Author: Andreea Hirica
“In the late Parisian summer of 1869, several men and one woman gathered near the junction of seventh and sixth arrondissements to witness the laying of a corner stone. It is unlikely that they had come a great distance that particularly warm day, since many Parisians, including the well-to-do, still lived in or near their shops, workshops or offices.
In such a setting and such a mood we might well imagine the scene as Aristide Boucicaut, his wife and his principal associates laid the cornerstone for the first department store in France. (...) Boucicaut would be nothing less then candid when a few years later he would distinguish the first completed section of the new building from its rivals and Bon Marché’s own past with the proclamation that this was “The only (store) specifically constructed and entirely intended for a great trade in nouveauté.” (…) Excerpts from: The Bon Marche: Bourgeois Culture and the Department Store, 1869-1920 by Michael B Miller.
This triggered and is part of the basic business and economic transformation that so significantly marked the nineteenth century in France and elsewhere: from the revolution in retailing that can be traced to the appearance of new kind of stores – dry goods firms known as “magasins de nouveautés” up to the formation of the department store.
Le Bon Marché, the French iconic department store that inspired Emille Zola’s novel turned 160 years, this month.
Not only did Bon Marché inspire Emille Zola but it has set the basis for the modern retail store, for selling to Parisian ladies in a totally different manner and for distance sales in itself. Aristide and Marguerite were the first who managed to target the new middle class woman and attract her to a fantasyland where all types of goods were available and where she could go un-chaperoned. Also, as dreamlike as it might have seemed at the time, she was able to touch the fine fabrics, try the clothes at her will, attend fashion parades, cultural events and have sales people trained to be her loyal counselors. At the fashion avant-garde, Aristide re-imagined the prêt-à-porter standards, re-designed the feminine silhouette and imposed a sophisticated vision on the modern and elegant Parisian woman (la “Parisienne”).
Marketing and Sales
Among their marketing and retail innovations: fix pricess, home delivery, distance selling, articles exchange, seasonal sales, the white month, catalog and correspondence selling.
Culture and Retail
At the avant-garde of cultural movements, Aristide and Marguerite had cultural happenings entering the retail world for the first time: private concerts inside the store and dedicated exhibitions: in 1873 a large concert is being held in the store’s entrance hall, harmonizing twenty five choir singers and artists, conducted by the republican guard chiefs. In 1875 a fine arts gallery is opened at put at the disposal of painters and sculptures rejected within the Official Saloon.
The department store in 1929. Image Credit
In the context of the emancipation of women, Aristide and Marguerite are the first to introduce the profession of women dedicated sales person; thus the profession of “demoiselle de magasin” becomes a highly aimed position. Named also “the red” owners due to the high and various benefits they have introduced for their employees, they were the first to put at their employees’ disposal a free canteen, free medical services, a savings system, a pension savings house, and also to give them the possibility of taking evening music, fencing and English classes.
Fashion, The Woman and her delights
While the Anniversary event is not the most innovative (the artistic craft and celebrity branding are at their best, whereas the authentic concept and strategic coherence end up suffering: case study of a brand unable to leverage its heritage into inspiring the present and future) its beautifully crafted history is so fascinating in itself that no retail, shopping, sales professional or simply fashion and women lover should let it pass un-explored.