On Friday March 17th Mr Reybier, the CEO of FERMOB shared with around fifty business leaders of the Lyon metropolis
A business lunch event organized by Fiba Lyon at the Warwick Reine Astrid Hotel.
« French people are no longer dreaming about France but I’ve been travelling in more than 70 countries in the world. Everybody is still dreaming about France »
To dare to do, design, innovation, curiosity, international, are the words that are regularly emphasised in this speech.
It was a very interesting conference, and if you weren’t there, this is your opportunity to find out what Mr Reybier shared with us. Maybe your were not present. Come on, follow me, I will show you the full speech.
As Phil said, I took over Fermob 26 years ago in1989 a small company with 10 people with no sales or financial organization. Right now we are close to 300 people and we are selling 50% of our production outside of France. Let’s consider other figures than the number of people: 26 years of growth (2digits of growth), we had 26 years of profit. That was in the field of outdoor garden furniture made of steel or aluminum. Normally, at the beginning everybody told me ‘it is impossible to succeed in that type of businesses. So let’s try to consider and to understand why the Fermob story is said to be a successful one. First story, you know in every village in France many years ago, you had people working on steel / you know that story in all the small villages, and the company I bought, in fact was in the 70s selling outdoor steel furniture with plastic stuff. The company experienced some problems and went down to 10 people. I gathered all the people and I said we are a ‘world’ company. People said this guy is a crazy guy. We have no choice we have to listen to him. Being a world company I had only one women in the office. The other 9 people were working in the factory. I said ‘Can you speak English? How do you say table? = Table! Good! Chaise? = Chair. Then you are ready to register orders’. So that is one of the first points with Fermob and me. We are ready to dare everything. ‘Oser’ is one of the (maître-word) at Fermob.
As Phil said, 3 maître-words: ‘Innovation, internationalization, and design’. 25 years ago, speaking about design at a strategic level was considered as something very strange. I m going to try to share with you what is the added value of design. But first, let me give you a few points on this story of Fermob:
I think one of the key reasons of our success is the fact that we are a French company. “LA FRENCH TOUCH A LA CONQUETE DU MONDE”. I am going to try to explain to you why I truly believe it is a key reason of our success and I wait to tell you about one of the few places where we are selling our products right now. Some of you have already spoken about that, you certainly know that you have 12000 yellow cabs in New York city, you may not know Fermob has 12000 chairs in NYC. Some of you know that Manhattan, Time Square, Brooklyn bridge park…..island, we are outside in the street with our chairs. You can also find our products in many American universities (Harvard…)…they don’t buy Fermob products, they buy a part of France. That is why I am saying I am part of our French identity. I don’t like the ‘Made in France’ thing but I do believe our French identity is very important. The reason why it is so important is …. That more than 50% of the world is still dreaming about France. French people are no longer dreaming about France (we will see after the 8th of May). I’ve been travelling in more than 70 countries in the world. Everybody is still dreaming about France. The reason being is that it has a long history. Let’s think about Spain. It was a great country until the 17th century but now you know the story, Germany before the 19th century, USA has been invented by the Europeans, China and Japan are the civilizations which are living on their own, not open-minded. I am not going to make any comment about Great Britain…Italy is a 120 years old country. Everybody in France can rely on several centuries of our industrial culture, design culture and so on. It is very important for us and it gives French people a very big advantage as far as creativity, ingeniosity are concerned. When universities, Time Square buy our chairs, they are buying a little bit of France: La Sorbonne, Paris. When asking my team in charge of Time Square Why they buy or like my products, the answer was ‘well, I saw your products, etc.
TIM said:“I’ve been there for 15 years, so I can rely on them as far as quality is concerned”. But once you think about design culture, the first country coming to our mind is France so forth. It was quite obvious to look at French manufacturers. The success of Fermob relies not only on the product but let me tell you a few words on product and design. There is an added value on design. There are 3 types of businesses: manufacturing, selling and design. My conception is that I need to work with the best specialist in every field. 25 years ago every product was with the hands of a designer. Designers think about the usage of the product, he has to improve the esthetics of the products and if it is a very good one, he has to add harmony, poetry, or sensuality, then you can have a product which is going to be a winner. But once again, 25 years ago, that was very strange and I have many people from other companies calling me or sending me faxes asking: why do you spend money on designers? what is the use of that? I have always been convinced from the beginning of the added value of design. That is one of the reasons why we are successful. The other reason was also to give innovation to everybody in the company.
You know in France we say “La curiosité est un vilain défaut” but at Fermob we say “la curiosité est un joli défaut”. Everybody has to ask questions, try to find answers beyond the first answer and so on and so forth. I set up processes for product development which is quite interesting/ Every year, we study 250 proposals from our own design department, from outside designers, then we have a selection of let’s say 50 projects, then we come to 20 new products every year. Innovation is a matter of tenacity, organization but I think that the will of the CEO of the company is very important to that effect. We didn’t invent any specific things but in our own market we try to bring new shapes as well as new things from other markets and one of the keys to the development of Fermob was that we invented a color for outdoors furniture. It is easy to have any chair painted in yellow, green or whatsoever; but what we did in 1996, that I invested .20% of our turnover in a new painting line which was able to bring every product of the range in 20 different colors with the same delivery (van) at the same price.
Everybody think it is easy to do thing in every color, but from an industrial point of view I made a very significant investment which elevated Fermob to a very specific position not only in France but worldwide. Nowadays everybody is making colorful products but we brought that (I don’t know if you know Pochon) in Paris, Pochon moved to the pink color furniture 15 years ago thanks to Fermob when we brought the Fuschia color to the market. It was significant that the company moved from their grey and black to the pink color. I think Fermob has always tried to be ahead of the time which was also one the reasons of the success. Innovation was not only in the industrial process,in our product but also in our organisation.
In 1991, I invented ‘L’annualisation du temps de travail’, yearly organization. At that time, it was against the law, the French Law. When you are involved in seasonal business, you have to do that.I’m sure you can’t have any idea of the difference between the low months and the high months regarding our invoicing. It goes from 1 to 8 which is very difficult to handle and I don’t know any other business with such a difference. I think it is now part of our expertise with our forecast 13:41-44, with the way we organize the production in order to handle such huge differences when invoicing, delivering the product to our ???? Facing a 2 digits increase for 26 years may appear difficult but in fact was never difficult. I have to tell you something but please don’t repeat that to anyone. “I am very very rich of the pleasure I took during those last 26 years and I hope to be rich with all the pleasure I m going to take”
At Fermob, we have some values in the company. One of them is “la Joie de Vivre”. More than 20 years ago, I decided to formally write the values of the company including “La joie de vivre” ”respect de l’environnement” ”attention porte gallop?” ”sensibilité esthétique”.. I forgot one! At that time we were less than 100 people. Values are much more important than any targets with figures because if you don’t meet the figures, reach the targets, then you can’t rely on such values. They give more confidence to all the people in the company. (5 more minutes) of course I have plenty of things to tell you.
A few recent stories about Fermob : 3 years ago, we were 200 people. The entire company was there. I started by saying “hey guy we are going to invade China” they said again: “he is crazy”. But because he did the same 20 years ago, maybe we have to consider that; I want to emphasize these 3 points.
How was is easy to convince all the company of my strategy? 17 months after we opened our first store in Beijing. Right now we have 5 Fermob stores in China. In fact, it just shows everybody how willing I was to go to China and 3 months ago we delivered some of our products to the government area in the Forbidden City in Beijing. The Chinese people bought a few chairs form Saint Didier sous Chalaronne.
An other story : 3 years ago was the 125th anniversary of the folding chair made of steel with some wooden parts; first invented in 1889. Fermob is the only French company now making themand I wanted to mark this anniversary with an event. I wanted to have an industrial French first international event and with Esprit des Sens my partner for the event we wanted to do something in Trocadero, Paris. As we were sitting in front of the Eiffel Tower, we had this idea of making a new Eiffel Tower made of folding chairs and we made one. 13 meters high, 324 chairs (324 meters is the high of the Eiffel Tower) then we said well, it would be very interesting to have it just close to the other one. So we called the Mairie de Paris. They said are you crazy!!!!!
In June 2014, for the 125th anniversary of Eiffel Tower(1889) and the folding chairs (1889)I gave a press conference in Paris to have ours in front of the big one. The effect was wonderful. The prospect looked great! After the conference, many people came to me and said “we don’t know you but we want to shake hands with you because the idea is wonderful”. It was easier for people to have their picture in front of our tower than the other one.
The next morning, the guy from Reuters, the press agency, called me and said “Mr Ribier do you know that you had the 2nd most important event. We had 229 TVs all over the world speaking about that. A full page in Vanity fair in Italy, a full page in ‘Le Journal de Mickey, in Sud deutsche zeitung in Stuttgart. After that many people asked me ‘How did you do that?’. I replied ‘it is very easy:
First, just consider your imagination (I just borrowed a moto from Albert Einstein. He doesn’t work for Fermob: ‘Logic can bring you from point A to point B. Imagination can bring you everywhere’)
That is one of my conclusions. Things are easy to do as long as you are ready to get your imagination travelling; first step, second step and everywhere.
Thank you very much
Questions and answers
First of all very big congratulations on a most entertaining speech. Secondly, I would like you to tell us Have you ever had a very big disappointment on one of your projects ?
The answer is Yes! In 1993, in New York, at the ECFF international contemporary furniture fair, we were showing and we were awarded (22:49-50) outstanding new product of the fair. The other outstanding new product was a product designed by Frank Guiring from foundation Louis Vuitton. The chair designed by Pascal. The company designing the Other wooden chairs . the president said: we have been investing 10 million Us dollars in factories to develop manufacturing .At that time our turnover was 2 million dollars. I spoke up and I said at Fermob we don’t give any figures. They are secret. Pierre Rozet came to me and said “it is a wonderful product”(at that time we were not selling z lot in Eastern Europe. We needed to sell them in Eastern Europe and Germany. We made an agreement for several thousand of these chairs … I still don’t understand why it failed. In my position, I don’t spend too much time understanding why. I had the same story at Black&Decker before. Do you still remember the rock bed? With them we could target 100% of the people instead of 60%. We made tests and everything was wonderful. The guy from Auchan said ‘I want to be the first on’ He ordered 2000. From Black&Decker they ordered many, then the time came nothing happened. They said ‘wait we are going to advertize on TV’the Dutch people will lauch the product at a reduced price. Again zero! The guy from Auchan was outside in the parking place with a microphone shouting ‘Who wants trouble for the price of two?
You said that you were not made in France, that you are not very keen on this. Why that?
Some years ago, I had a Chrysler Voyager car. Maybe you think it is an American car, but it was first Austrian, assembled in Austria. Then American and French; American design, some parts made in France, Bordeaux. Who can really say the origin of a product? Secondly, I m happy to sell more than 50 % of my production everywhere in the world. I m happy to see people from Germany, USA, Korea opening their country to mine. I don’t want to close the door. Third point, you know, when it comes to politics, people use the ‘Made in France’ idea. From a legal view point it is very difficult to describe the origin of a product. Are you going to consider added value, the last operation made in the country? I don’t want to get into that story. But I want to say we are a French company because we have been in France through our French history: design, artistic knowhow. I created more than 200 jobs in France and I m happy to tell my story as a French company to the Chinese people, in Stanford as they are happy to buy a part of France so I don’t know if it is a good answer, but that’s my position.
How can you make it easier to install stores abroad with your experience 28:22-24?
With a local partner in London, we are planning to open an exclusive Fermob store and our partner is just questioning a little bit because of the exchange rate. So if you can do something for us please do!
Regarding selling abroad, how do you innovate a bit of metal? Are you using new techniques like laser cutting, 3D printing,…? Do you subcontract all of the metal work to eastern European countries, how do you do it?
90% of our manufacturing process are owned and made by ourselves. One of the key points; being a French company and wanting to manufacture in France; we have to be very innovative on all the industrial processes for instance, for the folding chair made with wooden. When I bought the company, they had to poor 29:54-56 the chair in a liquid paint and wait 2 days to dry and so on. If you come to our factory,we now have a painting line operating 24/7. We succeed in having steel “slats” then we could industrialise that, we have robots and now I m sure that even a Chinese located company could not do the folding chair at the same cost as the one we can achieve in France. Another thing is that steel is a wonderful revolutionary material. 25 years ago many thought steel will disappear from your car for instance; right now the percentage of steel in the car is roughly the same. Over the last 20 years,you’ve had the new materials, synthetic plastic or that kind but the steel, ………….. has always been very innovative. Just one example, when I started at Fermob, the thickness of our profolding table was 10 tenth of millimeters but now we are 7 tenth of millimeter, so we have 30%. However the tables are stronger and in fact we just try to take the best of all innovations in the steel industry. But nobody knows that steel is innovated every day; the other wonderful point is that your Iphone, the plastic bottle, many objects are said to be recyclable. Yes ! But the rate of recycling for plastic bottles is about 30%. One product all over the world has an economic organisation for recycling that is Steel ; that is very important. Steel has benne on the planet for 3000 , 4000 or 5000 years and I am quite confident in the future of Fermob because I see that steel deserving several centuries.
From experience what was the hardest market to penetrate in terms of geography, you mentioned China, which is quite an achievement; is there a particular country or area that was harder than the others and why?
When I started with Frermob, from the very beginning, I went to Germany and the USA. Why? Because I noted that some French Companies ; successful ones in the field of furniture such as Meuble Range ; wonderful company, were selling mostly in Germany and I bought a plane ticket to the USA. That is how I started over there. As for Germany, you need tenacity, If you can’t succeed in one year or two, you need a minimum of three years. It is quite true in most countries. In China, it wasn’t complicated; I didn’t spend any money (euros) on any lawyer, on market survey or research, found the country very complicated, so I said, we aren’t going to think about that, we are just going to do it.So we started with one store, I had a partner with limited financial resources, so if it was successful we could open other stores. Japan is quite a difficult country. We have been there for 22 years, but quite difficult to understand, then you have to some countries with problems pertaining to Duties; Brazil for instance, with their currency you can’t have any strategy unless you decide to manufacture in the country. The currency issue in some countries is quite complicated; In South Afrika for instance, the changes with the Rand.
You mentioned you business core values; what are your thought on the environmental protection for example. How do you now ensure that you meet the values regarding Environmental Protection as a result of your business operations and activities?
Sustainable development was invented at the end of 1996. At the beginiining of 1996, I decided to go with a new painting equipment which was “zero rejection equipment”. I made that decision thanks to my customers in California and in Scandinavia because more than 20 years ago, they all opened the problematic of Environment. I am very grateful to those people. In the USA, you had people leke William Sodomoa ? 36:53,54, they were very sensitive towards the Environment.
I think we started with that “ zero rejection equipment” at Fermob. “Respect de l’environememnt’ is one of the values of the company, I made a survey inside our company about the values where people feel the most comfortable with. About “joie de vivre” it wasn’t easy to describe their expectations, but when it came to “respect de l’environment” it is quite interesting to see how motivated everybody is.
Let’s say a lake is being polluted as a result of yourdaily operations; how would you take into account the needs of the local population? which of your companies values would you comply with?
In fact, I always consider that if a company is successful especially, it has to give back to the community. At Fermob we have several types of operations; locally, Internationally, where we try to give back to the community. I have to admit that in the past I dindt say much about that because in my opinion, we had to be very discreet about it. I am beginning to change my mind because some people told me that the community has to be informed of what we are doing. So I don’t want to describe at the present time what we are trying to do. But it has always been part of my personal opinion and I try to share that with everybody in the company. We call that humanism.
Let’s eat something
Big round of applause
business lunch event – photos