Innovation & Know-How

“The Independence of Valmont: A Powerful Driver Amidst Fierce Competition”

Cristina D’Agostino

By Cristina D’Agostino28 novembre 2023

In a market saturated with competition, Valmont, the Swiss luxury cosmetics brand owned by the Guillon family for 37 years, stands out as a maverick. In the face of an influx of new brands emerging each year, Sophie Vann Guillon, CEO of Valmont, believes that independence and the strategic choice to focus on highly concentrated and qualitatively superior formulations can resonate more strongly than a profit-at-all-costs approach.

Valmont General Manager Sophie Vann Guillon and Geneva-based beekeeper Stéphanie Vuadens (DR)
Sophie Vann Guillon, CEO and owner of Valmont, with her partner Didier Guillon (DR)

During the launch of a new range of cosmetic products in Milan, Sophie Vann Guillon, the CEO and owner of Valmont, alongside her partner Didier Guillon, invited customers to explore the brand's universe in a pop-up located in the chic Brera district. The spotlight was on the latest creation from Valmont's laboratories: "Elixir des Glaciers, Essence of Bees," encapsulating a blend of honey, propolis, and Swiss royal jelly in an oily form. Positioned as a daily ultra-premium skincare line, this collection underscores Valmont's commitment to bee conservation, which Sophie Vann Guillon wants to extend beyond a mere partnership. Surprisingly, in the refined world of luxury cosmetics, activists and lobbyists from the sector were present alongside the CEO, including Beelife. An NGO focused on pesticide regulation, use, and impact, Beelife is committed to the Common Agricultural Policy (PAC) and was present at the press conference. Stephanie Vuadens, a beekeeper based in Geneva, also highlighted the sector's challenges through her foundation, Arche des Abeilles, dedicated to protecting domestic and wild bees and educating the younger generation about their importance. This commitment aligns with the candid approach of a cosmetics leader who refuses to conform to the dictates of the financial sector.

The l'Elixir des Glaciers brand is in partnership with four institutions committed to the protection of bees: Fondation Arche des Abeilles, whose Maison Valmont sponsors 20 hives (pictured), BeeLife, Beekeepers Foundation and Pollinator Partnership (DR)

What are the challenges that concern you today in the cosmetics sector?

The oversaturation of offerings! Nowadays, everyone is launching their cosmetic line, backed either by bankers or by large corporations with significant liquidity. There is no longer an exercise of talent or authenticity. Our vision is different! Valmont has been fighting for 37 years to uphold its values of quality and extreme care for the skin.

So, independence is your strength…

The Elixir des Glaciers brand donates 20 euros per product purchased to help protect bees (DR)

Yes, it's better to produce less but with the ambition to do it very well. My driving force remains innovation, as an expression of faith, not out of economic necessity. Upon my arrival at the brand, I thoroughly studied the five factors of skin aging: loss of water, energy, homogeneity, wrinkles, and sagging. Five ranges were born from these five focuses. The Élixir des Glaciers line was created as a tribute to nature, a sovereign range composed of extremely concentrated ingredients (note: 5 to 15 times more concentrated), such as royal jelly, whose cost is currently 3500 francs per kilogram. The other two star ingredients are DNA and RNA, the iconic couple at Valmont. It's worth noting that we are ECOCERT certified, even if the ingredients are not necessarily plant-derived, as I prioritize biocompatibility.

Do you aim for the verticalization of the production of your products today?

We don't need to verticalize production; I have enough confidence in my partners.

Aren't you afraid that your suppliers might be acquired? And if so, do you invest in these laboratories?

La Quintessence des Glaciers, the ultra-luxury Elixir des Glaciers box, is produced in a limited edition of 500. Sold exclusively at Maisons Valmont, it is an artistic box designed by Didier Guillon in a Bauhaus-inspired style (DR)

No, because our relationship is strong. These are large, highly specialized laboratories. While acquisitions of independent houses are accelerating in other luxury domains, such as leather goods, it's not yet the case in cosmetics, but it could become so. What I see is a proliferation of insignificant small brands that make noise and divert attention. There are many disguised expressions of money; brands focused on return on investment.

Have you been approached by major groups for acquisition?

Yes. But they know that I love what I do. It's a genuine passion. Remaining independent today is a commitment. I will be proud the day I manage to convince everyone. At Valmont, we love creating beauty and quality through science in a luxurious expression.

You have 1800 points of sale. Do you aspire to increase your presence?

We aspire to maintain our purity, a human scale, and share with our community, which has the same expectations. When we launch a new product, I don't necessarily calculate my cost price; I always start with the skin. And that's what delights and stimulates the entire technical team. We can load up on active ingredients. Our products are five to fifteen times more concentrated, for example, in the Élixir des Glaciers line. Of course, the prices are in line, ranging from 150 francs to 750 francs for Valmont and from 250 to 1000 francs for the Élixir des Glaciers range. At Valmont, there are no arithmetic tumbles or unreasonable price increases as seen today. Our prices have remained almost the same for years.

The Valmont Pop Up set up for a week in Milan last October (DR)

What is missing in your strategy today?

A better recognition of the excellence of formulas and their biocompatibility with the skin. We are craftsmen serving the skin. Our strategy is to continue opening Valmont Houses. In 2024, we are opening in Los Angeles, on Rodeo Drive, with all the elements that define our 18 Valmont Houses worldwide: products, treatment cabins, and art exhibitions.

How would you define the spa business? Is it just a way to get your customers to buy your products, or is it a business in itself?

It's a business in itself, less lucrative but very interesting because we work on the skin in-depth. All our teams of technicians in white coats are true experts. Valmont spas are present in 200 hotels worldwide, and we will continue our expansion at a rate of 20 spas per year because that's where the Valmont magic happens. We have an excellent conversion and loyalty rate following a treatment. Hotels appreciate us for this, especially since Valmont sells 50% of turnover in products, a very high average compared to the general average of 25%. The same applies when we provide a sample. Out of four samples, one client is acquired and loyal, thanks to the very high concentration of our products.

One of Maison Valmont's spa cabins (DR)

What was your turnover in 2022? And have you noticed a slowdown in sales worldwide since the third quarter of 2023?

Yes, we have observed this slowdown. The world has changed, and consumption is more thoughtful. Therefore, it is strategically essential to stick to our core business, which is, of course, the very high-quality product and effective cabin care. Since the end of the pandemic, people need to focus on what nourishes their senses: touch, art, and music. This aligns perfectly with Valmont Houses, as we have been deploying these senses for a long time. Our retail turnover is nearly 300 million. A return to pre-Covid normal (with a turnover of 400 million) is expected in 2025. It should be mentioned that I have cleaned up a lot of uncontrolled markets, around 40 million in gray market, and it's not finished. These are challenging actions that require courage, which some groups do not have.

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