Daily Management Review

Interview with Fabrice Lépine, Wonderbox’s CEO: ‘Our strategy is to democratize the exception’


Wonderbox is the French-leader on gift-box market, Its CEO, Fabrice Lépine, explains to the Daily Management Review how the company intends to make luxury accessible on its particular market segment.

Fabrice Lépine, Wonderbox's CEO
Fabrice Lépine, Wonderbox's CEO

Fabrice Lépine, you are the head of Wonderbox, the French-leader in gift-box. Can you explain the gift-box concept to us and how what Wonderbox is bringing to the market is revolutionary?

The concept of the gift box is very simple. It is a box that contains a voucher with a booklet that allows access to one of the services of the booklet. This allows the receiver to choose the place where he wants to perform his provision, so he can pay for that service with the voucher in the box.

Our entire range of products is based on four themes: well-being, gastronomy, short-stays and the activity that was our historical activity and through which we launched the concept: the sports activity, especially motor sports, which were at the very origin of our concept.
These are gift boxes but unlike gift certificates, there is no prize on the check. Our concept is really to be offering a service and not offering value.

How is Wonderbox growing today and what are your development perspectives?

Today we realize a 200 million (Euro €) turnover. We are present in five countries: France, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Switzerland. We have growth prospects both in European markets in which we are not yet; be it the Nordic countries or the Anglo-Saxon countries (that have similar offers but not quite identical). Our concept is to have a multi-choice. When you buy a box, you have the 'voucher' and a multitude of activities linked to the chosen theme and which leaves the recipient the freedom to choose.

The concept present in the Nordic or Germanic countries is rather the fact of being able to offer a specific activity. It is not a multi-choice but a single targeted choice. It is therefore the buyer who chooses the activity and offers it. This concept is developed in these countries but the multi-choice offer is not yet developed.

Our main areas of growth are, on the one hand, to go to countries where we are not yet and on the other hand to continue to bring innovation to the market. We want to launch a second brand in the markets where we are already present to look for a younger clientele (with a different value offer). A box with an activity and a product inside, it is something that is already done in Belgium under the brand Vivabox.

We want to bring it to France and Spain because this concept allows to have a gift right away in the box and a gift later with the activity. Because today one of the brakes to the specificity of our product is that the activity is realized a few weeks or a few months after the gift is received. The advantage of Vivabox is to have a gift right away and a gift later.

This market is relatively new and the competitive landscape has changed dramatically in recent times. How is the market structured today, and how do you analyze the disappearance of many operators in recent years?

It is a market actually quite young, it has existed in France for 12 or 13 years only. In Belgium, it started in 2001. Initially there were many actors because this market was mainly online and little in retail stores, so there were few barriers to enter the market at the very beginning.

On the other hand, today, this market is structured around retail. The idea is to have a wide, extended and dense offer. So, we are only two on the market today, we and our competitor Smartbox. All the other players in the market have disappeared. The situation is the same for all the countries in which we are. Local actors have disappeared because there are more barriers to enter it. It is a market that demands to be at the same time aggregator of offers, to have a growing offer and in parallel to be connected to the distributors.

We are both a dematerialized and physical product since the product is bought in retail. The margins are therefore smaller and you must have a larger supply, this is partly why some operators have disappeared because they could not keep up with the offer.

Your business model is based on intermediation. Can we speak today of "sector" of the gift box?

Yes, clearly, we can speak of a sector. The product is democratized. In France, it is a market that sells 2.5 million boxes a year. Thus, it touches between 4 and 5 million people a year between those who offer and those who receive. Our penetration rate is very good, we see a lot of re-purchases also. We managed to give access to an offer that until then was completely heterogeneous and not at all aggregated.

Guest house offers, for example, were not centralized at all before, there were very few sites where we could find the whole offer, where it was clear and legible, distributed easily. The market could aggregate this offer with small partners who were not extremely well structured with limited distribution networks or few marketing or communication means. We managed to take this offer, to package it around a theme and a price and to make it accessible in current distribution networks such as retail or internet.

Bringing the guest rooms to Fnac or Leclerc (two of the major French retail stores) opened up this sector to a new market. We have allowed people who did not know or who did not have access to bed and breakfast, or guest houses to have access to this offer. So, I think that today we have a real expertise in this field and it is not a fashion effect as it was thought at one time. This offer has been aggregated and made accessible to the consumer.