Maus Frères SA

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Maus Frères SA

6 rue Cornavin
Case postale 1880
CH-1211 Geneve 1
Telephone: +41022/908.66.00
Fax : +41 022/732.91.05
Web site:

Private Company
Employees: Not Available.
Sales: CHF 5.2 billion ($3.31 billion)(1999 est.)
NAIC: 452110 Department Stores

Maus Frères SA is one of Switzerlands largest retail groups. The privately owned Geneva-based holding company guides an empire of department stores, sporting goods stores, hypermarkets, furniture stores, and other stores in Switzerland, many of which are grouped under flagship subsidiary Manor AG, the countrys leading department store chain. Owned by the founding Maus and Nordmann families, the companys operations include Manor; the Jumbo Do-It Deco chain of 34 hardware stores; the nine-store Athleticum sporting goods storeleader in that category in Switzerland; the Swiss franchise for French-based Fly furniture and furnishings stores; a chain of restaurants under Manora name, attached to Manor stores but independently run; and six large-scale shopping centers, Les Centres Magiques. In 2001, Maus Frères placed its Jumbo hypermarket chain into a 60-40 joint-venture with Frances Carrefour SA, called Distribis. Plans call for the Jumbo stores to adopt the Carrefour name and for the chain to be run by Carrefour. After shutting down nearly all of its international operation, which at one time included PA Bergner, at the beginning of the 1990s, Maus Frères has begun a new, Albert cautious foreign expansion. The company controls 90 percent of Devanlay SA, which holds worldwide licensing and manufacturing rights to the LaCoste brand and is also the major shareholder in Parashop SA, a leading chain of para-pharmacy (selling beauty products and personal care items but not pharma-ceuticals) stores in France and the United Kingdom. Maus Frères is led by Philippe Nordmann, chairman of the board, and JeanBernard Rondeau, managing director. The companys sales in 1999 reached CHF 5.2 billion.

Pioneer Retailer at the Turn of the 20th Century

Maus Frères was established at the end of the 19th century by two brothers, Ernest and Henri Maus. The Maus brothers initially went into business as wholesalers selling linens, hosiery, and other textiles to small shops in their area and elsewhere in Switzerland. The Mauss became friendly with one of their clients, Leon Nordmann, who owned a small store called Au Petit BeneficeFrench for low profits to emphasize the stores bargain-priced goods.

Nordmann had become interested in a new retail model, the department store, which had been gaining in popularity elsewhere in Europe at the end of the 19th century. Despite the small size of his shop in Willisau, Nordmann had already introduced the concept of various departments for goods there. The Maus brothers, who had incorporated their business as Maus Frères in Geneva in 1901, and Nordmann decided to go into business together and open up a true department store in Lucerne. That store opened in 1902, using the name Leon Nordmann.

The new store represented a revolution in a number of ways. Unlike stores throughout much of Europe at the time, the new Nordmann store gave free entry to customersother stores obliged customers to make purchases in order to enter the store. The Nordmann store also placed price tags on all of its goods, eliminating the practice of haggling that had made it possible for prices to change from customer to customer.

The Lucerne stores success convinced Nordmann to convert his Willisau store to the new format and signage. The Maus brothers decided to take the concept on the road and began approaching some of their other clients with the idea of opening department stores in other Swiss cities as well. Maus Frères soon presided over an empire of department stores under a variety of store names, such as Au Louvre, Nouvelles Galeries Martin, Keller-Ullmann, Innovazione, Galeries du Jura, and especially the flagship stores Magazine zur Rheinbrucke in Basel and La Placette in Lausanne and Geneva.

The Maus and Nordmann families ties tightened when Robert Nordmann, Leons son, married Ernest Mauss daughter Simone. The younger Nordmann joined with André Maus, son of Henri, to take over leadership of the Maus Frères company. The new generation continued to build on their predecessors success, establishing the Maus Frères retail empire as the preeminent retail company in Switzerland. In 1965, Maus Frères decided to unite all of its department stores under a single banner, creating a new subsidiary, Manora contraction of the Maus and Nordmann names.

Manor was not the only focus for Maus Frères retail interests. In 1974, the company, facing pressure from a rising new breed of retailersthe so-called hypermarkets, which combined traditional grocery stores with department store-type product ranges, while touting discounted prices, moved into the hypermarket sector itself, opening the first Jumbo hypermarket in Dietlikon, near Zurich. Maus Frères quickly extended the Jumbo concept into another fast-growing retail sector, the do-it-yourself channel, launching a new store format of Jumbo brico-bati-centres, later renamed Jumbo Do-it Deco.

At the same time, Maus Frères had taken a leaf from a growing trend in the United States, that of the construction of large-scale, covered shopping malls. Maus Frères inaugurated its first shopping center in 1974, in Sierre. The company later went on to open five more shopping centers, grouping them under the name Les Centers Magiques.

During the 1980s, Maus Frères continued to expand. At the beginning of the decade, the company launched a new chain of restaurants, Manora. Attached to the Manor department stores, the companys restaurants were nonetheless operated independently and featured different operating hours. In 1985, Maus Frères introduced another retail concept, a chain of music stores called City Disc.

Apart from building its retail empire in Switzerland, Maus Frères had been expanding its holdings elsewhere in the world. For many years, the group held a majority shareholding position in famed Parisian department store group Au Printemps.

Another of Maus Frères major international holdings was that of the Bergner department store group in the United States, acquired by the Maus and Nordmann families in 1938. Bergner had been founded in Peoria, Illinois, in 1889 by Peter Bergner. Under Maus Frères, Bergners began to expand, acquiring Charles V. Weise Company, also of Illinois, in 1954 to create a nine-store chain focused on smaller midwestern markets. Led by Alan Anderson since the beginning of the 1960s, Bergners continued to grow throughout the region, and, after acquiring the eight-store Myers Brothers chain based in southern Illinois, changed its name to PA Bergner& Co in 1979. In the mid-1980s, Bergner acquired the Boston Store chain from Federated Department Stores, Inc.

Then, in 1989, Anderson attempted to leap into the big time by acquiring Chicago-based Carson Pirie Scott for $453 million. Maus Frères now itself the owner of one of the United States largest regional department store groups with 69 stores producing more than $1 billion in sales. Unfortunately for Maus Frères, in Andersons eagerness, the Carson Pirie Scott acquisition was made without the necessary due diligenceand the financial weakness of Carson Pirie Scott went overlooked. Maus Frères soon discovered that the Carson Pirie Scott acquisition had also saddled the company with nearly $800 million in debt.

By 1991, Bergner was sinking fastMaus Frères attempted to keep Bergner afloat by pumping more than $150 million into its failing U.S. subsidiary. In mid-1991, however, Maus Frères turned off the tap, and Bergner was forced to file for bankruptcy. In 1993, in a settlement agreement, Bergner was sold off to an investment group for $300 million, and its name changed to Carson Pirie Scott before later becoming part of the Saks retail group.

The Bergner fiasco hurt Maus Frères in more ways than one. In order to pay for its problems at Bergner, Maus Frères was forced to sell off its holding in Au Printemps. Initially the group had hoped to find a buyer for just half of its stake, which amounted to more than 42 percent of Au Printemps shares and more than 56 percent of the companys voting rights. When François Pinault approached Maus Frères with an offer to purchase all of its stake in Au Printemps, the Geneva retail group was unable to refuse. Pinault quickly parried Printemps into one of Francesand the worldsleading retail empires, Pinault Printemps Redoute.

Company Perspectives:

Values. Since the Groups first store opened in 1902, the companys management has been handed down through four generations. Today, the Group continues to be managed by the descendants of the two founding families and has succeeded in expanding while remaining true to its culture. Over the years MANOR stores have been established all over Switzerland, selling goods under the Groups diversified brand names. Maus Brothers has become the leading privately-owned distribution group in Switzerland and in its activities beyond the countrys borders it remains true to its vocation as a store manager. Satisfying customer needs. The customer is always right and is at the heart of the Groups concern. Recognizing that people come first. Such as all those who, over the years, have made the Group what it is today and who will continue making it tomorrow. Encouraging entrepre-neurship. The key to success is embodied in individual enthusiasm and the desire for undertaking. Encouraging initiatives and entrusting responsibility into the hands of those who are capable of assuming it is part and parcel of this. Maintaining the family spirit. Inspiration borne from this very special motivating and reassuring ingredient is indeed a precious bonus. Diversifying while upholding our tradition of innovation, customer service and quality. The Group is made up of successful and dynamic companies, each with its own identity, who work hand in hand together. Providing ourselves with the means prerequisite to being the best. The Groups member companies all aim at being leaders in their respective branches and optimization of acquired skills continues unceasingly. Through being able to count on a well-trained team, adequate management tools and the necessary infrastructure the Group is ready to take on this challenge.

Refocusedfor the New Century

Somewhat chastened by the Bergner debacle, Maus Frères switched its focus wholly to its domestic operations in the early 1990s. The company reorganized its operations, setting up Maus Frères as a holding company and decentralizing management decisions to a newly restructured Manor Department Store Group. At this point, all of the companys stores in German-speaking Switzerland were renamed as Manor department stores. The remaining stores that had not yet taken the Manor name in the French- and Italian-speaking regions were rebranded as Manor stores in 2000.

Toward the mid-1990s, Maus Frères turned its attention toward testing new retail concepts for the Swiss market. In 1994, the company opened two new retail chains, the clothing store Jeans& Co. and the home electronics and computer specialist ElectroPlus. Then, in 1995, the company launched a sporting goods store format, Athleticum Sportsmarket.

While Jeans& Co and ElectroPlus met with limited successthe company sold both chains in 2000 and 2001, along with City DiscAthleticum proved a stronger contender. Starting with three storesin Suhr, Bussigny, and Heimbergin 1995, Athleticum added a new store in 1996, two more stores in 1997, and a new store each year through the beginning of the new century, making it the leading sporting goods store in Switzerland.

Despite its retreat from international retailing, Maus Frères had not abandoned foreign expansion entirely. In 1995, the company bought a majority stake in a young French company, Parashop. Founded in 1993, in order to take advantage of French laws liberalizing the sale of certain items (excluding medications) hitherto exclusively controlled by the countrys network of pharmacies, Parashop had opened three stores by 1995 when it began looking for investors to help it grow into a nationally operating chain. With Maus Frères deep pocketsand its founders at the helmParashop stepped up the pace of its store openings, and by 2002 had opened more than 40 stores not only in France but in the United Kingdom as well.

In 1998, Maus Frères gained a new international holding when it acquired a 90 percent share of Frances Devanlay SA. That company had long been the manufacturing force behind the world famous LaCoste brand name. As part of the Maus Frères holding, Devanlay began a transition from being a clothing manufacturing company to guiding development of the LaCoste brand name. Maus Frères partner in the Devanlay acquisition was La Chemise Lacoste, the company that controlled the brand name; in 2000, Devanlay, which by then had acquired 35 percent of La Chemise Lacoste, was granted a worldwide license for the LaCoste brand.

By the beginning of the new decade, Maus Frères Jumbo chain had succeeded in gaining the number two position in the countrys hypermarket sector. Yet it faced increasing pressureparticularly on its marginsfrom competing retail groups, Migros and Coop, the leaders in the countrys supermarket sector. Maus Frères began looking for a partner to help its Jumbo operations build new momentum, and in 2000 the company announced that it had to agreed to form a new joint venture with French retailing powerhouse Carrefour. Called Distribis and held at 60 percent by Maus Frères and at 40 percent by Carrefour, the joint venture took over control of the Jumbo hypermarkets and placed management of their operations under Carrefour. The companies also planned to convert all of the Jumbo stores to the Carrefour signage, a process begun in 2001.

As it celebrated its 100th anniversary, Maus Frères had grown into one of Switzerlands retailing powerhouses with diversified operations covering many of the major market sectors in Switzerland. The companys core holding remained the Manor department store group, which had grown into a string of 75 stores and more than 320,000 square meters of selling space, with sales of nearly CHF 3 billion representing nearly half of all of Switzerlands department store market. Yet Maus Frères remained decidedly a family affair, with the latest generation represented by Phillippe Nordmann as chairman of the board.

Principal Subsidiaries

Manor AG; Athleticum Sportmarket; Devanlay SA; Parashop SA.

Principal Competitors

Migros-Genossenschafts-Bund; Coop Schweiz Genossen-schaftsverband; Metro Holding AG.

Key Dates:

Maus Frères is established as a wholesale textiles and linen business in Geneva by Ernest and Henri Maus.
The Mauss join with Leon Nordmann to found a department store in Lucerne.
Maus Frères acquires the Bergner department store group in the United States.
Various department stores operated by Maus Frères united under the Manor group.
Maus Frères launches Jumbo hypermarket chain and opens first of company operated shopping centers.
Maus Frères launches City Disc music store concept.
Bergner files for bankruptcy; Maus Frères sells its holding in 1993.
Maus Frères launches new retail store formats Jeans& Co and ElectroPlus; all German-speaking department stores take on the Manor name.
Maus Frères launches Athleticum Sportsmarket retail sporting goods format and acquires a controlling stake in Frances Parashop SA.
The company sells ElectroPlus and City Disc; the first Jumbo store is rebranded as Carrefour.

Further Reading

Carrefour Enters Switzerland, Progressive Grocer, December 2000, p. 16.

Carrefour sinstalle en Suisse en sassociant a Maus Frères, La Tribune, October 5, 2000.

Jelmoli Buys Seven Electrical Shops from Maus Frères, Reuters, March 18, 2001.

Weisman, Katherine, Swiss Retailer Maus to Buy Devanlay, Daily News Record, April 16, 1993, p. 10.

M.L. Cohen