Founded in 1948, Cottel looks back on a long tradition in the promotional products business. In 2007, the company hailed its fourth generation of owners and was modernised and reorganised. Part of the new alignment: Products “made in France“, which enhance the comprehensive range of import goods.
The façade of the Cottel headquarters in Cusset near Vichy already communicates an unmistakable message: “L’Objet Publicitaire“ – French for promotional product – is namely inscribed on the walls of the impressively sized building in huge letters. It is all about haptic advertising here – and that has been the case for some time already: Since its foundation in the year 1948, the company has resided in the same street and the alignment back then was also pretty similar. The company founders Pierre and Denis Cottel started off their business by importing products from North Africa, which they sold to the souvenir and gift industry in France. Over the course of the decades, Cottel became a big importer that focussed exclusively on the promotional products market. The company changed hands several times over the years.
In 2007, Franck Allilaire took over the firmand is running Cottel as owner and CEO in thefourth generation. Allilaire originally came froma different sector other than the “ObjetPublicitaire“business:“After working for the protective equipment manufacturer Bacou-Dalloz for ten years in management positions, I decided to buy my own company and owned a motorcycle equipment firm for four years. This is where I first came into contact with the promotional products sector, because among others we sold personalised seats and capes. Because the company was too big, I sold it again and acquired Cottel in 2007, a smaller company, whose alignment appealed to me.“
New alignment and growth
Under Allilaire’s direction, the company that had been struggling slightly before the take-over succeeded in recording growth again: “When I took over Cottel, the turnover was around 5 mil. Euros, in 2013, we achieved a turnover of 7.2 mil. We attained a growth rate of 4% in the same year, although the French economy declined overall by 4.5%. Since 2007, we have employed 25 new employees and have increased our headcount up to 80. This positive development was mainly due to our improved and further expanded offer of services.“ For example, Cottel considerably improved the average delivery times: “We deliver individualised products within three to four days after order placement, the delivery times were previously much longer,” commented Allilaire. “Today, 90% of the goods we sell are customised, at the time I took the company over they only accounted for 55%.“
With warehouse space spanning 5,000 m², Cottel constantly holds stocks of around 25 mil. products worth 3 mil. Euros. The ultra modern machinery room occupies 1,000 m² of the overall floor space that covers 6,500 m². The company offers all common customising techniques ranging from screen, pad, transfer, sublimation and digital printing methods, to hot foil embossing and laser printing, through to doming. The individual customising departments are clearly separated and labelled with big signs and the entire area is spotless – an important factor, as Allilaireassured: “Tidiness and cleanliness are importan for the efficiency and thus also contribute towards process optimisation.“ Cottel’s quality management is also officially certified: The company has been ISO 9001-certified since 2003.
Global meets local
The current line-up encompasses 1,500 products. Three different catalogues are published every year with a total circulation of 30,000 copies. As far as the product groups are concerned, Cottel is a classic full range stockist, which has positioned itself more in the lower price segment. A strong focus of the collection lies on low-priced import items, which form the company’s core business. Three employees are responsible for sourcing products from the Far East and for communicating with the manufacturers there. “We cooperate with around 100 manufacturers from all over China,” explained Allilaire. “We also work together with partners in Taiwan and to an increased extent in Europe.“
However, since five years Cottel has not only been importing goods. In the meantime, the company also manufactures products itself at its premises in Cusset: “We began producing promotional sponges using the laser cutting technology in 2009,” reported Allilaire. “Today, 30% of our turnover is achieved with products ‘made in France’ and in my opinion part of the growth we have achieved over the past years is attributable to this new field of business.“
In addition to sponges, among others erasers, nail files, magnets, key pendants, microfiber cloths and rulers are produced in Cusset. The various raw materials are cut into the desired shape using lasers or knives. Thanks to strongly modified machines, all kinds of fabrics can be processed, including diverse plastics, textiles, bamboo or cork. Besides the products that have to be cut into shape, welded and laminated, Cottel also manufactures bags and cases out of PVC in-house. “We can flexibly react to the special requirements of the customer,” said Allilaire. “In some cases we only calculate the size and the customer chooses the shape and colour at will at no extra price. Depending on the product, the minimum order quantity is between 12 and 25 pieces. All items produced in-house can be delivered within three days at attractive prices. We are established and well-known on the market as a budget supplier and although customer service and the delivery time play a major role, the price remains to be a decisive argument. However, many products can also be made in France at competitive conditions, which is why we intend to continually expand our collection in this direction.“
A strategy that is not limited to production in Cusset. In 2012, Cottel purchased the pencil manufacturer Compagnie Française des Crayons (CFC), a truly traditional company (please see the portrait on pg. 50). “After that we decided to look for other French manufacturers as cooperation partners,” reported Allilaire. In 2013, Cottel won over the traditional brand Vichy – the well-known mint pastels are more or less manufactured in the neighbourhood. In 2014, further partnerships followed with Laurige (leather goods), Cachou Lajaunie (liquorice pastilles), Le Chatelard (soap), Pillivuyt (porcelain), Thérias & l’Econome and Au Sabot (both cutlery). Allilaire: “We not only cover the need for products ‘made in France‘ with these renowned brand items, but also the demand for premium gifts – the perfect supplement to our range of low-budget articles. What’s more, the cooperation partners are flexible concerning the specific needs of the promotional products market: For example, Cachou Lajaunie allows us to individualise half of the surface of their famous, yellow tins.“ All items produced in France are labelled accordingly in the catalogue – a big advantage for Cottel and an important USP for the distributors. Allilaire is convinced that “Fabrication Française“ is much more than just a short-lived trend: “‘Made in France’ is a huge theme, a lot of politicians are talking about it, products manufactured in France are popular both on the retail market and on the promotional products market.“
|Laurige (leather goods) and Pilivuyt (porcelain) are three of the renowned French brands Cottel distributes in the promotional products market.|
There is also no doubt about the fact that items produced under the tricolour flag and the beyond the country’s borders. Cottel’s export share is currently around 15%, a figure, which the company intends to increase. Initial steps in this direction include a sales representative for Italy and the recent decision to join the Belgian industry association BAPP (Belgian Association of Promotional Products). Further measures are to follow, as Allilaire announced: “In the past years the domestic market was our priority. First of all, we wanted to become strong in France. In the meantime, however, we are ready to focus our attentions in the direction of Europe.“
An interview with two French service providers can be found here: “Good opportunities for foreign suppliers”