The key to success in luxury beauty entrepeneurship, with Ex Voto Founder/CEO

In a recent exclusive interview, young French entrepreneur Nathalie Paillarse, Founder and CEO of beauty company ExVoto Paris has shared the secrets to her company’s success and her vision of the beauty sector in the mid to long term.

Your company is relatively young, being set up in 1993. How has your business evolved in 2013 in comparison with 2012 and what are you expectations for 2013?

Twenty years is still a young age for a luxury company and compared to most of our competitors, who have been established sometimes for centuries. Ex Voto Paris is a French, luxury niche brand and thanks to our uncompromised choices in production, design and brand strategy from the beginning, our business is constantly progressing both in terms of numbers of retailers and their quality. We are not looking to expand too heavily, we just want to be a very exclusive brand and develop what we like – which by chance is what our clients like too.

What is the ratio between B2B (business to business) and B2C (business to consumer)?

We have primarily developed the company in B2B: our portfolio extends from luxury hotels and spas, Department stores (Barneys NY, Barneys Japan, etc), concept stores, high-end interior design stores, etc. We also design custom projects or private labels for top luxury brands. In addition, we collaborate on top luxury projects with the most famous architects, for hotels, private residences or resorts. We have also a very specific high-end private clientele: Chief of States, Royal Families, Celebrities, CEOs, Mega-yacht’s owners etc in search of true exclusive products. Contrary to other brands, we never communicate about the names of our famous clients who appreciate our absolute discretion.

On the other side, regarding the consumer market, we have a good potential to develop since we do not have yet any own branded Ex Voto boutiques, we distribute our products directly through retailers via a very selective distribution which can be developed as well, we do not have any distributors or agents and we control all our distribution. We are also working on a direct approach to our customers: we will launch in 2014 our shop-on-line, which is very expected by many of our customers. Some of them already often order by email and we believe that the Ex Voto shop-on-line will be a great success, specially since we have a specific international clientele and are not represented everywhere. – The B2B is also a leading path to our B2C: for instance, some customers discover our products in the five star hotels and, after their stay, contact us to find Ex Voto products near their home or place orders directly with us. And ultimately, the B2B can also lead to more B2B: in the same way as hotels have their “Repeat Guests”, we have the great pleasure to have our “Repeat GMs”. Actually many General Managers are happy with Ex Voto products and our service, and most of them keep on working with us when they move to another location or hotel . This is indeed always a true pleasure and we are delighted to work with our clients on a long term business relationship.

Which are your highest growing foreign markets?

As with many other French luxury brands, we work mainly with foreign countries, which represent 95% of our business. We distribute our products to Europe, USA, Middle East, Asia and are not dependant on a particular country. Obviously, we receive more and more requests from growing markets such as Brazil, Russia, China etc but still our focus markets are USA and Japan.

In sales to luxury hotels and resorts, you are facing major competition from large conglomerates. Which are your competitive advantages?

That is true, and it is a passionate challenge for a small independant company and perfume House like Ex Voto. For instance, regarding the hotel bath amenities, our main competitors are Bulgari or Hermes, however I think that beyond the quality of our products and scents, we make the difference by offering the true exclusivity and rarity of our brand, and luxury hotel owners and guests appreciate this immensely. The same applies for our retailers, their clients enjoy the fact that we are a niche brand, with a pure design and high positioning. In the fragrance market, so many products smell the same scent while we offer an extended range of uncompromised scents. Our customers mention that our fragrances are really distinctive and appreciate our sleek design: uncluttered but aglow with sensual details. Coco Chanel used to say “Luxury must remain invisible, but it must be felt”, this is a very elegant approach. I am convinced that our customer, even if he doesn’t know all the steps used to create and manufacture an Ex Voto product, can “feel” that he has a truly different product in hands. Another competitive advantage is my personal background: I love travelling and enjoying luxury hotels, which is a good way to understand the consumer experience and what you really want to find in a five star bathroom.

How do you see the evolution of luxury consumers regarding a shift towards natural and/or organic beauty products?

We have anticipated this shift many years ago, so all our formulas include the best organic ingredients carefull chosen for their properties. Even our room sprays are manufactured in that spirit, with simple yet efficient formulas combining fragrance, alcohol and water, without additional chemical products or gas under pressure. We have also developed a range of home fragrance diffusers with natural sticks. Our candles are manufactured with lead-free, cotton wicks etc. Beyond the ingredients, we pay a lot of attention to the percentage of fragrance used in the products. For instance, our candles usually contain 12% of fragrance (meaning that our giant XXL candles of 5 kilos contain half a kilo of perfume!).

Your fragrances and products are made in Grasse in the South of France. Tell us more.

As a true luxury brand and French perfume house, all our products are made in France, and it is important for our international clientele. Our fragrances are made of the best essences, in Grasse, the world’s perfume capital, and carefully chosen for their high quality properties. All our scents are coveted for their exceptional, distinctive aura that make our products different. One of our best seller is the Black Amber, with its very unique sensual scent:, from New York to Cape Town or from Dubai to Geneva, it is a timeless, international success that conveys the DNA of the Ex Voto brand: sensual, sophisticated and elegant. We also have been awarded “Artisan d’Art” distinction, for our know-how and the quality of our hand-made products which reflect our passion for details.

Do you have plans to develop a Spa professional line?

A few years ago, we launched an exclusive line of luxury hotel bath amenities, dedicated to five star hotels and spas. We work for instance with the One & Only the Palm in Dubai, Le Sereno in St Barth (designed by Christian Liaigre), Selman Marrakech (architect Jacques Garcia) etc. We collaborate with Palaces, boutique hotels or contemporary hotels, thanks to our pure design which matches well both for classical or modern interiors and to our products which convey a true feeling of luxury.
We have lots of requests for a Spa professional line, but this supposes an extended range of treatments for face and body. Maybe one day we will develop it. We have recently launched a wonderful Massage and Body oil in our iconic Amber and Ginger fragrances, coordinated with our bath amenities. We primilarly focus on well-being and the fact that the major spa treatments provided in luxury hotels are the massages. This is a first step. But we are well distributed in the Spas for the Retail part, with all Ex Voto products : bath & body care, scented candles, room sprays, that we sell in the most exclusive hotel spas: Hotel de Russie in Rome, Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo, Viceroy Maldives etc

In May, you have been awarded as a “Knight of National Order of Merit” by the Minister of Foreign Trade from Presidential Decree. How important is such a distinction for a private entrepreneur?

Thank you, yes it was this year ! It is indeed a great honour since it is a distinction founded (in 1963) by President General de Gaulle for distinguished civil or military achievements. The National Order of Merit is an Order of State with membership awarded by the President of the French Republic. What is amusing is that I didn’t know at all I have been chosen for this honour ! One day I received a letter from the French Minister of Finances & Economy, informing me that he was pleased to announce me I was «Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Merite» and that a Presidential Decree had been published, what a fantastic surprise ! I had the chance to be honoured and “pinned” a few months later by the Minister of Foreign Trade, during a very private ceremony since for me it was something personal. I dedicated this wonderful award to my Grandfather, who was “Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur” and to my father, both had always encouraged me to work hard and do what I like, which is exactly what I am doing with Ex Voto.