Business Essentials for Professionals


French gift box leader Wonderbox to take on the world

The French leader Wonderbox, specialized in gift boxes has established itself as the main provider in its home country of France. After several years of consolidation, it's turning its sights on neighboring countries and the world. It is now the leader in all of the markets it plays in, save Italy – the next on the list? As early birds on the market, founders Bertile Burel and James Blouzard had to develop their business on the basis of trial and error. Strengthened by experience, they now plan to apply their business model to the rest of the globe.

Wonderbox has come a long way in the past decade. It started off as simply selling tickets to sports events off the Internet – a home-based business founded by Bertile Burel and her partner James Blouzard. Today, the couple employs over 300 workers, sells many different products, both online and in retail shops, for an annual turnover of nearly 200 million euros. With the purchase of one box, clients can offer as gifts anything ranging from hotel stays, or restaurant meals, to wellness and discovery activities – for the consumer to decide. This rapid growth rate, with an annual minimum of 10% since its creation, hinged upon the successful completion of several steps.
The first of these steps was changing their vending channel. With sales exclusively online, Wonderbox would have had to spend staggering amounts in advertising to make their offer known on the new market. After lengthy negotiations with the French government, they received authorization to sell hard boxes inside supermarkets – thus greatly increasing their visibility. Because the market was new, their offer would have long remained unknown to the general public, had it stayed purely online. Bertile Burel says « We had to negotiate with the government to be authorized to distribute our products in malls, and specialized or food supermarkets. It became possible once Wonderbox had become a travel agency itself
Changing their stance on the market also quickly became necessary, to allow the company to grab hold of its own destiny. By simply picking up whichever offer was lying on the market, it was keeping the role of an easy-to-cut-out middleman. To add value and make itself essential within the chain, Wonderbox started involving its suppliers within joint programs (such as hotel plus restaurant). If Wonderbox had simply pre-ordered from its suppliers, it would have killed repeat business, due to customers paying directly the supplier the second time around. And, as an extra risk, Wonderbox was exposed to any other competitor pre-ordering too. By building its own programs and its specific identity, namely quality standards, Wonderbox became central. “To uphold quality upstream and downstream, we have set contract-set quality standards with all of our suppliers. In order to be included within the Wonderbox catalog, partners must meet specific demands, set by our market department.“
Innovation, pushing limits and quality are considered central to the brand's DNA, according to founder Bertile Burel, who claims « these core values are posted all over our offices […]. We are constantly innovating, in our offers as well as on our design » which, today, offers 8 different graphic families.
After the first stages of development, Bertile Burel and James Blouzard realized they needed to consolidate upstream and downstream. They identified client dissatisfaction and supplier frustration as two ways to cause the business to collapse or slump. They knew word-of-mouth would be their main advertising medium, and any bad experience for a consumer would likely mean ten clients lost behind them. Solid quality thresholds and processes were therefore quickly put into place, with a clever trick: using the workforce as quality inspectors. Employees were given hundreds of euros worth of giftboxes, providing Wonderbox with tons of high-quality feedback and also working as bonuses for staff. Questionnaires were quickly designed and, today, any customer complaint will lead to the supplier being checked out by Wonderbox.
The company also knew that they entirely relied on their network of quality partners, none of whom are employees of Wonderbox. This means that partners are free to work for Wonderbox if they wish to, and also to walk away, if they so please. The temptation of making some easy money off supplier's backs through tardy payments was therefore quickly extinguished, to the point that Wonderbox is now the quickest payer on the market. Long payment delays are not uncommon in the distribution business, with middle-men stretching their supplier's treasury beyond comfort. If hotels and restaurants had ended up being fed up with such practices, Wonderbox would have quickly gone out of business, with nothing left to work with. Bertile Burel says « We have cut the payment delays in half. Our goal is not to make cash off our suppliers' backs. »
Being first on a market is as much a blessing as it is a hamper. It does mean you have a head start, but it also means you will be making all the mistakes, not learning from the competition's blunders. You get to choose your path and consolidate your position, but you don't benefit your competition's advertising. The wise business decisions which enabled Wonderbox to become the leader in France, and then in neighboring countries, should lead it to be an aggressive player on the new markets it will shortly address, everywhere in the world – as management has not changed, nor has the brand's DNA.

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