Daily CSR
Daily CSR

Daily CSR
Daily news about corporate social responsibility, ethics and sustainability

European Gift box market: French Wonderbox to reinforce leadership through acquisitions


In barely over a decade, the gift box market in Europe has shot from practically non-existent to a near-billion-euro market, over 20% of which is covered by Wonderbox which is nearing 200 million euros in annual sales. End of the line? Not so sure : there is still movement on the market, and therefore more room for acquisition from Wonderbox, namely in Northern Europe. And maybe all over the world, afterwards.

It took a while, but it came through. After initially aiming to open simultaneous branches in different countries, upon founding Wonderbox in 2004, founders Bertile Burel and James Blouzard were forced to reconsider. Realizing they were still to consolidate the basis of their founding business, they closed down their American shop after three years of fruitless effort. This new start opened a long phase of organic growth.
Founder Bertile Burel says: « For almost 3 years, we just got exhausted. We were just too small to fight on two simultaneous fronts. Hence our decision to close our American subsidiary.» Realizing that any external acquisition required massive and relatively risky investment, and all the more when foreign acquisitions were involved, it became apparent that organic growth was to be opted for, to give the company time to consolidate things home. 

After a dozen years of solid growth, both in France and Southern Europe, the company records a turnover of €200 million today which it aims to double by 2020. This naturally requires commercial innovation to maintain consumer loyalty on mature markets, and identifying growth drivers abroad to go and get market shares where nothing’s still set in stone; in this particular case, in northern Europe. Wonderbox CEO Fabrice Lepine explains : “Our main areas of growth are, on the one hand, to go to countries where we are not yet and on the other hand to continue to bring innovation to the market. We want to launch a second brand in the markets where we are already present to look for a younger clientele, with a different value offer.”
Then the French company has entered a new phase of acquisitions, aiming to keep it on top of the market. After purchasing the Belgian company Vivabox in 2015, Wonderbox pursued its expansion strategy with the acquisition of GiftForYou, a Dutch company, in 2017. Regarding the latest, Lepine declares: “Going to the Netherlands wasn’t our first idea. When entering a structured market, there are always barriers to  overcome; hefty investment is needed to deploy, with no guarantee of seeing our money back. When we acquire a company, everything must be done to integrate it properly to the rest of the company. This also implies understanding how it works, so as not to disrupt its operation”.
However, these acquisitions do not amount simply to new territories, they also substantially brighten the surface of Wonderbox’s offers with a scaled-up value proposition. As Lepine details, commercializing “a box with an activity and a product inside, it is something that is already done in Belgium under the brand Vivabox. We want to bring it to France and Spain because this concept allows to have a gift right away in the box and a gift later with the activity. Because today one of the brakes to the specificity of our product is that the activity is realized a few weeks or a few months after the gift is received. The advantage of Vivabox is to have a gift right away and a gift later.”
His reasoning was quite similar when he drove the acquisition of the GiftForYou, less than two years later. The Dutch company, which owns a collection of 56 gift boxes, gives Wonderbox the opportunity to create synergies by pairing the expansion of its retail network further North, with the launch of a new market segment: the inclusion of plane fares within high-end boxes. “We have a network of about 25,000 partners, says Lepine. In Europe, we offer close to 80,000 activities, and we’re distributed in 10,000 outlets. Overall, we sell around 2.5 million boxes per year.” Enough to enable Wonderbox “to sell Italian holidays to people from Belgian or from France.
For all that, it is no easy task since the company has to be connected 24 hours a day via computers to all the tills of distributors and to manage the whole entire financial flow this way. Full traceability has become a key success factor, if not a condition for the survival of the gift box industry: “we set up an application in order for our partners to be paid as soon as they flashed the code on the cheque, claims Lepine. Our information systems management must therefore be very thorough. Beyond the gift box, we must allow durable growth for all the players of the value chain. This means, among other things, that everyone must be paid on time.”
Indeed, of the mistakes which inevitably be made in an exploratory and continental expansion, some may prove fatal. Hence the strategist’s risk assessment reflex: a bold and audacious spirit at the front lines, but sound and cautious management in the back.