Between Retail and Fashion with Florence Roussel

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During the lockdown, due to the virus, MiND had a virtual talk with Florence Roussel, who told us her vision of retail and fashion. Coming from a Marketing & Business background, Florence has always loved wandering in cities looking at new retail concepts. Later on, working for Disneyland Paris as its Vice President of Merchandise & Retail was sort of a dream coming true for her. Florence is now running her own Retail consultancy agency, Blue Flamingo, in Paris.

Florence Roussel graduated in 1989 from EM Lyon Business School. Despite her business background, her passion for retail started when she was studying at the IFM (French Fashion Institute) during her executive MBA. She had many retail courses, including retail tours, semiologists’ analysis. “The tutor I’ve chosen for my thesis is a brilliant Italian Semiologist called Luca Marchetti, one of our retail teachers. It was then when I realized that retail had to be taken into account early in the product development phase to secure maximum success.”

When we asked Florence about her passion for fashion, she admitted that she always had fashion in her mind. “I used to sew and designed some clothes when I was younger. When I was invited to a wedding, I always made my own dress.” Growing up, she had the feeling she needed to know more about fashion and learn the specific marketing and sales methods of the fashion and luxury sector. This is how she decided to enroll in the Executive MBA of the IFM, while working at Disney. “I wanted to know more about the fashion field, as it seemed it would be the perfect link between my creative mind and my business mind.” She admitted she had always had these two “sides” of her personality because when she was younger, she studied 10 years in an art school, l’Ecole Duperré in Paris, where she developed her artistic side.

Painting by Florence Roussel.

“Knowledge, imagination and creativity make the product of tomorrow.”

Being a curious person, Florence does not like routines. Luckily, in the world of fashion and retail, everything is always changing. “You have to be curious and always keep an eye on what is happening in the outside world, trends are important, but also everything which happens around you. My personal and professional motivations come from sports events, art exhibitions, famous people’s death anniversaries -as it often triggers events- and fashion exhibitions. For instance, just before the coronavirus, I attended the Harper’s Bazaar exhibition at the Mad Museum in Paris, and I found it really inspiring.” She likes to invite her teams to fashion or art exhibitions to boost their creativity, as she did back in 2017 at the Dior Exhibition. “It always triggers a lot of creativity and new ideas”.

Traveling is another source of inspiration for her. In particular, she finds her trips to London very stimulating as many European trends start there, and it is closer than China. “Back in time, I think it was the first city to feature a Boxpark type retail concept, I like the one based in Shoreditch, where, despite the many constraints – stores are made from shipping containers-, every store looks really different from each other. It triggers creativity. Pop ups are now an established trend.”

“It is like being a "sponge"; you have to take it all in. You might not know how all these different pieces will affect you in the end, but you have all these things in your mind to be able to create or motivate your team to create.”

We asked Florence how her experience at Disneyland Paris as its VP Merchandise & Retail was. “Disneyland was a strong and unique experience. I discovered Disneyland in California when I was a kid and I still remember that day so well because we stayed from opening to closure!” She joined the team in May 2014, in order to prepare the 25th anniversary celebrations, which started in April 2017. She got a feeling that something very important was happening, something that gave her a sense of “you must get it right”.

With a team of 160 people, she had to cover all the stores in the park, keeping their strong DNA but also giving them a more modern look. “I wanted the store to be strong but not overshadow the products. We developed new furniture, changed lighting to brighten the stores and we added more space to make it more attractive and ensure the product would be the hero not the décor. We took inspiration from the luxury areas in Paris. We wanted something classy and high end but still with strong Disney DNA. We did it in a very progressive way.”

“The challenge at Disneyland Paris was to keep its strong DNA, bringing a fresher, more modern look and feel for the products and the stores.”

Recently, Florence started her own consultancy firm, called Blue Flamingo. She anticipated what the firm is about. “Blue Flamingo is a marketing and retail consultancy agency. I always start with the brand DNA, as the consultancy needs to be true to it in order to be relevant. To me, if brands want to grow, they must first have a strong personality, which means if it is too weak or close to its direct competitor, they really need to think about their USP (Unique Selling Proposition) and go back to the roots of their DNA. Then they must create a consistent ecosystem between offline and online and avoid that online looks too much as a catalogue with “boring” pictures on a white background, which is still the case for some. The brand atmosphere and emotion must live online too. Some brands such as “Des Petits Hauts” or “Balzac Paris” have it all.

Lastly, they must invest differently in their retail, not with more stores -which they have been doing over the past years- but with less stores and in the right places, at the right size and with the right teams. I think they should also allow a certain level of diversity within their stores to adapt to the local clientele and give the power to the store team to do that within a brand’s retail style guide, Hermes does it right. By downsizing their retail park, they should be able to invest more on retail teams, less in the rents, and invest more online. Moreover, the store team should have qualitative KPIs on top of the classic quantitative ones. What I try to bring to my clients is the right balance between strategic vision and direct “data into action” solutions and service.”

The greatest challenges in her job? “Be aware of the trends; deliver good and relevant advice at the right timing, which can be challenging, as clients tend to delay in greenlighting your mission. Eventually they do not change the delivery date, so you have to be very effective and sometimes work nights and/or weekends!”

Florence’s first project was a subcontract from the company IPE, for the French Media Group TF1, for their TFOU Brand, who are going to open indoor leisure parks. She worked on the park’s internal structure and on the store, which will be part of the park. She also worked, again as a subcontractor, this time for C2F, for la Financière Bordelaise -who own the Galeries Lafayette outside Paris and a retailer specialized in toys, which is called La Grande Récré– and want to open a flagship for la Grande Récré in the south of France. With her retail consultancy agency, Florence developed a preparatory study to help them position their new retail concept that should mix leisure experience, classic retail and service.

We asked her opinion on what is the biggest challenge in the retail world, especially for new or smaller brands trying to make their mark. “To me the biggest challenge is firstly to have a strong e-commerce and secondly to continue driving customers into stores and make them push the door and buy. The quality level of retail has increased a lot in the past 20 to 30 years. When I was younger, stores could be ugly, but they were all different, they were practical and you usually had a personal relationship with the sales team who knew your tastes. Now all the stores are pretty, the offering is well merchandised, but somehow there is a lot of uniformity, many brands look similar as everybody uses the same consultancy and trend firms. So, somehow consumers get bored, you have the feeling that you see the same store throughout the world.”

The key according to Florence is to regain the right level of differentiation per store while staying true to the DNA of the brand, which will mean that companies need to invest in their e-shop sites storytelling and give back some power to the store team, from manager to store assistant. It is also key to create a true continuum between offline and online, a strong ecosystem. The digital native Vertical brands such as Sezanne or Bonne Gueule do it right. Bonne Gueule describe themselves as both a brand and a media, for instance. They engage with their consumers, they provide a service, not only clothing. Another important challenge for her is to change sourcing and slowly move more production in Europe, or in Mediterranean basin, to be more responsible for the environment, optimize the stock levels and demand responsiveness. Coronavirus will accelerate this trend, which is very positive, but it will take time.

When we asked her opinion on stores’ major shift to online, she pointed out “it is funny because everybody was saying that online was the reason of the difficulties of classic brick and mortar retail. Now with the Coronavirus -when stores are all closed-, people seem to discover that online ranges between 10 and 15% at best of the fashion brands turnover. Thus, not compensating at all the classic retail loss. People used it as an easy excuse not to change. It is clear that it will force brands to rationalize their stores (close some and reduce the size of others and/or keep fewer but larger and in the right environment) and that some brands -the weakest ones, with fragile DNA, weak e-commerce and high exposure to wholesale- will disappear or will be bought back.” Florence sees it as an opportunity to really re-think the way brands are doing retail and consider online as an ally, not a threat. “Some brands try interesting new concepts. Etam tried home service, Jennyfer has a partnership with a payment device to secure the parents are paying for the young girls’ purchases in stores (as it is a teenage / very young target). Interestingly these innovations do not come from high-end premium brands… maybe it is because they dare more to try new stuff. Coronavirus will dramatically increase e-commerce penetration; brands will have to adapt.”

Thinking about reshuffling her cards after the lockdown, Florence hopes that things will change and that decision makers will be willing to take more risks. MiND wishes her good luck with her future projects, hoping to meet her in person soon!

Interview by Lisa Zanon