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This is certainly bad news, which shows the fragility of the wine professions in these times of Covid and which will make a lot of noise: the Lavinia store, the iconic wine merchant on boulevard de la Madeleine, will close its doors on Saturday 9 January evening. One of the most beautiful wine showcases in Paris draws the curtain, after twenty years of ambitious work to raise the reputation of the best French and foreign wines in the capital.
What happened ? After a difficult start in terms of profitability, the brand created in 1999 by Thierry Servant, former boss of L’Oréal Spain and his partner Pascal Chevrot, ended up posting remarkable performances: nearly 40 million euros in sales business in 2015, including 17 million for the Madeleine store alone, its flagship. From its creation, Lavinia Madeleine had seen big and astonished Paris, offering in its shelves 3000 references of French wines and especially 2000 references of foreign wines, an opening beyond our borders totally unknown in France at the time.
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Under the direction of Yannick Branchereau, son of an Angevin winegrower trained in sales at Castorama and recruited as general manager from the start, the brand had developed a remarkable culture of permanent diversification. Opening of a restaurant where you could drink any bottle of the store without corkage duty (up to 2 million euros in turnover per year), development of a very profitable spirits department, distribution of wines to restaurants via the Vins du Monde subsidiary, corporate gifts, gift boxes for individuals, online sales, home deliveries in the West of Paris, store opening in Madrid, Barcelona, franchises in Ukraine to Kiev and Odessa, subsidiaries in Hong Kong, establishment in La Défense, specialized distribution with the purchase of the Augé boulevard Haussmann cellar … the brand innovated every year, with some success.
The group employed up to 150 people, including 60 in the Madeleine store (with the restaurant). In 2012, Thierry Servant and Yannick Branchereau were elected wine merchants of the year by La RVF. The two men cultivated a real bond.
Clouds have been accumulating since 2016
And then came the drama. On December 28, 2016, in Switzerland, the industrious Thierry Servant fell during a mountain walk and was killed at the age of 64. His daughter Charlotte, 31-year-old heiress, a graduate in history and public law, decides to take over the group with her husband Matthieu Le Priol, a former pollster (TNS, Harris) who became marketing manager in the cosmetics industry, in Nestlé Skin Healthcare. Two courses very far removed from the wine industry in a difficult context: the relationship between Charlotte and her father had been notably strained for several years.
Eighteen months later, Charlotte dismisses Yannick Branchereau, whom she replaces with her young husband as general manager. A few months earlier, the group had to part ways with the brand’s charismatic wine buyer, a large margin purveyor, also at the helm of the Augé cellars, convicted of harassment and sexual assault.
From then on, bad news followed for Lavinia. The turnover fell by almost 30% the following year. And the significant rent in the Madeleine district (more than 1.2 million euros per year) weighs too much when the demonstrations of yellow vests erupt in the beautiful districts then the Covid, which plummets the frequentation of the store.
The Covid, in fact, also cut the taps of foreign tourists visiting Paris and fond of iconic bottles, which represented nearly 5% of turnover. Barcelona have closed, Ukraine has not responded since the Orange Revolution and the situation is tense within the group.
Last April, Lavinia sold its Vins du Monde subsidiary and its allocations to prestigious foreign domains such as Vega Sicilia, Harlan Estate or Pingus. The distribution of quality wines to restaurants is over, while online sales have never taken over. Charlotte Servant and her husband, who were planning to completely redo the La Madeleine store by offering themselves the services of the very chic architect Pierre Yovanovitch, give up in the face of the deterioration in results.
After the closure of the Lavinia La Défense store, a business district that has been deserted since the rise of teleworking, here comes the turn of Lavinia La Madeleine. According to our information, Charlotte Servant and Matthieu Le Priol wish to continue selling wine under the Lavinia brand, but primarily on the Internet. Not easy: the sale of wine online, subject to the terrible law of permanent price comparisons by consumers, has become a very difficult profession. And we can clearly see that those who are doing the best are the producers or traders who also sell their own wines on their own sites, thus cumulating the producer’s margin and that of the distributor, such as the Moueix family (Duclot ), the Bernard family (Millésima) or the Castéja family (La Grande Cave, 1jour1vin). This is not the case for Charlotte Servant and Matthieu Le Priol who, when asked by La RVF, did not wish to answer our questions.