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Meet the Franchisor: René Desmarais of Yves Rocher

PhotographeBy Diane Peters
In France, the name Yves Rocher is as well known as Coke or Pepsi, and has clout in Quebec, too. That history, along with the challenge of raising the brand’s profile across North America, attracted seasoned executive René Desmarais to join Yves Rocher North America as CEO four years ago. “I saw an awful lot of potential,” says Desmarais of the cosmetics company that focuses on botanical-based beauty products.

Desmarais had formerly worked in the food and media industries and was now set on both streamlining and expanding the company. While the brand dates back to 1959 in France, it’s only been in Canada since 1986. The company sells its products through mail order, the Internet and, until recently, only operated corporate stores, the majority of which were in Quebec.

Desmarais spent his first years with the company improving internal systems. For instance, all Yves Rocher customers get a direct mail package every three weeks; Desmarais made sure that system worked more efficiently and the branding visually matched the company’s other marketing efforts.

More recently, he’s focused on launching Atelier of Botanical Beauty stores across Canada, most of which will be franchises. The first outlet opened last June in Edmonton and by the end of the year, Desmarais expects to have 32 open across Canada. (Some stores will be revamped corporate locations, and some of those corporate stores will become franchises.)

The outlets sell Yves Rocher products, including lotions, shampoos, perfumes, makeup and soaps, and offer spa services such as facials. All of the company’s products have been recently repackaged and reformulated to contain more botanical ingredients.

Yves_Atelier_storefrontDesmarais has plans for an aggressive expansion of the new concept. The company will have 75 stores (a mix of corporate and franchised) across Canada by the end of the year; he expects that number to reach 120 in five years. While there are currently no locations in the U.S., Desmarais expects to open stores there as well.

To those who might suggest a man is not the ideal leader of a cosmetics company, the CEO insists Yves Rocher products are well used at the Desmarais household. He brings home new products regularly for his wife and daughters, and is often asked to restock their supply of skin products and bath cubes. His wife is such a fan that she’s been known to pay full price at retail when her favourite products run out, instead of waiting for her husband to get her more.

Desmarais also keeps a good stuck of products on hand for himself. He often uses the company’s anti-fatigue cream on his legs after a jog or ski. He’s got the entire men’s skincare line and is a devotee of the company’s day cream.

“I use my company’s products every day,” he says.

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