Women executives in retail #1: Karine Schrenzel – The big boss of e-commerce.
Karine Schrenzel, co-founder and director of the Shopinvest group and CEO of Les 3 Suisses and Rue du Commerce. © Shopinvest
Women who have reached senior positions in the retail world are (all too) rare, not to mention invisible, which is why we decided to get to know them better by inviting them to tell us about their career paths, the challenges of the past and those of the future.
We begin this special series devoted to women bosses with Karine Schrenzel, French co-founder and director of the ShopInvest group and CEO of 3 Suisses and Rue du Commerce. This is an opportunity for us to hear about how she is reshaping the act of buying online and about her experience as a female company director.
You’ve taken over a number of e-commerce sites, including 3 Suisses, Rue du Commerce and Bijourama.com. How do you decide which companies to buy?
The main thing that guides us is the search for a brand that speaks to everyone, as well as real expertise when it comes to sourcing and creating products. On the high-tech side, we were incredibly lucky to be able to take over Rue du Commerce, a pioneer of the French e-commerce sector that launched in 1999, while on the fashion and homeware front, we got the opportunity to purchase 3 Suisses, a brand with cross-generational appeal. Of course, the existence of partners and suppliers who follow us and help us to develop is another major factor.
How do you manage to humanise the online shopping experience?
I believe it’s vital to bring a more human dimension to the world of e-commerce, which tends to be efficient but cold, and we take into account the specific characteristics of each site in our efforts to do this. With Rue du Commerce, for example, we try to have a lot of interaction with customers through product ratings and reviews, whereas with 3 SUISSES, the return of the catalogue was obviously part of this dynamic. We also decided to interview 10,000 women who’ve been helping us to create the brand since we bought it and to adapt our product range by promoting young French DNVBs through our 3S x Impact programme.
ShopInvest acquires 3 Suisses in 2018. © ShopInvest
What are the major challenges facing 3 Suisses?
3 Suisses is 90 years old, and we’ve plenty to do over the course of the next 90 years. Our aim is to once again become the firm favourite of French men and women alike by offering a carefully selected range (rather than an endless list of products) and increasingly responsible products. Since the takeover, we’ve implemented a major change in that we now opt for a lot of goods produced in France for our own products, as well as short distribution channels and more carefully curated collections to avoid overstocking. The 2nd challenge we face is developing the ecosystem of French entrepreneurs that exists around 3 Suisses, and with this in mind we’ve launched the 3S x Impact programme to support young, committed entrepreneurs, enabling them to really get off the ground and access distribution channels with larger databases, while they bring us a very varied and unique offering for our consumers.
You talk about short distribution channels, but is it possible to produce the goods in France?
It was, admittedly, a big challenge and it still is, every day, because we wanted to ensure that 3 Suisses remained an accessible fashion brand, especially in the current climate. So depending on the product, we’re sometimes faced with stock shortages because we’re producing less, and we’ve also been forced to cut our gross margins because, of course, producing goods in France is more expensive, but on the other hand, we also have less excess stock. Producing in France clearly means reinventing ourselves and learning to adopt a different product pathway, but one thing for certain is that the French expertise is still there and that it is indeed possible to produce goods here.
There are still very few women bosses out there. What made you want to start your own business?
Being an entrepreneur is obviously very demanding, but it’s also very exciting. What I love is building, creating and having a team adhere to the same vision. I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. My paternal grandmother was a great source of inspiration to me. She had quite a tough life but she worked hard, spoke five languages and was extremely cultured, and she taught me to always try to outdo myself. I started my professional life in quite a traditional way, first with a consultancy firm (McKinsey) and then with an investment fund (Cinven), and I was lucky enough to meet some extraordinary entrepreneurs, which made me want to do it all the more.
You seem to have an unblemished record. Have you faced any failures in your career?
I don’t think it’s possible for everything to go well all of the time. Being an entrepreneur is all about being prepared to throw yourself into it, knowing that the reality will never be exactly how you expect it to be and that you may have to change your entire business plan. I started out in men’s cosmetics, for example, and studies predicted that the market would explode in the next few years with growth of 150-200%, yet the reality was more like 3-4%, so I decided to stick to what I knew, which was buying sites, as I’d worked for an investment fund. That’s how ShopInvest was born; you have to be able to reinvent yourself.
Do you feel that being a woman boss makes a difference?
With regard to work, I’ve always put the emphasis on skills, both my own and those of my team, meaning that, when it comes to recruitment, I’ve never favoured men or women, and as a result we have almost perfect gender equality at ShopInvest today. I don’t feel I’ve had to adopt any sort of code that I wouldn’t normally adopt in order to manage my business, although maybe I do offer the team a more personal, human dimension.
Karine Schrenzel and her husband, Olivier Gensburger © ShopInvest
You have three children as well as being a company director. How did you strike a balance?
I go home every night to put them to bed and often go back to work afterwards. It’s often a mad rush, but I’m lucky enough to work with my husband, Olivier Gensburger, and we’re a real partnership built on trust because we’re moving forward together with the same vision and the same desires. The fact that we can support each other and help each other out if need be is undoubtedly one of the real keys to ShopInvest’s success today.