AS CROWDS MISS GOAL, FRENCH RETAILERS SAY THE CUP IS NO COUP
Byline: Katherine Weisman
PARIS — “We’re no fans of the World Cup,” said Jean-Michel Hallez, director of the Galeries Lafayette flagship on Boulevard Haussmann here.
Hallez might have been voicing the sentiments of many French retailers whose dreams of a World Cup overflowing with added business are not being realized, either here or in other cities in France that are hosting matches.
Despite a sense of gaiety symbolized by a flag-draped Champs-Elysees, despite the crowds surging through France for this quadrennial soccer tournament, despite the media coverage and the worldwide attention, retailers are getting no kick from the Cup.
There are exceptions, notably among some of the designer shops. Gucci, Prada and a new Valentino shop all report gains they attribute to the event. Most retailers sing a different song.
“We are perplexed and a little worried, since sales are down about 5 percent compared with the same period last year,” said Hallez. “The odd thing is that we were running about 8 to 10 percent ahead in the first five months.”
Hallez acknowledges that he had been warned about the Cup’s empty promise.
“I was at a department store conference earlier this year, and my counterparts at El Corte Ingles and La Rinascente, both from countries which have hosted World Cups [Spain and Italy, respectively], warned me and wished us good luck,” he explained.
Still, with all the media hoopla and government promises of booming revenues, Galeries got caught up in the event. The store set up an 11,000-square-foot World Cup selling space for sporting goods and licensed World Cup products.
The space is profitable, Hallez observed, “but when you sell a [Brazilian soccer star] a Ronaldo T-shirt for 150 francs [$25], it does not replace the value of selling, say, a Lacroix dress.”
It seems that shoppers are steering away from stores or downtown locations to avoid the crowds — and even the possibility of violence they can deliver, as seen in Marseille and Lens over the past two weekends.
“Our usual foreign clients that come this time of year canceled their trips because of the Cup,” said Bertrand de Talhouet, director of the Printemps flagship on Boulevard Haussmann. “At the same time, French clients think that the store and Boulevard Haussmann are packed, and they are not coming in the same numbers as last year. But they’re wrong — Paris is empty.”
Retailers can also forget about after-work shoppers. The French are trying to get home as early as possible to watch the matches on television.
De Talhouet said it is too early to judge how Printemps sales are being affected by the World Cup. The week of June 8 was down, he noted, but the weather here was cold and rainy. There was an increase the following week.
Even if foreign tourists canceled or postponed their usual visits to France because of the Cup and the crowds it produces, the number of shoppers from abroad is up at Printemps but short of projections, de Talhouet said.
It isn’t just department stores that are suffering. Variety stores and specialty chains are also reporting poor results.
“The World Cup tourist is just not our target customer for apparel or home furnishings. They want to buy food,” explained Thierry Ferrandin, the director of the Prisunic variety store on the Champs-Elysees, noting that the store increased its stock of snack foods. “Our business had been really strong, prior to the Cup, thanks to the revamp of the Champs-Elysees. But we are not experiencing a surge in sales because of the Cup,” Ferrandin said. “We have a lot of people coming in who are not buying, and that’s a disappointment.”
There is at least one exception. L’Oreal’s Kit Couleurs Visage — face painting kits — which are displayed near the entrance are selling very well, with increases coming whenever there’s a soccer match in Paris, Ferrandin said.
Free, a junior store on the Champs-Elysees, noted that products it developed specifically for the Cup — tight T-shirts and dresses imprinted with flags of the participating countries and retailing for about $38 and $54, respectively — are a hit, said Michel Zberro, president. Otherwise, business is flat.
“The World Cup does not bring out the fashion consumer,” noted Zberro.
Red-hot retailer Tati, a mass market merchant, reported robust sales at its stores in tourist locations like Montmartre, as well as for its Tati Or jewelry outlet at Place Vendome.
Tati brought out lots of Cup products, from T-shirts to beach towels, even including an Eau de Toilette du Coupe du Monde, but a bestseller is the 18-karat gold World Cup mascot, a bird called Footix, sold at Tati Or for some $25.
On the luxe side, Comite Colbert, the French luxury goods association, has set up visits to design studios for the French organizing committee’s VIP guests.
There has been an increase in the number of shoppers from Brazil and Mexico frequenting Prada and Gucci stores, as well as Valentino’s Faubourg St. Honore shop.
A spokeswoman for Valentino said the Faubourg store is posting a 15 percent gain in sales compared with the same period last year. At Prada, sales are up, and the company is attributing the increase to the World Cup, a spokeswoman said. During this time of year, there are not usually a lot of customers because they are waiting for the seasonal sales that begin on Friday, she noted.
At Hermes, sales are “normal for the month of June,” according to Jean-Louis Dumas, president. “All big events have consequences on our sales, but other factors besides the World Cup are playing a role.”
He declined to elaborate.
Christian Dior reported an increase in traffic from Latin American customers, a spokesman said. There should be a real uptick in sales when the Cup competition moves into another round at the end of this month, he added.
“That’s when the big sponsors and their clients will come to Paris,” the spokesman noted.
A Chanel spokeswoman said there has been no visible effect on business from the World Cup, but noted that the company opened its Rue Cambon store for three hours one evening so that the wives of international soccer federation officials could shop privately. Lanvin organized three fashion shows Wednesday to show this year’s fall/winter collection at its corporate headquarters here and set up a large screen so husbands of wives attending the show could watch Cup matches that were being televised at that time.
The only product Lanvin developed for the event is a Panama hat with changeable ribbons in the colors of all the participating countries.
Lanvin president Gerald Asaria said it is too early to judge the Cup’s effect on overall sales.
Louis Vuitton is experiencing sales gains, especially at its new store on the Champs-Elysees, but that unit has been showing increases over last year since its opening in February, according to Jean-Marc Loubier, marketing and communications director.
Players from Brazil and Cameroun have already visited the store, as well as some Japanese businessmen, he noted. Louis Vuitton offers VIP tours to its museum in Asnieres, just outside Paris, a service provided year-round.
Vuitton has stores in Toulouse, Marseille, Lyon and Bordeaux, all of which host Cup matches. Sales are up, but Loubier could not attribute the gains to the Cup. Like many other companies, Vuitton closes its Marseille unit at 4 p.m. on match days, following the riots on the weekend of June 12.
The hooliganism in Marseille hit numerous retailers. The windows of Galeries Lafayette were broken, goods were stolen, and losses came to some $17,000, said Hallez.
A spokeswoman for sportswear maker Cacharel said the Cacharel boutique in Marseille was vandalized and two main windows broken. Damages there also came to roughly $17,000. The store now closes at 4:30 p.m. on match days.
The spokeswoman noted that June is normally difficult for the brand’s stores because shoppers wait for end-of-month sales.
To try to keep damages to a minimum, the mayor’s office in Marseille put strict limits on the amount of alcohol stores can sell to individuals and restricted the hours in which bars can serve drinks. Since then, other French host cities have enforced similar security measures.
Some retailers, like the department stores, are hoping the foreign clients who usually are here at this time of year will show up later this summer.
“But it’s not certain,” said Galeries Lafayette’s Hallez. “With the Air France strike, France’s image abroad is not exactly excellent.”