Business Essentials for Professionals


In great shape: European gift box leader Wonderbox designs emotion-intensive services

In just a dozen years, the French company Wonderbox has become the European market leader by providing customers a new way of consuming in their spare time. Since then, the gift box concept has been widely duplicated but seldom matched by newcomers, if at all. By the way, the job does not only require marketing skills. Gift box designing is a job that would no longer exist without a sense of financial and operational discipline. Fabrice Lepine, the CEO of Wonderbox, relates how his company remains at the top.
Fabrice, you hold a double Master’s degree in engineering and business administration from blue ribbon schools in France. How did you come to this business?

Fabrice Lépine: Having both an engineering degree combined with a business school diploma helped me to get a sense of entrepreneurship and management. Being rational, I used the scientific field to develop my analytical skills. My arrival, at the very beginning of Wonderbox, when there was only a handful of employees and the company was just a year and a half old, led me to shoulder all the brand’s growth. My double degree enabled me not only to remain intellectually thorough and get the business in shape, but also guarantee rigorous financial management methods, intrinsic to our business model. This double training also kept me from making a few mistakes….

What is precisely the brand’s value proposition, as an intermediary?

FL: Originally, our job is to sell gift boxes to people who, most of the time, wish to offer them as a gift. The current market, in the broad sense of the term, being quite wide, it was indispensable for us to stand out. Our value proposition is therefore based on experiences and emotion sharing: we offer adventure! Actually, the first boxes made available by Wonderbox were sport-themed.

Furthermore, our job evolved, but always with the same core value proposition. We became also a “content aggregator”, with partnerships including a great number of suppliers. We listed them in a booklet so that customers could first make their decision, and then make their reservation by means of a gift voucher.

What about tourism professionals? How do they benefit from this intermediation?

FL: Tourism represents 50% of our activity, be it hotels, nights (with or without meals), stays (with or without activities). The rest is evenly spread between sports, gastronomy and wellness.

Firstly, we offer a new customer base to tourism professionals, one that will be booking not only in the busy period, but also during off-peak season, or during the week: such a present often implies booking at a time of the year which is not in our habits.

We also enable them to advertise and promote their company. Our professional photographers go on premise, and take pictures, which our partners are free to use for their own communication. The activities we offer are released on booklets printed up to nearly 150,000 issues. Their services are therefore listed within a national distribution network, as well as online. All of this helps them promote their services efficiently.

Unlike the other players on the gift-box market, our tour-de-force has been to put together, in the form of packages sorted by topic, thousands of varied services proposed with a simple price list, and distributed on a national scale. We succeeded in assembling an offer which, until then, was completely scattered. We distribute it on a national scale, and to some extent, internationally. Beyond that, we also advise and support our providers to help them show their service in the best possible light. 

How would you describe the corporate culture at Wonderbox, and how does one master innovation processes in such an emotion intensive business?

FL: We have always tried to develop our structure while keeping a start-up state of mind. Ever since we started, we’ve placed three principles at the base of the business: innovation, self-transcendence, and constant improvement. We arrived in the second place on the market, and as soon as we started, we were facing a powerful and well-established competitor. But this only fuelled our quest for excellence. We also remain very cautious as to quality aspects, while making customer feedback a critical issue for us. 

Those are the pillars which founded the Wonderbox philosophy and upon which we have been building. Innovation, for example, which is the marketing team’s assignment, is the consequence of many trials and market feedback. We believe the best way to design a product consistent with what we wish to offer is by having consumers test it. We analyse the feedback in order to improve the product and our approach. We keep an open mind and try not to have any limits. And ultimately, there is no better market survey than real-life testing.

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