As Managing Director of Amorepacific Europe, Kay Lee took the helm at Goutal two years ago. Her vision for the historic fragrance brand aligns with that of its founder: to be a "small, confidential jewel". In a sneak preview of our interview in Formes de Luxe's fall issue, we spoke to Lee and her newly appointed Director of Operations Emmanuelle Bonardi about how they are tapping into the brand’s DNA while overhauling its modus operandi.
Where does the Goutal brand stand today?
Kay Lee: Since Amorépacific acquired the brand in 2011, Goutal has undergone several managerial changes, each of which had a different vision for the brand. A brand’s story needs continuity, and that hadn’t been the case. First and foremost, Goutal is the memory of its creator, incarnated into fragrance. This differs from other brands that create a perfume and then build a commercial story around it. My aim is to convey the spirit of the creator, a woman who was avant garde and unafraid of change.
Goutal's traditional bottles are manufactured by Bormioli Luigi ©Goutal
How will you go about that?
KL: My ambition is not to make Goutal into the next Jo Malone. Goutal is a confidential brand and to stay true to its DNA, we can’t continue to grow as we did in the past. The brand needs to be what it was when it was founded in 1981, but with more awareness and more clients!
What comes first for this reset?
KL: This year we are attacking distribution, first in France, our core market. Of Goutal’s seven boutiques, we will close five and keep the Place Saint Sulpice and the rue Belchasse in Paris—Goutal’s first shop opened in 1981. We are looking to open a store on the right bank as we have had to leave our rue Castiglione location.
We’ve also analyzed the performance of our additional distribution of 75 independent boutiques—merchandising, sales staff, partnership with the owner and the competition— and have cut that number by half.
What do these closures mean for Goutal’s sales in France?
KL: It’s going to be hard this year and next as we’re cutting more than half of our distribution, but I prefer quality over quantity.
Are you also rethinking your presence in export markets?
KL: Yes. Apart from Korea, where we have a subsidiary, we work with distributors. Of our 30-plus markets, we are keeping nine: France, the UK, Germany, the US, Korea, Japan, India, the Middle East and we’re preparing to launch in China in 2024. As to the US, we need to find a better approach to the market. There are a lot of loyal Goutal consumers there, but we aren’t yet recruiting new ones and I can’t export the brand’s biggest asset: our salespeople. Replicating their passion and storytelling to other countries is currently a key focus.
What is your strategy for China?
KL: Shopping malls are driving more traffic today in China than department stores, so experience-driven standalone boutiques seem to be the way to go. However, the number of physical boutiques will be limited given that half of sales in China are done online. For the brand globally, online sales are increasing – we’re at around 12% today and are aiming for 20%.
Emmanuelle Bonardi, Director of Operations at Amorepacific Europe
Operations are a major focus for Goutal this year. What changes are being made?
Emmanuelle Bonardi: Before I arrived, Kay made changes to our packaging partners. Today we work with Bormioli Luigi for our glass, and notably our iconic ribbed bottles. Other partners supply our samples and stock bottles for Chat Perché, our children’s fragrance and Les Parfums de Geraldine range.
Why change suppliers?
EB: Along with the reshuffle in distribution, profitability starts with a resilient supply chain, clever procurement, and inventory management— those are the key missions for our operations team this year. I am in charge of building a resilient and agile supply chain that is adapted to our status as a niche brand with high-quality standards; we needed production partners suited to small batch quantities. We’re now working with LTE – Le Tellier Emballages and with Bolloré for filling and logistics.
You are also rationalizing your offer?
KL: Yes, this is a work in progress; today we have around 120 active fragrance references, minus the GWPs and samples. When there is no history behind a product, rationalization is easy, you look at sales and cut those that are underperforming. But Goutal has iconic fragrances with loyal consumers that do small volumes yet are key to the brand story.
EB: Our solution is to develop fountains in our boutiques for these ‘rarer’ fragrances. We’re developing fountains for our Saint Sulpice shop— which is being revamped—for its reopening early 2024. A dedicated area will feature fountains serving fragrances that will eventually be phased out of the retail range; we’ll start with five perfumes and expand the concept if it is successful.
This will be a limited-edition experience with exclusive packaging. For example, a few hundred bottles of a fragrance will be available during a set period and consumers can opt for bespoke decoration, such as engraving. We’re still fine tuning the concept. The fountain won’t be simply a refill station. Annick Goutal originally conceived her bottles to be refillable to ensure that the consumer wouldn’t throw them away. We have kept the refill format for our bestsellers: Eau d’Hadrien, Petite Chérie… and we’ll potentially develop this format.
KL: My ambitious is to have all our fragrance refillable in time, but it’s very complex from an operational standpoint.
Read the full interview in the fall issue of Formes de Luxe magazine.