For more than five decades, French beauty brand Yves Rocher has been synonymous with botanical formulas and affordability for generations of French women.
At its stores, you can expect to find the one-of-a-kind Rinsing Vinegar ($18 for 150ml) to keep locks soft and smooth, as well as other inexpensive skincare, bodycare, cosmetics and perfumes made from natural ingredients. Prices range from $7 for a 200ml bottle of shower gel, to about $60 for a 30ml bottle of anti-ageing serum.
Some even call Yves Rocher, The Body Shop of France.
It is more. To put things in perspective: Yves Rocher has at least 4,500 stores and counters across 100 markets; The Body Shop has around 2,500 stores in about 60 places.
Here, Yves Rocher was stocked until about a decade ago when the company decided to consolidate its business in Europe; but now it is back. The brand re-entered the market with a store at Westgate in Jurong East late last year. Two more outlets have now opened at Takashimaya Shopping Centre and BHG Bugis.
“We’re now working on market expansion and we want to target the major cities everywhere, so we’re back in Singapore,” says Mr Bris Rocher, the brand’s chief executive who was in town two weeks ago for a market visit.
A TWIST OF FATE
Growing up, Mr Rocher, now 36, never wanted to head the eponymous French beauty empire built by his grandfather, Yves Rocher.
A fan of jazzy tunes, he wanted to be a musician.
But by a twist of fate, he found himself working at the company’s accounting department when he was 16.
His father, Didier, had been appointed chief executive in 1992, when his grandfather and company founder, Yves, retired. But just two years later, the former died in an accident.
“My father passed away when I was 16 and I made up my mind to be involved in the family business,” says Mr Bris Rocher. “And my grandfather decided that I would be the one to continue the business, so he taught me everything.”
The elder Mr Rocher returned to work at the company until his death at the age of 79 in 2009.
In 2006, he made his grandson chief executive officer (CEO). By then, Mr Bris Rocher had spent around a decade working at the company.
Upon taking over, one of the first things Mr Bris Rocher did was to buy back its shares. In the 70s, the Rocher family had only a 30 per cent stake in the business; today, it owns more than 95 per cent of the group capital.
“I did that because I wanted to guarantee the stability of the company. Because when it is owned by the family, the family is committed to it in the long run,” says the father of a 15-month-old girl.
“This is even more important today with all the changes we face around the world.”
So far, so good.
The annual turnover of the Yves Rocher brand alone now stands at roughly €1.5 billion (S$2.4 billion), compared with around €1.1 billion at the time Mr Rocher became CEO eight years ago. Its revenue has also been on a 5 per cent year-on-year increase for the last two years.
Mr Rocher is also chairman and chief executive of the Yves Rocher Group.
The group, which had an annual turnover of more than €2.2 billion last year, owns seven other companies, including clothing label Petit Bateau, as well as the cosmetic brands Kiotis and Dr Pierre Ricaud. Two-thirds of its revenue is generated from sales in Europe.
Mr Yves Rocher started his beauty brand in 1959, after he took an interest in the healing properties of the flora growing around his birth village of La Gacilly, Brittany. He created his first cream, from the lesser celandine plant, in his attic.
From the late 70s to the early 90s, to support his growing business and the economy of his hometown, Mr Rocher built three factory plants in La Gacilly. He was also the mayor of the village from 1962 to 2008.
Currently, these three factories – where all Yves Rocher products are made – are indirectly responsible for at least 10,000 jobs in Brittany. The brand also continues to harvest certified organic arnica, cornflower, marigold, Roman and German chamomile, nasturtium and mallow from 55ha of its own fields in La Gacilly. The rest of the non-genetically modified ingredients used in the products are sourced from around the world.
Mr Bris Rocher says he sticks to his grandfather’s simple philosophy, that “nature is the future”, to guide him in running the business.
Today, the Yves Rocher Botanical Garden in La Gacilly is a conservatory where 1,100 species of plants are studied for their beautifying properties. The brand’s formulas hold more than 50 patents and more than 100 new products are churned out every year.
Among its other eco-projects, the company has also pledged to plant 50 million trees worldwide by next year.
“My grandfather used to tell me that if you think only about profit when running a business, it will dry up your heart,” says Mr Rocher.
This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on September 19, 2014. For similar stories, go to sph.straitstimes.com/premium/singapore. You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.