In contrast to François Hollandes’ stumbling government, the organisation of the French promotional products industry seems to function well – at least according to industry insiders. Flourishing trade fairs, professional communication platforms and good networking among the different players make business easier. However, a strict separation and monitoring of the distribution channels also belongs to the strong structures.
“How can one rule a country that has 246 different types of cheese?“ was the rhetoric question Charles de Gaulle posed in the 1950s. A very topical question in the light of the latest developments – for example the resignation of the French Cabinet in April 2014 after serving office for just 146 days. Political insecurity has dominated the mood in France over the past years – the same applies for the business scene and thus also for the promotional products sector. “The industry is not very optimistic at the moment due to the change in Government and the weak economy,” observed Bertrand Passot, CEO of the plastic specialists, Passot Innovation. “The situation is unstable, so a hesitant mood prevails among a lot of the decision-makers, which makes it difficult for us to plan investments.”
However, the French promotional products industry does seem to have one advantage over the country’s Government: According to reports, it disposes of well-functioning structures. This was confirmed for instance by Bernard Lavigne, CEO of the French service provider, European Sourcing, who as a search engine provider and exhibition organiser is an expert on the French market: “The French promotional market, just like the rest of Europe, experienced the crisis. However, the effect was minimized thanks to the fact that the French industry is very well organized.”
For example, over the past years two trade fairs have evolved into the most important platforms for the communication between the distributors and suppliers in France and they have also increased their appeal on an international basis: The CTCO in Lyon, organised by the Lyon-based publishing company, 656 Editions, kicks off the season, not only for novelties in the promotional products and textiles sector, but also for trends and innovations from the printing industry. The trade fair has been registering increased visitor and exhibitor figures for years – its concept, which generates and promotes synergies, is evidently successful. Staged in the second half of the year, Premium Sourcing, which is also organised by 656 Editions together with European Sourcing, has been the ideal counterpart since its inception in 2011 (see also pg. 32). The visitor and exhibitor figures of this trade fair have also been recording growth for years
The offer is rounded off by smaller events scheduled throughout the year: Many suppliers organise their own roadshow and thus counteract the centralisation of the country. Recently, several companies have more and more frequently been joining ranks – for instance in mid-September the French association 2fpco (see box) organised a tour through eight French cities, which between three and six suppliers participated in depending on the location.
Whereas these joint shows are more partnerships of convenience, there is a group of suppliers, who have been placing their bets on joint participation at exhibitions and joint marketing measures under one brand name for years: The supplier initiative Les Specialistes. The group currently comprises of 22 members, including in the meantime also foreign suppliers. Each member is a specialist in its own segment, whereby overlaps between the various product ranges are consciously avoided. The remarkable thing is that the group has the structure of an SAS (Société par actions simplifiée), i.e. a simplified joint stock company under French law. “The six founder members of the Les Specialistes are at the same time shareholders,” explained Laurent Olivier, CEO of Pixika, who coinitiated Les Specialistes. “All other members pay a member fee. The prerequisites for membership are firmly anchored in our Charta – these include absolute loyalty to the business, a certain service level and participation in our roadshow. The aim of the group is to make our products more visible, but also to increase our attractiveness. However, a further enormous advantage of the group is the exchange of information and networking among the members.”
More visibility for the users
Whereas the distributors and the suppliers are well networked, as far as the marketing measures for the users are concerned, there is still a backlog demand, as is the case all over Europe. The associations have of course introduced various initiatives – among them the “Matins de l’Objet” (“Promotional Matinees”), which have been organised by 2fpco for some time already: “We invite buyers and decision-makers from the industry to informative events at irregular intervals. The aim of these events is to provide valuable information on the implementation of promotional products – i.e. best practice examples, information on the market and product trends, but also on legal issues for example on product safety. In some cases, we bring experts such as testing institutes on board for such events,” reported Eric Pallard, Vice President of 2fpco. “One of our aims is to raise the standing of the promotional product overall, which involves achieving more visibility among the users,” added President Pascal Renard.
However, what doesn’t exist in France is a platform that brings all of the market players together, like there are in certain other European countries. This is above all due to the fact that the market is strictly divided up into the three segments suppliers, distributors and users. According to industry experts, trade fair concepts that allow the suppliers direct contact to the users meet with resistance from the distributors.
However, the French industry can only grow if it succeeds in increasing the number of the promotional products in the marketing mix – Lavigne: “From what we see from our business, the French market has neither increased nor decreased anymore over the past three years. Consequently, those actors, who are more dynamic, take away the market shares from the less dynamic market participants. To create growth, a main lever would consist of convincing the final buyers to integrate more and more promotional items into their communication plans.”
Read more: The French industry, Part I