What does it take to be the largest, most successful retailer in Southern France? I visited Quincaillerie Aixoise to find out.
Quincaillerie Aixoise is a multistore operation headquartered in Aix-en-Provence, France, with five locations in Aix-en-Provence and the surrounding cities. The company’s primary clientele are professionals, with the occasional walk-in DIY customer.
Owner and CEO Jean-Francois Dubost has grown the company from a one-store to a five-store operation and has achieve great success in only 20 years. During this time, he’s also increased total turnover from approximately $7 million to more than $36 million. He keeps his business ahead of the curve with his creativity, leadership and eye for business opportunities.
I toured four Quincaillerie Aixoise store locations during my visit and saw elements in each store that stood out as contributors to the company’s success.
Well-Executed “Store Within a Store” Concept
Inside the main store location, which is approximately 53,000 square feet, customers shopping for new drawer knobs, a drill and work boots will have a completely unique experience in each department. Dubost has made it a point to give several departments within the store a defined space with a unique store-within-a-store concept. Customers may feel as if they’re in a jewelry store while picking out a new door handle. As they walk into the next section of the store, they find several spaces dedicated to different power and hand tool brands. Look further, and they find themselves in what feels like a clothing and shoe boutique, complete with dressing rooms.
The neat thing about the store-within-a-store concept at Quincaillerie Aixose is that it makes wandering through the store fun for customers. Instead of walking down a few aisles to find the next item on the list, customers walk through a series of differently designed and merchandised rooms throughout their shopping experience.
Is there a way you could improve customers’ experiences through new merchandising or layout improvements?
Textiles: Filling a Hole in the Market
In addition to offering the main categories available in most hardware stores, Dubost recently started offering a unique niche: textiles. Dubost worked with several clients in the restaurant and health care industries and realized that he could become their main supplier for uniforms and workwear in addition to providing them with hardware and building materials products. He quickly became the No. 1 seller of textiles in the area and continues to hold that spot. Department inventory includes technical service to the building industry and to local industries including petrochemical and steel. Additionally, Dubost sells textiles to healthcare clients including hospitals, clinics, doctors and dentists offices. Other clients include hotels, restaurants, and chefs.
Prior to offering textiles, Dubost was already successfully meeting the needs of a wide array of clients. Instead of getting comfortable, he took his business to the next level by finding a way to be an even greater asset to his customers.
Is there a product or service outside your current product mix that could fulfill a customer need?
A Successful Sister Business
In addition to growing his home improvement business, Dubost has turned another one of his passions into a business opportunity–luxury bathrooms. In 2011, he launched Question d’Ambiance. This sister company of Quincaillerie Aixoise is dedicated to interior and exterior bathroom decorations, offering high-end furniture brands and the latest technologies. Question d’Ambiance has three showrooms throughout Southern France. The business supplies bathroom furniture, floor tiles and radiators to extravagant hotel brands and luxury vacation home and property owners. Dubost takes great pride in the presentation of his showrooms, and makes an effort to include beautiful pieces of art in the showroom displays.
Dubost saw a hole in the market for lavish bathroom furniture and accessories, and he loves the industry. So he found a way to turn something he loved into a new arm of his business.
Is there a niche you’d like to explore that you haven’t tried? If there’s a market for it in your area, what’s stopping you?
A Fresh Start to Every Day
At every store Dubost and I visited, he stopped to say hello to every single employee. It didn’t make a difference whether it was a store manager or someone stocking shelves.
He starts each day by walking through every aisle of the main store location to chat with his employees and to confirm everything is in order. Additionally, he makes an effort to visit his branch locations at least weekly to do the same.
These kinds of check-ins undoubtedly help store-level staff stay on track. While he may not speak to all 160 of his employees every day, it’s clear by his interactions with his staff that he’s highly respected. I couldn’t help but notice that his presence in the store seemed to generate energy and high morale amongst the staff.
There’s a Sam Walton quote that says, “Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.”
By making an effort to be present and get to know his staff, Dubost embodies this quote and keeps a motivated and happy staff.
How well do you know your employees? How does your leadership style impact them, and in turn, your business?
Where in the World Is Hilary?
North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) staffer Hilary Welter is spending 12 months traveling with Remote Year, living, working and getting in touch with retail in different parts of the world. She wrote this story while working from Valencia, Spain. To see more NRHA Abroad posts from Welter, click here. For a look at what it’s like to travel, work and live abroad, check out her personal blog.