Small luxury firms make modest way to global market

Fri Jun 22, 2012 11:07am EDT
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By Nina Sovich

PARIS (Reuters) - Poupie Cadolle's family has been making handmade lingerie in a workshop on Rue Saint Honore for five generations, with Qatari royals, American actresses and Swiss bankers' wives all crossing her doorstep in search of the perfect bra or corset.

Now, with times tough and sales to French and American women sluggish, Cadolle, like many small French luxury firms, finds itself struggling to tap into a $191 billion global boom driven by customers from emerging markets.

"The last four months have been difficult," said Poupie Cadolle, a small woman with a warm smile who spends her days fitting 5,000 euro ($6,300) bustiers and 600 euro bras.

"We thought hard about how to get clients, beyond word of mouth. It is not easy. We decided on going into Brazil, not China."

Unable to wield the financial firepower of conglomerates such as LVMH, Richemont, or PPR, small family-owned enterprises are finding modest and innovative ways to attract new customers.

Some, like Cadolle, are choosing one country over another and relying on invitation-only trunk shows and other private events.

Others are opening stores in Hong Kong but not Shanghai, while for a few the focus is on still rich markets in Japan and the United States.

All are choosing carefully. The internet is not seen as a route to market - few small luxury companies feel comfortable selling goods online given the luxury experience is one where items need to be handled to judge the quality and design.   Continued...