Régis Pennel, Founder of the L’Exception Concept Store
How is the link between an e-shop and boutique established? How are brands selected by retailers? These types of questions typically attract plenty of answers, not always unequivocal and using different criteria. Among the successful models in France is the name l’Exception. Originally an e-shop for designers, the site progressively developed into a boutique as well as a ready-to-wear line. To understand the stakes as well as the nuts and bolts of such an enterprise, we spoke to the founder, Régis Pennel. He explained to us how such a machine develops, from the creation of a concept and the development of its identity, to the transition from digital to physical.
Can you briefly explain the values that l’Exception has stood for since its creation?
Since its creation in 2011, l’Exception has defended the idea of fashion that is creative, fair and sustainable. We go out and look for the best brands to offer our clients, originally based in France, but now international. Our aim is to create the ideal wardrobe that we want to wear.
Concretely speaking, how do you select the brands that you carry?
We find new brands at trade fairs, at showrooms, or on social media. We also receive lots of lookbooks every day. First, we have to be attracted by the style of the brand, which has to appeal to our clientele, but we also take into consideration the price of the product, the quality, how it’s made, and the values put forth by the brand. As of 2020, we are only taking on brands that align with certain eco-responsable or social engagement criteria.
Did you open a boutique as a natural extension of the e-commerce site or was this part of the plan from the very beginning?
I have always wanted to have a physical representation of l’Exception, an experiential place where we can have concerts, cocktail parties, like we did when we opened Canopée in 2016. The boutique now represents a very important part of our turnover.
What criteria do you use to decide which services will be offered in the store?
We try to offer our clients a holistic all-channel experience, so you can do everything at the boutique: pick up an order, return something bought online, come and try on something you saw online during a personalised appointment, pay for merchandise with a variety of digital options, etc….
Can the identity of a concept like l’Exception evolve over time?
Yes, we’ve evolved a lot since 2011. Originally, we were a very womenswear-oriented boutique (over 80%) with only French designers, mainly upscale. With time, we spread more and more into the menswear territory, and today menswear accounts for more of our sales than womenswear. And we show equal love for brands like AMI Alexandre Mattiussi as we do for brands like Carhartt or Levi’s “Made and Crafted.”
Which challenge has proven to be the biggest learning experience?
Covid-19 for sure… we’d never experienced a situation in which we had to immediately close our store and watch as sales fell substantially, including online. We’ve been in permanent reaction mode, as we tweak the security of our logistics, inform our clients, modify our services in real time, and set up numerous last-minute technical developments. Every day there’s a new mess to deal with: package pick-up points closing with many orders stuck inside, the post office not servicing many zip codes, DHL deciding to no longer pick up packages, etc…. We have learned how to be reactive and always put the client and his/her safety at the heart of our services.
Online, how do you ensure that the client has maximum information about the products?
In a perfect world, we’d love to provide 3D or video views of the products… but the problem is that a mutli-brand shop has a much smaller margin than a single brand (and even smaller during sales.) With some products, sales don’t even cover the costs of photographing the product. We’d love to do more, but we have to find the balance between sales and the cost of representing a product online.
After a first boutique, what is the next step?
We have just launched a new service called “la Boîte par l’Exception” or “The l’Exception Box.” Our stylist, Margaux, selects an assortment of pieces for our clients that are sent in The Box. The client pays nothing upfront, selects the pieces he/she wants to keep, and sends back the rest. We only process the payment once the client sends back the pieces he/she doesn’t want to keep. So far, the feedback for this new service has been excellent and we are going to develop it over the coming months!