Business Essentials for Professionals

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


Wonderbox recently acquired two leading brands – namely Vivabox and Gift For You – respectively in Belgium and in the Netherlands, in order to scale up its European leadership efforts. What is the aim of this northbound strategic move, in detail? 

FL: This new Northern Europe-bound momentum is enabling us to settle into countries where we aren’t operating yet. Rather than starting from scratch and creating a structure with all the risks involved, we proceed through external expansion, by buying a local player. We therefore integrate companies who do globally the same job as we do, and then harmonize common values. This was the case with Gift For You.

In Belgium, a country in which we were already operating, we tried on the contrary to develop on the base of a different concept. We are striving to give new dynamics to our offer elsewhere by exporting new offers on mature markets. This was the case with Vivabox, and their concept « a gift now, a gift later » which we considered could be easily adjusted outside Belgium.

Wonderbox is already the French market leader. How could the Vivabox concept improve the offer to consumers? 

FL: Vivabox offers a gift immediately, and a « voucher » for a gift later. It’s a big box, as you need to be able to put an item in it. It can open new market segments, where conventional gift-boxes don’t have a place. For example, children could be interested in an « amusement park » box in which we could insert a board game. For teenagers, a sports box, with smartphone equipment inside, such as batteries. Our customers being in the 30-35 age group, we did not have any products aiming to attract these age groups, up to now. But I believe Vivabox has the necessary assets to target a younger segment. 

Can you tell us more about the range of services provided by Wonderbox in Europe? 

FL: We are working on 4 main themes, with a network of about 25,000 partners. In Europe, we offer close to 80,000 activities, and we’re distributed in 10,000 outlets. Overall, we sell around 2.5 million boxes per year. Our network is therefore very wide, with many partners. It is not easy to manage but it gives us the possibility of rolling out on the continent: the network we have in Europe could enable us for example to sell Italian holidays to people from Belgian or from France.

Ensuring that things get well done by your trading partners is probably no easy task. How do you deal with the need for harmonizing your quality standards across countries in Europe, considering the countless operators you work with? 

FL: Our internal listing processes always work in two steps.

The first one is based on the use of external quality requirements or ratings. We work with labels which are from the outset a guarantee of quality of the partners, for example « Gîtes de France » for B&B or « 5 Mondes » for spas. This bolsters the quality of our offers. 

The second step is our own, from the moment we select the partner up to the signature of the contract. Our field sales representatives start by going to meet the prospects. We make sure on site that the offer is compliant with our quality requirements. If the provider is selected, our photographers then go on premise to take pictures in order to enrich the communication media. 
Once « operations » have started with the partner, we carry out regular checks to ensure that the quality originally observed is maintained. We have various means to do so. The « dream testers » program is a part of it, and all of our staff is entitled to it, up to 500 euros worth per year. They go and do the activities they wish to experience, but in return they have to fill in a questionnaire and come back with pictures. This feedback enables us to make sure that what they experienced is what they would have experienced as paying customers. This program is also valid for our customers, or for any person outside the company who wishes to take on the role of the mystery customer.

Lastly, we have an internal rating system, which enables us to get feedback on our partners. Some can get selected as ambassadors, and others can enter our red-flag process. If they don’t meet our standards any longer, first a warning is sent. As a last resort, they risk being unlisted if they don’t get back up to the required level. 

You earlier mentioned the financial aspect of your business as an engineering process. What did you mean by that? 

FL: We do by essence a middleman’s job, since we sell prepaid gift vouchers. In order to complete this task, we are connected via computers to all the tills of our distributors, and manage all the financial flows this way. With 10,000 outlets and 2,5 million boxes sold, full traceability was indispensable. This is even more the case as the gift voucher is only valid once it’s passed through the till. On the other side, we have also set up an application in order for our partners to be paid as soon as they flashed the code on the cheque. Our information systems management must therefore be very thorough. Beyond the gift box, we must allow durable growth for all the players of the value chain. This means, among other things, that everyone must be paid on time. 

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