Daily Management Review

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


You have referred to "category management" to explain your pivotal role in this sector. How does it affect the content of innovation or the quality of services at the end of the chain?

Today we are constantly innovating because we are always changing the boxes, we must constantly renew to offer new things to our consumers. It has always been our spirit to constantly innovate by opening to outing offers, theater, cinema, urban activities, which was not the case at the beginning since we started with sports offers.

What we are trying to do is to be a leisure actor. One wonders what a leisure activity can please a consumer, which provider will be able to meet this demand in terms of attractiveness. And then we will be able to put it in place in the distribution network where the consumer is located. That is why we constantly think about new boxes, for children for example. We are always looking to anticipate this consumer demand.

At the time of its appearance, the gift box was a real breakthrough innovation in commercial terms. In the same way that you, at Wonderbox have redrawn the contours of the leisure market, are you today being challenged by the pure players of the web on short-stays?

I would tend to say no. At one point, we asked ourselves if they could be our competitors and in fact not. Some offer short-stays or even long-stays certainly, but our exclusivity is that we are a gift before anything else. We are an actor of tourism like them but we remain above all a gift. People buy from us to make a gift. Today the offer is increasingly dematerialized, maybe we manage to offer things that are dematerialized but nevertheless we realize that a gift is something physical given to the person in front of us. So, there must be something physical to be given. We are not at all on the same platforms either. We are not present on major internet platforms such as booking.com or others. They need to have an enormous capacity of reception because they sell at the best price and with a limited commission, they wish to sell a maximum. Our positioning, being a gift, is rather to look for small hotels of charm, guest-rooms, castles b&b, we are not positioned on the same type of establishments. We are in a niche market that is a market more oriented towards pleasure than convenience. It's a growing market year after year and I do not think we're being challenged at this level.

Wonderbox is today opening up to the BtoB, how is that fulfilling a new need on the market?

BtoB has been with us for a long time and is an important sales channel. We have always innovated and it is a bit like our laboratory. It originated from the problem that any company must retain its own customers or collaborators. Some have chosen to do so with gifts or vouchers for example.

But today, companies have the desire to do something new from year to year. Gifts must tell a story, they must have meaning, they must be personalized. That's how we started working with companies and today we make custom-made kits. We can offer them products with special themes for example.

For instance, we worked with La Laitière (historical French yogurt maker), which had launched a chocolate yogurt at the time, and we could offer them a box with a ‘100% chocolate theme’. At the same time, the gift becomes an extension of their brand and their goals around the brand. It is therefore a pleasant way to work with companies through what they want to offer their employees or customers.

France is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Do you think that the experience of French actors in this field, as well as the ‘French hedonism’, gives French operators like Wonderbox an edge over their European competitors?

The biggest markets are the Latin markets. Probably because it's a way of life, it's cultural to go on weekends and enjoy the small establishments in the country. The fact that there is an extremely large supply in France but also in Spain or Italy is probably cultural.
Today, on the market, we really have only one competitor, it is Smartbox, who is now Irish but who was French at its beginning. It is possible that there is no other actor in the Anglo-Saxon countries that has managed to break through because it may not be the culture there. The offer is less present there and therefore there is indeed a cultural peculiarity.

We are present in several countries but the offer is local. The offer is therefore different country by country. In France, what works extremely well are the guest-rooms and the ‘unusual nights’. Typically, it's sleeping in a yurt, in a treehouse, in a train, on a boat on a lake, which works very well in France. The guest-rooms in our country have an extremely consistent and high-quality offer at this level. In Italy, it’s more around thalassotherapy, Spa, or agro-tourism short-stays. In Spain, it is more on rural stays. The unusual side is typically French.

You have also innovated by proposing, for some time, a tailor-made gift box. Should we see the specter of banalization and saturation of the market?

The market has grown and boxes that originally contained thirty or one hundred different experiences have become denser. It was also necessary to have enough capacity to welcome everyone since the sales of boxes were constantly increasing. We now have an offer of 800 or 1000 performances in each box.

With this intensification of supply, we have lost a little bit one of key parameters from the beginning which was that we were selecting the offers.

Today our offer, in caricature, became a catalog almost. We wanted to restore meaning so that when someone receives the box it was not left with this immense offer and must choose as in a catalog which one he prefers. The idea is to restore power to the buyer in these hundreds of possibilities to make a few precise choices to have an offer that will match the story he wants to tell by offering the box. This can be a parachute jump for example. The buyer will therefore be able to make his choice and offer a personalized, unique box. The person offering is therefore fully involved in his choice of gift.

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