You are a self-taught business leader. Is this an advantage in your opinion?
David Lachaud: I obtained a DEA in marine geophysics, passionate about the study of the ocean floor, the geography of the subsurface, the motion of tectonic plates. But I did not want to work in the oil industry, which was predestined for profiles like mine, or even wanted to teach. In return, my summer jobs as a salesman gave me the intuition that I should pursue a career in commerce, and I was not mistaken.
I therefore turned to the brands that I appreciated as a customer. I knew a little about Nature & Découvertes, but I was quickly surprised and I wanted to use my scientific skills to the benefit of the brand. I quickly developed a passion for trading, which for me is a profession of connection, exchange and relationships.
Being self-taught was more common then than it is now. Profiles like mine were not uncommon in sales, especially in a sector of enthusiasts selling sometimes technical products. Today, it is true that more salespeople are coming out of business schools. Yet they have this desire to make sense of their careers by choosing, if not an activity sector, a company for which they share values and a shared vision.
You have spent your entire career in the same company. Why this choice?
LD: First and foremost because it is a company of enthusiasts, as I am, with a differentiating business model. There is good proximity between the sales teams and the customers. The latter enters Nature & Découvertes a bit like a museum, to discover objects they are not used to seeing. The products are taken out of their packaging, ready to be handled and tested. Salespeople do not chase customers while they remain available.
And it is not uncommon to witness lively and rich discussions between salespeople and customers who, in addition to the commercial exchange, share a common interest. When I’m out in the field myself, I ask salespeople to show me their latest news, and trapped in the conversation, I’m like a child!
What was your course?
I also started as a salesman, as an extra for the Christmas days in the Italie Deux store in Paris. The then store manager, now head of merchandising, gave me a chance and I became assistant store manager; I intervened in reinforcement or in replacement a bit everywhere in France.
I then came to the head office in the beginning of 2000, where I integrated the communications department to build the beginning of the digital strategy, which at the time corresponded to the launch of e-commerce.
Throughout my career, I have worked with passionate people, which is a real pleasure in everyday life. Also, if external professional opportunities presented themselves to me, I would never explore them.
You were commercial director and now deputy director. How was this transition?
LD: The first difficulty during this transition was being able to detach a little from the operational. For my part, I made this change gradually. I entrusted the commercial management to a division between the eight regional directors. Each temporarily held this position for 3 months before handing over to their colleague, etc. For a year and a half, everyone tried their hand at commercial management. One of them came out of the party and became the “legitimate” commercial director in everyone’s eyes. This initiative is interesting because it is not necessarily what I myself would have ordered for this position. This strategy gave me both the opportunity not to shorten the field and to raise the competencies of each of the regional directors.
And to you ?
In terms of my job change, I had to change my positioning and move from a day-to-day time scale to a more long-term vision. Where I used to have to solve problems when they arose, I have now taken a few steps back to reposition myself in a longer strategic cycle.
However, I keep the business strategy under my control, which forces me to constantly go back and forth between long and short time. Hence the crucial importance of keeping one foot on the ground. I manage to visit about two-thirds of the network of outlets each year (100 in total).
For the general management part, I had the chance to become a mentor by Antoine Lemarchand, who himself led the company for 12 years.
How do you find inspiration for good business initiatives?
LD: Above all, I listen to the teams. Very often good ideas come from the field. Store employees take care of all customer wishes, the first source of inspiration. I report this information from the field under operational committees, but also to management committees.
Afterwards, I have always thought that in order to be a good dealer, one must be a good buyer. Thus, as a consumer, I am aware of my own reactions and reflections.
Finally, especially since I became Commercial Director, I maintain my network a lot and attend meetings and professional events regularly. This allows me to share many ideas and discuss with my peers from other business sectors whose corporate news I follow.
In particular, I noticed the way Decathlon is redeveloping sports experiences and activities. A way to expand the experience around products that make sense. Another inspiring example: Leroy Merlin, who maintains the development of a craft fabric by offering to connect its customers with construction craftsmen, thus going beyond its role as a “simple” distributor.
More than 170 companies are certified B Corp in France. This certification, created by the American non-profit organization B Lab, was launched in 2006. Now established in 78 countries around the world, B Corp aims to encourage companies to optimize their social and environmental impact in favor of an inclusive , fair and regenerative economy.
In my opinion, it is a smart way to give trade a social role, which is inevitable today, whether it is in BtoC or BtoB, where such initiatives can also be implemented.
Nature & Découvertes was acquired by the Fnac-Darty group in 2019, marking an increasingly frequent phenomenon in the distribution world. Did you catch this passage?
LD: Nature & Découvertes is a family business, run for a long time by its founder, François Lemarchand, then by his son, Antoine Lemarchand, until March 2021. All employees were affiliated with it. The transition to a large group like Fnac-Darty gave cause for concern, but these were quickly dispelled. The group continues to give the brand the means to develop, even in the overseas departments and territories where we would not have gone before. And then, being affiliated with Fnac allows us to reach other customers through shop in shop.
Furthermore, with regard to the sales teams in the field, my presence was able to reassure some of them because of my seniority, which was a guarantee of safety for them.
How do you approach digital and e-commerce?
LD: I see digital as an extension of our stores, whose surfaces are still limited (max. 300 m²). The network makes it possible to continue to reference and complete already existing ranges towards especially more exclusive products.
With this in mind, I believe in the marketplace system that we use here at home through a drastic selection of salespeople. The important thing, in order to have a coherent strategy, is to set boundaries and select the best from the references you are looking for, both in terms of product quality and commercial conditions (product traceability, obligations, deadlines for shipping …) As for us can it for example be manufacturers of high-end optical or astronomical telescopes because we can not list everything in the store.
However, digital is still a complement to physical stores. If at some point some may have feared that outlets will disappear altogether, we have seen the rush to the pharmacies at the exits from the jail. I believe in their necessity. This certainly represents a significant investment, but even though we humanize the digital, there is nothing that replaces the in-store experience.
How do you envision the customer experience in 2022?
LD: I want to emphasize first of all that we have an NPS close to 80. This remarkable result is when we look at the details, linked to the empathy of the sellers, their expertise and their availability. This quality of our sales force has never changed since I’ve been in the business, which is a source of pride.
It does not prevent us from improving the customer experience in the store. Today, it is essential to combine the product sold with a learning experience. Offering activities to customers helps to “make a difference”.
Which means ?
The idea is to establish workshops in a dedicated area of the shop, in collaboration with local artisans: beekeepers, cutlery, oyster farmers, wine farmers, etc. Participants will be able to exchange know-how, test certain practices and seek advice. These activities may be related to products sold in the store. The goal is to make the point of sale a place of life, a place of commercial exchange, but also of knowledge.
In addition, we are also in the test phase of a new project to involve store employees in references. Today, our offerings are developed at headquarters. We are currently testing the integration of products that the store managers themselves have come up with, based on their own research on local artisans.
The goal is more: to anchor the store in its local ecosystem, to engage our partners and to maintain the store as being a unique place and not a marketed concept. This is where the added value of the point of sale lies!
1996: Vice Store Manager, Nature & Discoveries
2012: Sales Director and Store Network France, Nature & Découvertes
2017: Deputy CEO, Nature & Discoveries