I've been told I'm not only strategic but I can be detail-oriented as well. I can see the helicopter view, the big picture, without losing sight of the details.
I'm also a team builder. I really want to put a lot of faith and trust in my staff. I like to empower people. I have a lot of passion for what I do, and I work hard. At the heart of it, though, has been the support of my family.
CS: What goals do you have for the Boston Apparel Group right now?
CG: I want to continue the branding efforts that have been made thus far. We need more uniqueness in the product. I want to move the company's main focus from store to brand. Chadwick's has a very strong name awareness, but I want it to be a more recognized brand.
Also I want to move from a catalog-driven company to a more Web-driven company. That's one of the challenges we have right now. How do we evolve the brand entity online? We already have high Web-penetration, but we're just not completely there yet. We need to accept the Web on an enterprise-wide level, including merchandising. This is very caricatured from selecting the best assortment for each product line to a total redesign and product development shift. In terms of creative, we're moving from an external creative agency to an internal creative function. We're also moving from a conventional desktop production world to a full digital process. This is really the roadmap and we've engaged initiatives in all of these areas. We're ready to continue the transformation of this group with the Web as a key focus area. We've started to reinforce Web teams; we have a new Web site, and I think you saw that new Web site recently. We have launched a design initiative, product design I mean, in order to create more uniqueness and put a lot more emphasis on product development.
CS: Have you had any mentors?
CG: No specific mentors. I've been lucky in that I've had many great bosses. Many of them have been great mentors for me. They've helped me learn different things. I never had the same profile. It's been great for me because each boss learned who I was and taught me something different. My current boss is acting as a mentor, and he's helped me develop a more critical eye, build a stronger cost-control culture. He's been very helpful to me in the last few years.
CS: What about this business appeals to you? Why stay in cataloging?
CG: Really everything.
CS: In what ways do you believe you've succeeded?
CG: It's too early to say! But if you refer back to previous assignments, I've been told that I've left behind me strong and empowered teams. I've helped, I think, people to see things from a different angle. The brands in the Special Sizes group have gained in uniqueness in the past few years, and have seem better results.
CS: If a new cataloger came to for advice about running a catalog, what would you say?
CG: Let me know if I'm being too obvious. First, you need experienced people in what is a very technical form of retail. That's key. A strong brand focus is important, as well as product uniqueness and design. Understand your customer and competition. Understand the process and discipline of execution.
CS: Aside from the Redcats brands, what catalog and online brands do you shop at regularly?
CG: I shop at fnac.com, it's a PPR Web site. Also, I shop at Amazon, Pottery Barn, and mainly Redcats/PPR catalogs, because we have a lot of different brands: Brylane Home, Chadwick's, etc. I buy things for my kids there.
CS: Do you have any favorite books?
CG: I don't have any favorites, but I can mention two I've read recently that I really liked. One is in English, it's the last Mitch Albom book, the "Five People You Meet in Heaven." It's great to me, because it shows how your life can change with the people you meet. It just reinforces for me the responsibility we have as human beings. No matter what job you work at, you can influence the destiny of other people. It's a good book.
Another one, totally different, is a French book, an historic biography of "Fouché." He's an interesting character in the troubled French period at the end of the monarchy and the beginning of the revolution through the Napoleon era. He was the police minister, in charge of the police, in the government. Chief of police I believe, from Louis XVI through the revolution through to Napoleon. The ambiguity of this period of time. It's an interesting psychological portrait of this man and the ambiguous time in which he lived. I don't want to make any parallels to modern politics, but it's interesting because even though it's an historic biography, there's a lot of interesting parallels. The author is Stephan Zweig. He's a well-known author in France.
CS: What was the name of the individual being biographied?
CG: Fouché, accent on the last e. That's the name of the book as well.
CS: Do you have any hobbies? What do you like to do in your spare time?
CG: I like to spend time with my family. Especially with my three boys. I enjoy helping them with their sports and activities. I also enjoy sailing. When I go on vacation, I also enjoy scuba diving. I'm hoping to take my sailboat out in Boston.