Vente Privée is announcing that they’re entering the US in a joint venture with American Express.
We got to speak with Vente Privée’s billionaire founder Jacques-Antoine Granjon in an exclusive interview before the announcement.
(The interview was condensed and edited for clarity.)
Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, Business Insider: Why are you launching with Amex?
Jacques-Antoine Granjon: It’s a very big brand. I had always said that I wouldn’t be going to the US without a partner.
It’s a very mature market. Discount shopping here is very structured, with companies like TJ Maxx and others making billions in revenues each year.
I’ve always said that my market is Europe and my goal was to work with the fifteen hundred brands that matter in Europe.
But this is a tremendous opportunity. Amex is one of the world’s best brands, with 42 million card holders. We can combine our specific know-how with their reach.
I have seen Amex’s CEO several times, and we have the same values around customer service, and creating great offers for members. We have been working on this project for over a year and a half, with thousands of pages of legal documents. It’s a big undertaking.
So this is an extremely long term project with a great vision.
BI: What’s the brand name going to be?
Granjon: We’re still working on that. It’s not going to be Vente Privée. It can’t be Amex Privé because someone else holds the copyright. We’ll see.
BI: How much money are you each putting in?
Granjon: Oh, a few tens of millions of dollars each to start.
We’re going to build a company that does great event sales that bring traffic on their own so we don’t have to buy it.
You know, we’ve been profitable without debt since 2004. So when I see competitors raise a lot of money, over a hundred million dollars, and still aren’t profitable, I have to wonder.
BI: What do you think of all those competitors, like Gilt, Amazon, Groupon? Even Facebook is doing deals now.
Granjon: Everyone is rushing into this. All they can think of is deals.
I don’t think that’s what works. What works is offering something really special, and doing it over the long term.
Of course, if you offer something for really cheap, people will visit. But how long is that going to last?
As for Amazon, flash sales aren’t their job. Flash sales are about doing events for businesses. Flash sales happen because a brand has a problem, so you do an operation to solve that problem. It’s a completely different business.
And when Gilt says they’re going to open new verticals, and open full-price e-commerce sites, they’re becoming just another e-commerce company.
Are we doing that?
No, we’re about something else. We’re about doing something special.
What we want is for something to happen every day that’s so special that people come. And with those daily events, we create an addiction.
We don’t do e-commerce, we do events.
Next: How Granjon is going to crush his enemies and see them driven before him →
[credit provider=”Vente Privée”]
BI: No one in the US has heard of Vente Privée. You’re going to have to get people to know you, and build warehouses to ship clothes and all the rest. The fact that you’re so big in Europe isn’t going to really help you. What makes you think you have a chance?Granjon: That’s how we’re so lucky! We’re like a startup all over again.
Each time we opened in a new country, it was a new adventure.
Each time we had to educate people about the brand all over again, build relationships, transfer our DNA.
It’s like making a mayonnaise. If you make a mayonnaise for two people, you have a bit of egg and a bit of oil you whisk in. But once it “takes,” you can add enough oil to make enough mayonnaise for 20 people.
And the most important thing is to not be arrogant.
This is the US. There’s tons of competition, there’s an entrepreneur everywhere, there’s always someone who can do what you do better and cheaper. We have to be very humble.
But our goal isn’t to flip this in two years. Our goal is to build something big over the long term.
BI: How are you doing in Europe, outside France? What’s the key thing you learned setting up new markets?
Granjon: I learned that there’s no such thing as Europe.
Each country is unique and we have to start all over again each time. It’s a new adventure each time. And it takes a long time. There’s more competition.
And we can’t buy traffic. It’s impossible to buy traffic! What does it matter if someone comes into your shop? What you need to understand is why he comes into your shop!
Hundreds of millions of dollars of VC money aren’t going to change that.
BI: Aren’t brands a bit afraid of you? rumour has it that you have exclusive deals with most big brands in Europe. Why should they rely on you even more by giving you US inventory as well?
Granjon: Our relationship with brands is completely win-win. If we don’t perform for them, they leave.
I don’t want exclusivity contracts, I want moral contracts.
We came up with a system that creates value for them. 40% of the people who buy from Vente Privée end up visiting the brand’s stores. We create marketing reports that give them intelligence. We have advantages that make sure they come to us.
What matters is how good our relationship is. If we come up with great solutions for their problem, they’ll come to us. If we don’t, they won’t.
BI: How is [Vente Privée’s Groupon clone] Rosedeal doing?
Granjon: Rosedeal does very well when the deals are good. It doesn’t do well when the deals are bad. Our job is to make sure that each deal goes well, with strong quality control.
Rosedeal is the anti-Groupon. Groupon is happy hour for everyone! But people show up only for the deal, there are tons of complaints. What matters for us is that the deal goes extremely well for everyone.
BI: What’s the revenue?
Granjon: Can’t tell you. But we’re staffing up, building up the teams. We’re building something for the long term.
BI: You announced your Digital Commerce Factory in March. How is that doing? What’s the strategy there?
Granjon: Digital Commerce Factory is a service for brands that want to move to the e-commerce world. And it’s important.
And the magic wand is the smartphone. Kids today who are 12, 14 will one day have jobs and big purchasing power, and they’re learning to shop through their phones.
You really have to think of e-commerce as a market with 7 billion people. Soon everyone will shop online, even in developing countries.
So brands that were afraid of e-commerce for a long time are starting to realise that they can’t afford not to be online.
And we come in with a specific know-how: logistics, customer service, software, marketing, product selection and so forth. And we let brands use that know-how. We have very ambitious objectives for the company.
And that lets us strengthen our relationships with the brands. To them we become kind of like a Swiss Knife.
BI: Anything else coming up?
Granjon: Always. We’re always doing something new.
We recently bought a company in Northern Europe to improve our inventory. We’re starting a joint venture to sell last minute event tickets. There’s tons of stuff.
BI: You’re an active angel investor. How is that doing?
Granjon: I work all the time on Vente Privée. I do a few deals if I’m invited in a round by friends. As an entrepreneur I enjoy doing it, because it’s always a great thing to be part of an entrepreneurial adventure, and maybe I can help with some advice. But I consider myself an amateur angel investor.
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