Au Printemps S.A.
Au Printemps S.A.
Sales: FFr29.40 billion (US$5.67 billion)
Stock Exchange: Paris
Au Printemps S.A. is a diversified retailer with operations ranging from department stores to variety stores, from specialty chain stores to mail order and a wholesaling business. Through its subsidiaries and affiliates, the group has retail operations in nearly 20 countries as well as in France.
In 1865, 31-year-old Jules Jaluzot, who had been a department head at Bon Marché, France’s oldest department store, opened Au Printemps, a small store on the corner of boulevard Haussmann and rue du Havre in Paris. The store consisted of a basement for stock, a ground floor, and the mezzanine of a residential building, some 200 square meters in all. Au Printemps was a rapid success and Jaluzot purchased the upper floors of the building. By 1870 the staff had grown from 30 to 250. The acquisition of adjacent buildings followed, and the store soon occupied a whole block on boulevard Haussmann, between rue du Havre and rue Caumartin. As its reputation grew, Jaluzot began mail-order operations in France and other European countries, with catalogs in different languages.
In 1881 a fire destroyed two-thirds of the somewhat ramshackle store, which by then employed more than 700 people. Jaluzot decided to rebuild immediately, turning the business into a société en commandite par actions —limited partnership—called Jaluzot & Cie. This form of company was common in France at the time, consisting of a managing partner—or partners—and shareholders who played no part in the management of the business. The managing partner, appointed for life, named his co-partners and successors and was guaranteed a fixed percentage of the profits—in this case 18%. He was also entirely responsible for any debts incurred by the company. Jules Jaluzot provided about 35% of the capital of the new company, and the shareholders provided the rest. In 1882 the new department store was opened. It occupied a ground area of 2,900 square meters and had six floors, occupying the entire area between rue de Provence and rue Caumartin. Further commercial success followed, but Jaluzot, a Member of Parliament for his native Nièvre and a prominent figure in Paris society, became involved in financial speculation of various sorts. In 1905 he speculated in sugar, using his own money and also in the name of and with capital from Au Printemps (Printemps), but this venture failed and he had to resign. His initials, JJ, can still be seen in the ceramic tiles on the facade of his 1882 store. His place as managing partner was taken by Gustave Laguionie, who had worked alongside Jaluzot at Au Printemps from 1867 to 1882, before leaving to become director of a wholesale business in piece goods. In 1907 Laguionie, then age 64, named his 23-year-old son Pierre as joint managing partner, and in the same year the foundation stone was laid for an adjacent store between rue Caumartin and rue Charras. The new building was opened in 1910. It was larger than the first store, occupying six floors, with a ground floor of 5,000 square meters.
Gustave Laguionie died in 1920, leaving the business under the control of his son Pierre, alongside Alcide Poulet, named partner in 1920. In 1921 there was another disaster when the 1910 store partially burned down; rebuilding began immediately and the store was reopened in 1924. Adjacent buildings were acquired in rue du Havre and used for mail-order operations—then about 20% of total sales—and small stores were purchased in Le Havre, Rouen, and Lille in 1928 and 1929. Furthermore, some independent retailers became affiliated with Printemps for the purchase of merchandise. More important were the changes in management methods. Between 1926 and 1930 a number of innovations were introduced. Advertising and sales promotion formed an integral part of the selling activities of the firm which adopted a strict budget. A house magazine was started in addition to training and research departments. In 1929 the functions of buying and selling were separated instead of being the responsibility of a single department head, and a separate buying company, the Société Parisienne d’Achats en Commun (SAPAC), was founded. In 1930 a system of budgetary control was introduced, by which each major activity had a planned budget of expenditure and results. In 1928 Pierre Laguionie became a founding member of the International Association of Department Stores, a society for management research.
The year 1931 saw Printemps involved in an entirely new form of retailing, the limited-price variety store. In that year the first Prisunic store opened in Paris, operated by Prisunic SA, a wholly controlled subsidiary. A central buying company, SAPAC-Prisunic, was created in 1932, and by 1935 there were eight Prisunic stores in operation, four in Paris and four in the provinces, with another 30 stores operated by retailers affiliated with SAPAC. In 1932 one of the first groups to become a Prisunic affiliate was Maus Frères of Geneva, which opened Prisunic stores in eastern France with French associates, including Pierre Levy, the textile manufacturer. In 1936, however, a law was passed forbidding companies to open further one-price stores. This virtually brought to an end the expansion of Prisunic through new stores, but progress was made with affiliated stores, as in most cases these were establishments that did not necessarily carry the Prisunic name.
At the outbreak of World War II the Printemps group consisted of the Paris store and seven stores elsewhere in France, plus 20 stores affiliated with the SAPAC buying organization. The Prisunic division had 10 stores of its own and 60 affiliated stores, which employed about 5,500 workers. The group was still a limited partnership, and after the death of Alcide Poulet in 1928, Pierre Laguionie appointed his two brothers-in-law, Georges Marindaz—who died in 1931—and Charles Vignéras, as co-partners. Both were married to daughters of Gustave Laguionie.
The war, the German occupation, and the postwar shortages of merchandise meant a period of survival rather than of growth. But with the economic recovery starting in the early 1950s expansion again gathered pace, in two overlapping phases. The first was vigorous growth of the Prisunic variety store chain from 1950 to 1965. The number of Prisunic stores owned by the group rose from 13 in 1950 to more than 80 in 1965, and in the same period the number of affiliated stores rose from 80 to more than 230. Affiliated stores were a very effective way of earning commission on sales and increasing the purchasing power of the central buying organization with virtually no investment in land, buildings, or stock. Furthermore, it was no secret that, for the Printemps group, the Prisunic operation was extremely profitable and provided capital for the subsequent growth of the department store division.
Starting in 1954, the buildings of the Paris department store were completely transformed. While the facades were untouched, the interiors were changed beyond recognition. All nonselling activities were transferred to the outskirts of the city, the enormous lightwells were filled in to provide selling space, the buildings on the north side of rue du Havre became the large Brummell mens wear and sporting goods store, new banks of escalators were installed, and in 1963 two additional sales floors were built on top of the 1882 building. Selling space in these units was increased from 32,000 square meters in 1950 to 45,000 in 1970. Apart from the main store, heavy investments were made in rebuilding, enlarging, and modernizing seven provincial stores between 1956 and 1964. In the latter years a completely new store was built in Paris at the Nation, and in 1969 the Printemps opened its first store in the Parly-2 regional shopping center near Paris.
The various activities of the group during these years were mostly handled by separate limited partnerships, which by the early 1970s numbered more than 120, including 50 separate Prisunic companies. This structure was adopted partly because the managing partners did not want to risk their personal wealth in other activities but also because of the effects of the La Patente tax, which, until it was reformed, increased in proportion to the number of people employed by each company. The slowing of Prisunic’s profitable expansion from 1965 onward and the heavy capital expenditure by the department store division, which did not lead to immediate returns, led shareholders and the managing partners to realize that the limited partnership system was no longer an effective way of running a diversified business employing more than 13,000 people. Furthermore, Pierre Laguionie was by this time 87 years old and wanted to retire from active management. In 1971 the managing partners, Pierre Laguionie and his nephew Jean Vignéras, son of Charles Vignéras, who had died in 1970, agreed with the share-holders to consolidated the partnerships into a limited company, or société anonyme.
The process was not a simple one. Capital had to be found for the managing partners, and some interested parties were more concerned with the group’s real estate value than its commercial activities. Eventually an agreement was reached with the Swiss retail group Maus-Nordmann of Geneva. Maus-Nordmann, a private family company, operated a chain of more than 60 department stores in Switzerland and owned a store chain, P.A. Bergner, in the United States. They were also familiar with the French retail industry since they had important shareholdings in the department store groups Nouvelles Galeries Réunies (SFNGR) and Bazar de l’Hotel de Ville (BHV). Perhaps most important, the Maus group had become an affiliate of Prisunic as early as 1932. By 1970 its company, Société Alsacienne de Magasins SA (SAMAG), had 45 affiliated Prisunic stores in eastern France. In a series of complicated transactions that involved the transfer of the assets of SAMAG to Printemps, the withdrawal of Maus-Nordmann from its holdings in SFNGR and BHV, and the compensation of the managing partners, a new company—Au Printemps S.A.—came into being in 1972. The Maus-Nordmann group owned 34% of the share capital, a figure that increased to 42.7% 20 years later, while the next largest shareholder held 6%. Pierre Laguionie was made honorary president, and Jean Vignéras continued for a while as president director general. But Laguionie died in 1978, and Vignéras withdrew in the same year, thus ending some 70 years of control and management by the Laguionie family.
The first five Years of the new company were not easy. The French economy was in recession following the oil crisis, the profits of the company fell, and the new management was faced with commitments that had been entered into by the previous management, such as opening new stores in shopping centers in the Paris area. These included stores in Vélizy, opened in 1972; Créteil, opened in 1974; and Galaxie in Paris, opened in 1976, but they were not very profitable. Eventually the Créteil store was closed, and a contract to open a store in the Défense shopping center was canceled.
The Prisunic variety store division, while profitable, was no longer expanding. Competition from hypermarkets—combined grocery and general merchandise stores—and specialty shops had reduced the general appeal of variety stores, and emphasis was placed on the development of supermarkets and increasing food sales in the downtown locations of most of the stores. As a result of the stagnation of the variety stores, an attempt was made to develop the Escale chain of hypermarkets. The first of these opened in 1969, and by 1972 there were five in operation. Printemps realized that it did not have the expertise to start up a new hypermarket chain, and by 1976 its Escale stores had been transferred to the established Euromarché group of hypermarkets, with Printemps acquiring a 26% share in Euromarché SA.
The years from 1977, however, were to see the beginning of a transformation in the activities of the Printemps group that was possibly more important than the opening of the Prisunic variety stores in the 1930s. Responsible for this change were Jean-Jacques Delort, who was appointed managing director in 1978 and had joined the group 18 months earlier, and his president, Bertrand Maus. Commercial strategy consisted of four main policies. First was the recognition that well-managed department stores and variety stores could, provided with the necessary investments, continue to be profitable. However, these methods of retailing did not constitute important areas of expansion and growth. Second, commercial activities in the food sector offered growth prospects, particularly in more modern forms such as supermarkets, hypermarkets, and affiliated food stores. Third, specialty stores and home shopping—including mail order and shopping by telephone—were growing retail sectors. Fourth, when opportunities occurred or could be created, the export of know-how and merchandise were to be pursued vigorously. These policies dominated the activities of Printemps beginning in 1978.
No great change took place in the number of owned department and variety stores. Some smaller stores were closed, a few new stores were acquired or built, and investments continued to be made in existing stores. In the case of Prisunic, emphasis continued to be placed on increasing food sales and by 1990 food accounted for 58% of Prisunic’s total sales. At the same time the concept of exporting department and variety store expertise and merchandise gathered strength. In 1979 an important agreement was made with Japan’s Daiei retailing group to open Printemps department stores in Japan. Printemps provided the expertise and Daiei the building, so Prin-temps’s capital investment was negligible. Daiei opened several such stores in Japan and similar agreements were made in other countries, including Portugal. In the early 1990s there were 11 stores outside France carrying the Printemps name, and a larger number affiliated with Printemps for supplies of merchandise. Prisunic has followed a similar policy, and there are Prisunic or Escale—large supermarket—stores in French territories overseas and in Greece and Portugal: 44 Prisunic and 11 Escale. Specialty non-food retailing was developed in the mens wear market. In 1974 the Printemps group had opened a specialty menswear store called Brummell in Toulouse. But perhaps the most important step forward took place in 1980 when Printemps bought a 40% share in Magasins Armand Thiéry et Sigrand (ATS), an existing menswear chain. This shareholding was increased to 80% in 1981 and is now 87.4%. The subsidiary now has 65 stores trading under the names of Armand Thiéry and Brummell.
In 1984 an entirely different type of move was made with the purchase of 51% of Disco SA, a food wholesaling group, and 99% of a related company called Discol SA. In association with seven other wholesalers, Disco, the second-largest food wholesaler in France, supplies more than 1,500 affiliated food retailers. Discol acts as a food wholesaler to restaurants, schools, and hospitals, and is France’s second-largest firm in this sector. Together Disco and Discol own and operate 18 food distribution centers and their associated firms have a further 38. These acquisitions, along with the significant food sales of Prisunic stores, afforded Printemps a strong presence in France’s food industry.
The most dramatic acquisition of the Printemps company took place in 1987-1988, when first 15%, then 20%, then 32%, and finally, on an agreed bid, 54.7% of the shares of La Redoute S.A., the largest mail-order company in France, passed to its control. La Redoute owned not only two smaller mail-order firms in France, Vert Baudet and Maison de Valérie, but also controlled Vestro, the second largest mail-order company in Italy, and the Prénatal chain of stores which boasted 330 branches in Italy, Spain, Austria, Germany, and Portugal. Since Printemps took control, mail-order selling has been developed in the Benelux countries and Portugal and an agreement has been made with Sears Canada. The 25% share of La Redoute in Empire Stores, the fifth largest mail-order firm in the United Kingdom, was increased in 1991 to complete control at 98.9%. In the hypermarket retail sector, the Printemps group had acquired a 25% interest in the Euromarché hypermarket company in 1975. Through cross-holdings in Viniprix SA, this share rose to 43.5% by 1986. The profits of Euromarché fell, however, in 1987 and 1988, and in 1989 the firm incurred a heavy loss with only a marginal improvement in 1990. Unable to control the management of Euromarché, Printemps disposed of its share in 1991, selling it at a profit to the hypermarket group Carrefour.
Another, but less important, change occurred in 1991 when the Printemps group sold the Disco food wholesale company. In effect, however, this made little difference to the commitment of the Printemps group to food wholesaling. While giving up the day-to-day operation of wholesale depots, Printemps, through its Prisunic buying organization, remained the chief source of supply for the 1,775 franchised retailers of Disco.
Printemps appears well placed to face the future. Total sales doubled between fiscal years 1987 and 1990. Department stores and variety stores will see limited growth, but they should continue to be profitable during the 1990s. Mail order, which in the early 1990s represented more than one-third of sales, is a growth sector in Europe, and La Redoute is active in four European countries. Specialty chains have found their place and should continue to develop. The extensive interests of Printemps in food wholesaling and retailing should enable it to offset any temporary downturn in consumer demand for department store and mail-order merchandise. By their nature, however, these diversified activities will require a strong management team to ensure effective coordination.
La Redoute S.A. (54.7%).
Mac Orlan, Pierre, Le Printemps, Paris, Ed. Gallimard, 1930; Rives, Marcel, Traité d’Economie Commercial, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1958; Dumas, Solange, Cent ans de Jeunesse, Paris, Printania, 1965; Carra-calla, Jean-Paul, Le Roman du Printemps, Histoire d’un Grand Magasin, Paris, Denoël, 1989.
—James B. Jefferys