Walking into the headquarters of members-only retail club Vente-Privée one is immediately confronted with a large collection of modern art. A giant David Mach gorilla made from clothes hangers welcomes visitors upon entry. Further along the hall,the famous clown portraits by photographer Erwin Olaf grin down on employees, while Jane Greenberg's controversial portraits of crying children gaze intensely at them.
art works are owned by Vente-Privée founding CEO Jacques-Antoine Granjon who, together with his co-founders, even features in a meters long David Mach creation, inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper. The Frenchman has been collecting art since childhood. The bigger his company became, the more walls he acquired on which to expose his collection. "I am a lucky man to be able to afford art and to have enough walls to hang it on," smiles the flamboyant Granjon. With his long, dark hair, deep V-neck t-shirt and many rings, he looks nothing like the average French businessman. Granjon is the brains behind the online flash sales model, which he launched in 2001. His company had been selling off the excess inventory of quality fashion brands to outlets for eleven years when he decided to start selling online. By making his website accessible to members only, he is better able to protect the image of the brands of which he sells stock. Currently there are approximately 400 to 500 companies worldwide which, like Vente-Privée, sell excess inventory online at low prices. One such company is the Belgian retail club Vente-Exclusive. Granjon, however, is not worried by the growing number of competitors. "People who begin with flash sales now have backgrounds in marketing, internet and banking," the CEO explains in a genuine French accent. "They do not possess the DNA to take care of brands. I have been speaking with brands for 28 years. I know what matters to them: the protection of distribution, the quality of the shopping experience and the maintenance of their image."
According to Granjon, the company's biggest strength is that he regards Vente-Privée as a business-to-business venture , instead of a business-to-consumer company. "When you sell brands at a low price, it is possible to destroy everything they have built in an instant. That is why I see our company as a B2B company, even though all our competitors see it as a B2C company. They are only interested in selling products to customers, while we sell brand inventory to our members. At the end of the day it is all the same thing, but our company philosophy is completely different. We look after the brand, because it is our first customer. And if we take care of it well, there will be a good discount, a good service and a good image and the customer will keep returning."
Vente-Privée refuses to advertise, not even investing in increased visibility on search engines such as Google. "We are Google-free," says Granjon, making the zero-sign with his thumb and forefinger. "I want to invest in my brand." By attracting high quality brand names, the businessman hopes to build up a loyal client base for Vente-Privée based on word-of-mouth advertising. "Consumer trust does not happen in one second; you don't get it by advertising. People come to Vente-Privée because a friend told them that he bought a pair of Nike trainers here for a good price. Our long-term strategy is for people to eventually say to friends and family: 'Wow, there's something here'."
Although a number of parties have shown interest in purchasing the company, Granjon is not yet done with Vente-Privée. The CEO fervently believes that this is just the beginning of e-commerce. "Commerce is 100,000 years old. According to the Bible a little less, but e-commerce is only 15 years old. The best is yet to come. But no, that does not mean the end of physical shopping, because we enjoy it. But sometimes, when the shops are full, when we're only passing through on our way to somewhere else, or we'd rather stay at home, then we turn to ordering on the internet or through our mobile phone."