Valmont’s Sophie Vann-Guillon on the group’s evolution and challenges
Swiss family-owned firm Valmont has been in the cosmetics industry since 1905, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s that the company became the luxury skincare heavyweight it is today. The evolution was enabled by businessman Didier Guillon, who acquired the products of Dr. Nadja Avalle and formed the Valmont Group. He is now the president of the business, which has four brands in its portfolio: Valmont, the group’s core label; L'Elixir des Glaciers, which demonstrates the house’s ‘savoir faire’ with its exclusive ingredients; Il Profvmo, acquired in 2012 and dedicated to high-end fragrances; and Storie Veneziane, a haute couture fragrance collection.
But the Swiss cellular cosmetic expert is more than a beauty brand. In fact, it recently signed a long-term deal to sponsor Barcelona’s bridal week, which has led to the event’s rebrand to Valmont Barcelona Bridal Fashion Week. Celebrating this achievement is Sophie Vann-Guillon, its CEO. The former export area manager of Oscar de la Renta Parfums, who also previously held the role of marketing manager at Yves Saint Laurent Parfums, joined the company led by her husband Didier Guillon in 2000. Now in charge of market research and product development at Valmont, Sophie Vann-Guillon talks about the new partnership with VBBFW, and analyses the evolution of her company and the wider luxury cosmetics industry in an exclusive interview with FashionNetwork.com.
FashionNetwork.com: What is the partnership with VBBFW about and why have you taken this step after two years of working together?
Sophie Vann-Guillon: It is a collaboration with international perspectives. Our company is a family business with more than 35 years of history and we like to take on projects that have a sense of purpose. We are currently focused on three segments: luxury spa treatments, science and art. It is a very particular mix. We are beauty brand that has links with the fashion and bridal sectors. For us, VBBFW is a celebration of aesthetics and beauty, as well as an art form led by designers and their special and extravagant creations. The union between cosmetics and catwalk shows felt appropriate to us.
When negotiating the agreement with Ester Maria Laruccia [the event’s director], we were seduced by the idea of being the exclusive cosmetics and fragrance partner. Additionally, VBBFW aims to become a more international show, establishing Barcelona as a leading destination for bridal fashion. And we want to build our reputation as a high-level brand, setting new standards in terms of cosmetic technology and efficiency.
FNW: Is this a unique collaboration for Valmont or have you undertaken similar projects in other markets?
SVG: We continue to grow step by step. We do have other collaborations worldwide, but they are somewhat different. We often work with organisations that have a humanitarian dimension. That is something that strongly depends on the presidents leading our subsidiaries, as well as our local collaborators. For example, in the United States, we have done plenty of work with One Drop to support their work in water consumption.
With the VBBFW partnership, which turns the spotlight on Spain and the bridal sector, we help deliver a new level of international recognition, particularly in Asia. Asian shoppers are very familiar with the Valmont brand, which in turn helps to cement the VBBFW. On the other hand, the event helps us build brand awareness in some countries where we have a smaller presence, such as Spain [where the firm sells its products through El Corte Inglés, as well as in selected fragrance retailers, hotels and spas]. It’s a fairly balanced collaboration.
FNW: What’s your company’s global presence?
SVG: We have a presence in 52 countries. We recently launched in Singapore and we plan to make a debut in Vietnam. Asia is big a market for high-performance skincare, so it makes it easier for us [to expand there]. However, our business is equally split between Asia and Europe, our two largest markets, followed by America. Ultimately, we export 96% of our products, and we have a much smaller presence in Switzerland, which is were they are manufactured.
FNW: What is your brand positioning strategy and how do you see the brand evolving in the future?
SVG: Valmont doesn’t focus on the latest trends. It is the consumers who change. Today, women are more active, concerned about the future of the planet and the balance between their personal and professional life… Years ago, my generation was different. Consumers used to have a mono-product vision. The current challenge facing cosmetics companies is to develop products for young women and their needs, because the future is in their hands. That is why we are creating lines with transformatory and sensory formulas. We are marrying science and the pleasure of the senses. The ingredients are also lighter and oriented towards travel, catering for a lifestyle of a more free, more dynamic and hardworking woman, who seeks a balance between body and spirit. Next year we are presenting a range of cosmetics without preservatives for the first time. We don’t follow the trends, but we adapt Valmont’s concepts to meet the needs of the women of tomorrow.
FNW: What do you do in terms of sustainability, a factory that is increasingly shaping the buying behaviour of the new generation of consumers?
SVG: I think we need to take water reuse one step further. In our products we use glacial spring water collected in Switzerland, which is also suffering the effects of global warming. It is fundamental to find new solutions, we must embrace reusable packaging and try to reduce our chemical impact on the environment.
FNW: What role does your customer service and educating female consumers play in building your reputation as a high-end performance skincare group?
SVG: There is definitely a need to educate and inform [consumers], but the approach has changed over the years. Rather than offering simple explanations, we are moving towards an interactive discovery. The consumer cannot be solely understood as the recipient of information, he must enter the scene to discover, interact and share with others. Everybody seems to be talking now about the retail experience, which has to be unique based on the consumer’s personality and the different ways he approaches the product. We are working along these lines for the future. We will continue to have customer care and customer service, but in the form of an exchange. This way, even if a purchase is not completed at the end of the experience, the customer will keep a specific memory of the brand. In our case, Valmont is a popular brand because it offers results that are immediately visible thanks to the use of active ingredients in our products.
FNW: How do you sell products online now that most skincare consumers are looking for an experience? How important is the online channel for your business?
SVG: The online [ratio] will change. Currently, this channel accounts for a small share of our sales, just over 1%. We have room to grow and that is why we are setting up new processes with the idea of launching a ‘drive to store’ scheme online. That is to say, we want to retain the physical sale and its human interactions whilst introducing new online features that will work in conjunction with the experiences that we are offering in store.
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