Pochet SA - Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on Pochet SA

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History of Pochet SA

With an activity dating back to the 17th century, Pochet SA has remained a force in France's glass-making industry by focusing on its core product: perfume bottles. Since the 19th century, Pochet (then known under its glass-making arm Verreries du Courval) has been the leading producer of perfume bottles for the world-renowned French perfume industry. The company works closely with top industry designers to fashion the bottles for nearly all of the top perfume names, including Dior, Guerlain, Yves Saint Laurent, Kenzo, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Calvin Klein. Perfume bottles account for some 54 percent of Pochet's total sales, which neared EUR 320 million in the difficult 2002 year. While bottle-making at the group's historic Verreries du Courval site remains the company's primary focus, Pochet has extended its expertise into two related areas. The first is plastic packaging, through its Qualipac joint venture with Tarkett Sommer, which enables Pochet to offer its perfume clients the possibility of creating integrated accessory lines, including bath care items more appropriately packaged in plastic. Qualipac contributes 19 percent to the company's sales. Pochet acquisition of Lalique in the 1990s has enabled the company to extend itself beyond packaging into the product itself, adding the famed Lalique line of crystal and other luxury products, as well as a globally operating chain of 70 boutiques, half of which are owned outright by Pochet. Lalique adds a further 27 percent to Pochet's sales. France remains Pochet's single largest market, at more than 43 percent of revenues; North America represents 31.5 percent of sales, while the rest of Europe adds another 20 percent to the company's revenues. The company remains quoted on the Euronext Paris Stock Exchange, despite the fact that the Colonna de Giovellina family, which has been the force behind the company since the 1930s, owns more than 98 percent of Pochet's shares. Gabriel Colonna de Giovellina has led Pochet as CEO since the early 1980s.

Perfuming Bottle Specialist in the 19th Century

The modern Pochet represented the combination of two small, family-owned companies, Verreries du Courval and Deroche-Pochet, in the 1930s. The older of the two was Verreries du Courval, founded in the first half of the 17th century in the French glass-making region center of Normandy located in the Bresle valley. That region had originally been chosen by ancient Roman occupiers for its extensive forests, which provided a ready fuel supply for the glass-making process.

Glass-making became a privilege of the French noble class, in part because glass products long remained luxury items reserved for the nation's wealthy. In 1623, the Countess of Eu, an important medieval fortress town in the Bresle valley, granted the nobleman François le Vaillant the right to build a glass-making workshop in Le Courval. In exchange for the right to work glass, le Vaillant agreed to buy the wood needed for his furnace from the Countess d'Eu's lands.

The Verrerie du Courval, as the site became known, originally produced window panes for the houses and castles of the French aristocracy. Le Courval began producing as well a variety of glass bottles in the 18th century. The workshop remained under its noble ownership until the late 18th century. The swelling discontent with France's ruling class that resulted in the revolution of 1789 led ownership of the Le Courval site to be transferred to a local notary and non-noble. The fact that the glass-maker was owned by a commoner allowed the Verrerie du Courval to escape the wrath reserved for other glass-makers still held by the noble class.

By then, another important name in Pochet's history had begun business. In 1780, Pierre Deroche founded his own crockery workshop in Paris. After the French revolution, however, the Deroche family turned toward the porcelain industry, becoming one of the most prominent porcelain firms in the city during the early 19th century. Deroche, which became known as Pochet-Deroche by the 1830s, soon began to specialize in the painting of porcelain objects, making the company a luxury products specialist. In addition to porcelain painting, Pochet-Deroche began painting glass objects as well. These activities placed the company in contact with Verrerie du Courval, for which Pochet-Deroche became the Parisian distributor.

Deroche continued its porcelain painting activities throughout the 19th century, becoming involved in the earliest years of the photography industry (early photographic efforts were rendered as paintings on glass). Meantime, the Verrerie du Courval had responded to another developing new trend--that of a market for perfume bottles. While France had long been associated with perfumes, the rise of new, industrialized manufacturing techniques, as well as the development of new synthetic ingredients, gave a new boost to the perfume industry in the first half of the 19th century.

The du Courval glass workshop responded to the rising demand for perfumes by producing bottles designed to contain perfumes. This soon became a company specialty; until the late 1850s, however, perfume bottles were fashioned to contain any perfume. Yet the creation of the first "designer" perfume, created by Guerlain for the Empress Eugenie in 1858, launched a new industry--that of the perfume bottle. For his new perfume, called "Eau de Cologne Imperiale," Guerlain called upon du Courval, which created a distinctive bottle for the perfume.

While the Guerlain bottle remained a limited edition, it helped establish the du Courval name as a pre-eminent maker of perfume bottles. Throughout the rest of the 19th century, bottles remained more or less separate from the perfumes themselves. Customers brought their empty bottles to perfumeries and pharmacies to be refilled. Yet the creation of a wealthy middle class, an offshoot of the Industrial Revolution, introduced a new demand in the perfume industry.

The "nouveau riche," eager to show off their wealth, began to look upon the idea of refilling their perfume bottles as miserly. A number of noted designers recognized this trend, and a new breed of perfumes, which featured their own, designer-crafted bottles, was born. Among the first and longest-lasting of the new generation of perfumes was that of famed designer Coco Chanel. Designers and perfume-makers now turned to the du Courval site, which quickly adapted to the demand and began specializing in creating perfume-specific bottles.

Modernizing in the 20th Century

Following World War I, the Pochet-Deroche company came under the control of two brothers of the Colonna de Giovellina, who had served as officers in the French army. Renamed as simply Pochet, the Paris-based company abandoned the porcelain market by the 1930s. Instead, Pochet bought up the Verrerie du Courval. Under the Colonna de Giovellina brothers, Pochet had become a specialist in perfume bottles.

Until the 1930s, the du Courval site had continued producing its glass bottles largely as it had done for some three centuries, that is, blow-molded and by hand. The Colonna de Giovellina family now turned Pochet toward modern manufacturing techniques, in particular by installing new molding machinery. Pochet did not, however, entirely abandon the traditional glass crafting techniques--certain limited editions, large-scale and prototype designs were to remain at least partly hand-made into the next century.

Nonetheless, the new modernized techniques enabled Pochet to grow with the booming demand for designer perfumes in the 20th century. The late 1960s in particular saw enormous growth in the perfume industry as a new wave of clothing designers, including Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent, revolutionized the perfume industry. By then, the perfume bottle itself had become one of the most important factors in the marketing of new perfumes, with many consumers buying their perfumes as much for the distinctiveness of the bottle as for the perfume itself.

In 1971, Pochet, which by then had already established itself as one of the leading French perfume bottle makers--and certainly the leading specialist--once again modernized its production facilities, installing new equipment that enabled it to automate the entire bottle production process. Pochet's revamped facilities enabled it to keep pace with the increasing demands of perfume-makers, which, in order to differentiate themselves in an increasingly crowded market, began seeking more and more elaborate bottle designs. In turn, Pochet began investing in research and development in order to introduce new techniques and effects. By the early 1980s, the company's sales had grown to nearly FFr430 million (approximately $65 million).

Diversified for the New Century

Pochet remained firmly under control of the Colonna de Giovellina family. In 1983, a new generation took over the leadership of the company when Gabriel Colonna de Giovellina was named Pochet's CEO. With a background as an engineer, and eight years working for a pharmaceutical company, Colonna de Giovellina began looking for opportunities to expand Pochet's operations. Joined by Hubert Varlet, who was named CEO of Verrerie du Courval in 1985, Colonna de Giovellina now sought to diversify the company beyond its core perfume bottle market.

Yet Pochet remained close to its perfume and bottling specialties. In the mid-1980s, the company recognized a growing trend among perfume makers, which were then beginning to expand their perfume brands across larger lines of bath and beauty accessories. Yet Pochet's glass specialty remained inappropriate for certain applications, especially bath products. In 1986, Pochet extended its molding expertise into plastics. While this operation grew slowly--representing just 3 percent of the company's sales at the beginning of the 1990s--it enabled Pochet to gain experience in the range of plastic materials and also kept it close to the needs of its perfume maker customers. The following year, the company moved closer to the fast-growing North American market, establishing a subsidiary in the United States dedicated to finishing bottles crafted at its Bresle valley facilities.

Pochet remained company-owned until the late 1980s, when a branch of the founding family sought to sell out its shares. In 1989, powerful French conglomerate Compagnie de Navigation Mixte bought up a 30 percent share in Pochet. With its new shareholders deep pockets, Pochet stepped up its expansion. For this, the company looked for partnerships. In 1989, the company joined with luxury goods maker Hermes to form Castille Investissement, which then acquired money-losing Cristalleries de Saint-Louis. Colonna de Giovellina himself took control of the famed crystal maker, bringing it back into profitability after just two years. The success of the Saint-Louis partnership encouraged Hermes and Pochet to add to their partnership. In 1991, Castille Investissement acquired famed Parisian silversmith Puiforcat, which had established an international reputation for its silverware, tea service, and other tableware.

That year also market the start of another important joint-venture for Pochet when the company bought a 50 percent stake in Qualipac, the plastics packaging unit of France's Sommer Allibert. That joint-venture represented Pochet's full entry into the plastics market and grew to represent some 30 percent of the company's revenues by the end of the 1990s.

Pochet's diversification drive enabled it to post strong growth into the mid-1990s, with its sales rising past FFr1.1 billion by the end of 1994. By then, the company had expanded again, this time on its own, eyeing renowned French glass designer Lalique, in which Pochet had held a 9.4 percent since the 1950s. In 1994, Lalique heir Marie Lalique agreed to sell out control of her family's company to Pochet.

Meanwhile, differences in opinion on how to approach Saint-Louis and Puiforcat, both of which had slipped into losses during the difficult economy of the early 1990s, led Pochet and Hermes to end their partnership in 1995. Pochet now regrouped its operations around its core Verrerie du Courval, which produced more than half of the company's revenues, and the Lalique and Qualipac operations. Pochet also went public, listing its shares on the Paris Stock Exchange. The 30 percent of Compagnie de Navigation Mixte came under control of BNP Paribas; Pochet's actual free float never topped 10 percent.

Lalique ran into difficulties in the late 1990s, particularly as the collapse of the Asian and South American economies slashed at a large part of that company's sales. With Lalique slipping into losses, Pochet responded aggressively, expanding Lalique's chain of boutiques, which reached more than 70 stores worldwide at the turn of the century.

Pochet too experienced difficulties at the turn of the century as the collapse of the 1990s stock market boom combined with the September 11, 2001 attacks to force a downturn in the perfume and luxury markets. In response, the Colonna de Giovellina family moved to take back full control of Pochet, launching a share buyback offer. By 2003, the company had succeeded in acquiring more than 98 percent of the company, including the more than 33 percent held by BNP Paribas. By then, however, the continued difficulties of the perfume sector, which contributed to a drop in Pochet's sales from nearly EUR 400 million in 2001 to just under EUR 319 million in 2002, had forced the company to shut down one of its four furnaces. Nonetheless, Pochet maintained a solid position as the world's leading perfume bottle maker--backed by a history stretching back 380 years.

Principal Subsidiaries: Lalique; Verreries Pochet et du Courval; Qualipac (50%).

Principal Competitors: Compagnie de Saint-Gobain; Pilkington plc; Compagnie Financière Richemont AG.


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