The Moodie Davitt Report brings you the latest instalment in our popular series Ten Easy Pieces*, in which we get up close and personal with leading travel retail personalities via ten snapshot questions.
In this edition, we meet Blue Storks Founder and Managing Partner Arnaud Fauvarque, a quietly-spoken young Belgian who is intent on a long ‘flight’ in travel retail.
1. Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Brussels, Belgium.
I love my country and city for its culture and people. By being a small country in the centre of Europe, and between countries that have been fighting each other over the centuries, I think that Belgians have learned to be discreet and humble, to make compromises, and, most importantly, to use the strengths of their neighbouring countries. Without our neighbours, we really can’t survive because our national market is simply too small.
I believe that we are also appreciated by all nationalities, because we are not too French, not too German, not too Dutch; we speak several languages and we can make fun of ourselves.
2. A Bachelor and two Masters (with honours) degrees in Business Engineering. Why did you choose that line of study?
To be honest, I just followed my friends from school to university. I didn’t know what to do in the future. Business Engineering is very general. You study all aspects of business: finance and marketing, but also statistics, physics, sociology, philosophy, chemistry, mathematics or languages. It’s not so different from school.
At the end of my studies, I didn’t want to follow the same path of all my classmates. Instead of going to one of the big consulting companies or banks, I felt that I had to go for something different. I started to make a list of fast-growing small companies in Belgium with high potential for international development. And thankfully, at the end of 2009, I found Ice-Watch, the well-known Belgian watch brand.
3. From Belgium to Brazil…how did that happen?
I went twice to Sao Paulo in Brazil. The first time was for a student exchange programme, and the second time was for Ice-Watch.
As a student, I didn’t want to do the same of my classmates who were looking to go to the best universities in the UK, or the USA for their student exchange programme. Instead, I decided to go for Fundação Getúlio Vargas in Sao Paulo, which is regarded as one of the best business schools in South America.
Competition between the students for this destination was small because they probably thought it was a dangerous destination or because you had to learn a new language, Brazilian Portuguese.
4. Ice-Watch marked your first step into the business world. How and why did you get involved with that company?
I first saw Ice-Watch on a TV show showcasing young, booming and successful Belgian companies. I checked the brand’s website, and I saw that it was not represented in Brazil.
Luckily, then, in 2009, the company was small and it was easy to contact the Owner/CEO of Ice-Watch, Jean-Pierre Lutgen, directly. I offered Ice-Watch my services to open the Brazilian market, and, thankfully, they accepted the challenge without hesitating. Once I had opened the Brazilian market for Ice-Watch (and, at the same time experienced the Rio and Sao Paulo carnivals!) the brand’s International Director hired me to join the new international department in Brussels.
My task was to find new potential national distributors and to strengthen relationships with current distributors. I was asked to secure a listing on Air France and the launch on the airline proved so successful that I was given approval to develop a totally new market for Ice-Watch: travel retail.
I was working long hours, juggling travel retail and my position as an Account Manager for national distributors. In January 2011 Ice-Watch gave me the opportunity to work solely on travel retail and to dedicate more resources to the TFWA trade shows.
I met my business partner Frederik Westelinck at Ice-Watch. When I left the company for other projects related to the fashion industry, he took my position as International Travel Retail Manager.
5. Why Blue Storks and where is its niche in travel retail?
Firstly the name. I simply noticed that some parking lots in Brussels use a combination of a colour and animal to define a parking place. It is indeed easier to remember ‘pink rabbit’ than a parking lot number, something like D215 floor -3. So, we had the idea to do the same. Blue, for the sky; and Stork, because it is said to fly further than any other bird.
At Ice-Watch, Frederik and I saw the difficulties a new brand faced trying to get into travel retail. He and I had the idea to create a commercial agency which could introduce young brands into the ‘sixth continent’.
Many of the travel retail operators have become so big, that they have lost some flexibility to introduce new suppliers and retail concepts. They must focus on their own profitable core categories and well-known international brands. At Blue Storks we say that those brands are the ‘cake’ of travel retail. They are so profitable that the industry has become a bit fat and slow in terms of innovation.
On the other side, you have young booming brands which we call the ‘cherries’. Those brands are sold in the best stores worldwide, such as Selfridges, Moma NY, Harrods, Lafayette, Colette and La Rinascente, but they are hard to find on airlines or in airports. They are so successful that they don’t have the resources and time to build a specific marketing strategy for travel retail where everything is so different from classic retailing. The pricing, the packaging, the displays, the conditions, the communication (B2B and B2C) etc., are all very different from what is needed in other channels.
By highlighting the ‘cherries’, we offer travel retail operators the opportunity to have something different from other retailers.
Instead of keeping a motto like ‘We are cheaper. Buy the brands everybody knows at the airport’ we have opted for ‘We are full of surprises. Buy at the airport’. Instead of focusing on the price, we focus on the retail concepts for which discounts will not be the first incentive to encourage purchase.
Our first two contracts were signed with Procter & Gamble/Braun/Tax Free Trade and with Daniel Wellington. Today we work as an external travel retail team for more than eight brands including Ögon Designs smart wallets, Cluse watches & jewellery, Komono watches & sunglasses, Paul Hewitt bracelets and watches, Ice-Watch watches, Jott jackets, Happy Socks, Izipizi reading and sunglasses and Hugo Boss writing instruments.
6. Do you have a mentor?
Here I need to answer for Frederik as well. The two people we admire the most in the industry are Gunnar Heinemann and Colm McLoughlin. They are both a great source of inspiration; both men who have succeeded in spreading a strong culture of respect – on all sides, employees, travellers and suppliers – across their organisations.
When we were starting up they both took time to speak with both Frederik and me, to give us some good advice for the future.
“The two people we admire the most in the industry are Gunnar Heinemann and Colm McLoughlin.”
I think it is quite remarkable that, with all the business priorities they must handle, they still took some time to speak with us. Frederik and I remain impressed by their humility and sympathy.
7. Two of your passions are playing the piano and paragliding. Do you think they show the two sides of Arnaud Fauvarque?
That’s a question I have never been asked before! Since I can remember I have always been a fan of classical music. As a young child I could listen to Chopin over and over again without ever getting tired of it.
When I was at college I set myself a challenge; to play the music myself. I bought a piano with a self-learning module and after several months of intense learning, the unimaginable happened: I could play the melodies. I had to play some parts hundreds of times before succeeding and it took a lot of practice to make it work (also on the part of my roommates!).
Unfortunately, today I do not practice much. But I believe I will start again with my future kids.
And paragliding. I have always dreamed to fly and this sport is one of the easiest way to achieve that dream. A newcomer needs one week of training to be able to fly alone. Flying is the easiest part; the most complicated is the take-off and the landing. When you are in the air, you hear nothing. You are alone; it enables you to think and distance yourself from your daily challenges. It’s almost like meditation.
8. Not long ago you were sharing an apartment with seven mates. How did a wedding on the Greek island of Paxos change your life?
After university, I didn’t want to settle in a small apartment and enter in the ‘classic’ adult life. I’m not a person who likes to be alone, so, along with seven best friends, I moved into a big villa, set in several hectacres of wood, outside Brussels. We had no loans to repay, no kids, no wives; just a career to start and some money to spend.
I was working hard and playing hard. At one party we had more than 300 guests in the house and the gardens. But that kind of life can’t last forever. At another party I was lucky enough to meet my wife. I quickly wanted to move out and give a real sense to my life.
Today, at 33-years-old, I am the happiest husband, with an amazing wife and a lovely dog. We opted against a classic rainy wedding in Belgium, during which you have to smile and say hello to hundreds of people you hardly know, and invited our closest friends and family for four days in an idyllic area, the Greek island of Paxos. A life changer.
9. What is your favourite destination?
My favourite destination is home.
I travel so much, in and out of crowed cities and airports, that I need a place to rest and chill far away from the traffic and pollution. I live in the countryside, surrounded by nature, fields, cows, horses, birds, chickens and many other wild animals.
I am glad to say, that with my wife and my dog, I feel I am living in heaven.
10. Where do you see yourself and Blue Storks in 15 years’ time?
First, I strongly believe that work is not everything in life and that the right balance between work, family and sports makes you even more efficient in business. To be successful only in business is almost easy I would say; the more complicated part is being successful in both family and business.
Frederik and I want to spread our basic values throughout our organisation. We want our employees to be happy at home and every day at work. We are in a comfortable and well-designed office space, with a lot of light and a special room to relax with grass, sofas, a ping-pong table, dart game, a swing, free coffee, etc.
At Blue Storks, the people are first and the future is bright.
In 15 years, Blue Storks should be the unavoidable agency for Fashion & Accessories in travel retail, with a mix of in-house brands and young, booming and highly-desired brands.
I hope to have flown with it. My goal is all about happiness and the lifestyle I would like to have.
*PREVIOUSLY FEATURED TEN EASY PIECES PERSONALITIES INCLUDE: