Made in Greece. Having taken the Greek market by storm with its. Folli Follie makes a global statement

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1 GREECE REPORT Folli Follie October/November 2005 Made in Greece Folli Follie makes a global statement By Martin Moodie Folli Follie is one of the luxury industry s most unlikely success stories the tale of an independent family jewellery company founded in 1982 with a single shop in Athens that has flourished into a vibrant force on the international stage. Besides its own business it is also a key shareholder in Hellenic Duty Free Shops. And it has plenty of ambition left, as the company s senior management told Martin Moodie recently. Having taken the Greek market by storm with its high-quality but affordable fashion jewellery in the 1980s, Folli Follie set about creating a global brand name a decade later. Success was quick in coming, and so was diversification. In 1994 Folli Follie launched its watch line and in 1995 the company entered the Japanese market. Today it describes itself as a fashion accessories company and is ranked among the top ten luxury brands in Japan. In 1997 the company was listed on the Athens Stock Exchange, allowing it to accelerate its growth both in product assortment and in geographic expansion. Crucially it also allowed Folli Follie to gain direct control of its international distribution network and vertically integrate its operations. In 2003 Folli Follie bought a 40% share in Hellenic Duty Free Shops in cooperation with the Germanos Group of Companies, part of a dual push into what it perceived as the pivotal duty free and travel retail sector. Along with fast-growing business with other retailers (notably DFS Group), Folli Follie s stake in Hellenic has helped boost its international branding in this high visibility channel. Talking to The Moodie Report at Folli Follie s stunning offices in Athens (next door to those of Hellenic), Managing Director George Koutsolioutsos (son of the founders, Dimitri and Ketty) talks enthusiastically about the travel retail channel. The environment in airports has changed a lot, especially in terms of shopping entertainment. In the past it was very tobacco and liquor orientated, but there are so many ladies travelling today who are independent. They are not travelling like they were 20 years ago just for leisure and on vacation, but for other reasons such as their job and they are looking for brands. So it s completely changed. For a brand like ours it s a very important distribution channel because you enhance your brand awareness as well as making sales of your 130 The Moodie Report

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3 October/November 2005 GREECE REPORT Folli Follie The look of luxury: Folli Follie staff are engrossed in the culture, the stores and the product product. It s an incredible channel. New Business Development Director Johnnie Voutsas adds: That s pretty much the mission statement. We want to create a global brand, and this channel is the perfect match because we are creating global customers. The route of a brand company investing in a retailer is hardly a well-trodden one in duty free the notable exception being LVMH s acquisition of DFS Group. But Folli Follie s move was different, says Koutsolioutsos. For us Hellenic was not a financial investment but a strategic one. This distribution channel has become very important for every brand. So we felt that having an interest in a company in this sector for the future would be strategic. We think that Hellenic Duty Free still has a lot to do. Even having only Greece as a market [for now] there is still lots to do in terms of introducing new products and new concepts. At many busy airports the retail space is limited but there will be upgraded terminals in the future... even with the same traffic we could do much more if we had more space. And overseas expansion? If there s a good opportunity we ll Folli Follie now positions itself as a diversified fashion accessories brand look at it, but it s not as though we have to buy another company to enter new markets. Remember, there is still a lot of growth in Greece and Hellenic has some unique characteristics as a European duty free operator. It has a lot of duty free business on the border, plus exclusivity and long-term status. We also like markets that are emerging, like Greece was years ago; where there s no real duty free or travel retail business yet but where you can secure exclusivity for 25 or 30 years. And there are several markets in that situation. So we re very keen to get into airports and then create volume. But repeating the measured tone of Hellenic s executive management, Voutsas says: There are plenty of cookie jars, but we want to control the enthusiasm to grab all the cookies. It s a neat analogy. Folli Follie has chosen its commercial cookies with great success to date. The selection has been a careful one, and not a single cookie has crumbled. Folli Follie on the record: page 135 The Moodie Report 133

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5 October/November 2005 GREECE REPORT Folli Follie How is your travel retail business structured? George Koutsolioutsos: We have a separate department that deals with travel retail, direct with airlines, downtown shops, airlines and so on. Johnnie Voutsas: And while it s a separate unit that shows the commitment of our company we are also on both sides of the fence as both supplier and retailer. So we see a very close link between the local market and duty free. In South Korea, for example, traditionally travel retail is run as a totally separate business by multinational companies they don t allow the locals to touch travel retail. We feel that, because we are relatively new in the market and we are collecting intelligence in the local market, it is best to have the local market supporting duty free this gives us a lot of information to make adjustments. So on the one hand it s a separate unit but it s always in co-ordination with local markets. How far are you down the road to being a global brand today? Koutsolioutsos: We have a lot to do. We re not present in many countries, even in Europe. And especially we re not in the USA yet. So we think it s a cycle that needs another 5 8 years. We have to open new markets, but the results are coming much faster than we expected. The USA will come in the next two or three years maximum. Then we will really have the momentum to go all the way. Voutsas: One example of our global growth is that by having a location at, say, Heathrow Airport we were able to collect information from different nationalities. It was using intelligence from different locations like Sloane Street in London or travel retail at Heathrow that gave us the confidence to open in the Middle East. Not only that, but also the mix of products that we could use in order to launch it correctly. ON THE RECORD with Folli Follie Johnnie Voutsas George Koutsolioutsos So it s a fast but measured expansion, one in which controlled distribution seems to be the key. Koutsolioutsos: We now have almost 300 locations. From the beginning we believed that it is very important to control our distribution. So actually wherever we are we have 100% subsidiaries in important markets. For controlling distribution this is very important, rather than relying on franchises or distributors. Voutsas: Our staff know the brand very well. They re able to service the customer by providing more storage and so on. Folli Follie staff are engrossed in the culture, the stores and the products and that helps, especially with people who don t know us. Koutsolioutsos: In the past companies have failed because they did not control their image. If you rely on distributors it s very hard to control them. And if they make mistakes you often don t find out until a later stage, by which time the damage is done. In the past we have seen many companies that are now luxury global brands that started out with a distributor-based way of expanding their franchises. But at the end of the day they ended up paying huge amounts of money to regain control of their distribution. This is crucial to us. Of course as we go global there will be many smaller markets where the franchise is the ideal way to expand but in important or strategic markets we want to control it. And you re going to do that with a three-pronged attack led by jewellery, but also with fashion accessories and watches? Koutsolioutsos: We started with jewellery but now we re talking about a fashion accessories brand. Jewellery remains the biggest part of our business, but we have an incredibly fast-growing watch business which is 30% of our turnover now. The Moodie Report 135

6 GREECE REPORT Folli Follie October/November 2005 Then we have a growing 6 7% of our business which is handbags. We also have sunglasses and scarves, as long as it comes under ladies accessories. How much can you stretch the brand without diluting it? Koutsolioutsos: You never thought 20 years ago that you would one day go to a Bulgari shop and find a handbag in the window. That s completely changed now; the customer expects to find a full range of accessories. So a fragrance, for example, fits? Koutsolioutsos: Of course; sunglasses, fragrance, scarves. We have a fragrance but we are going to use the watches and the fragrances once we become global to reinforce our brand awareness. And we will have to take them out of our own retail network because they are different. You have to sell your perfume and your watches in specialist stores and so on. Voutsas: One of the keys to our success has been the positioning of the brand, which is fashionable affordable luxury. We re in very prime addresses, such as Central in Hong Kong, and you can feel the atmosphere when you enter the shops. It gives you a luxury feeling, but the price is very affordable It s a positioning that creates huge demand. This trend we see as fundamental to our success and it s going to carry on. You re a young brand that has emerged in key regions such as Asia, despite often difficult market conditions during the past decade. Koutsolioutsos: Yes, but we think that when you enter a very weak market it gives you good momentum, especially in Asia. Before the Asian economic crisis it was difficult to enter the market because even if you had the money you couldn t find the shops. There were waiting lists everywhere, the rents were double, the advertising was double and you couldn t easily find qualified people. But in 1998, which saw the worst days of this recession, we had a very fast penetration into this market in Hong Kong, South Korea and other places. We took the opportunity to find shops at a half or a third of the price. And you could make pretty good deals at the time with advertisement companies with good returns. It was also much easier to persuade high-quality managers to embark on this train that was starting off. We have always moved quickly. We may be a multinational company, but we have a great ability to say We like this product one day and have it in the shops the next. Uniquely I think for a fashion company, we are able to have in-between fashion collections every 45 days. Usually fashion is twice a year and you produce six months beforehand. So you have to try to project what will be the consumption for the season for the next six months. If you make a mistake there is no possibility of producing inbetween and selling mid-season. We have the ability because we control the production to be flexible. And we are learning all the time. And the obstacles to growth? Voutsas: I don t think it s a case of obstacles to growth. The market is there; the trend is there. Being able to manage the growth is the big challenge. We have managed to do it over the years but as the years go by the growth slows because you re dealing with larger numbers. Is being a Greek company on the international stage an advantage or a disadvantage? Voutsas: With jewellery Greece has a very big tradition that goes back to ancient times. So jewellery has history, and with brands you need history. So to say we are a Greek company is a plus. We didn t choose a Greek name, because it was hard to find a Greek-sounding name that would have the characteristics to become a global brand. So we chose a name that was Italian and fashionable. It means craziness, which means easy-going and you can pronounce it in any language. Koutsolioutsos: Let me tell you that in Asia there is great respect for Greece as a country because of our history and our culture, so it s a big plus. In Europe it s less so people have forgotten a little bit. We re creating a trend here, and hopefully there will be followers. We think we can create Made in Greece to be a statement. It s a big opportunity. And it can be done. Look at Spain. Going back 30 years, to have a fashion statement coming out of Spain was inconceivable. Suddenly there were Zara and others, and now there is a real statement in fashion. The same has happened in the UK and the USA. 136 The Moodie Report

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