Entrepreneurs Forever 2014 | Version française

Bernard Reybier

CEO of Fermob

He transformed an SME into a must-have brand through design and going international.

Bernard Reybier has just celebrated his 25 years of work at Fermob: 25 years of happiness: spent imagining, building, sharing, innovating, and conquering. There is no doubt that the story of this little metalworks which became one of the most attractive brands in the field of garden furniture, with its iconic models on exhibition in the most prestigious museums, will be a long-term text-book case.

At the origin of this success was the inheritance of a certain family spirit, and a highly colourful career.
In 1975, Bernard Reybier was selected, with four other students, to go and discover the nuances of the Syrian market for the CFCE (French Centre of Foreign Trade).

We all know how fragile a company can be.
At Fermob, I have the responsibility and constant concern with the future.
I must ensure the respect of the company's DNA, and its financial prosperity, and I strive to discover and develop the talents of my teams, with the objective that one day... I will have nothing more to do!

He returned tinged with ‘’Middle Eastern” hues, and embarked as an intern for the exhibition-cruise of a Rhone-Alpine SME in refrigerated transport, between Alexandria and Kuwait. He was hired as an Export Sales Assistant, and put together a multicoloured address book, from the countries of the East to Asia Minor. «That first job helped me immensely. I became more independent and gained a better understanding of both international trade and the Arabic mind-set. »

From 1978, he worked for the international American group Black and Decker, where he had a highly pigmented set of jobs in marketing, from Product Manager to Division management. « Seven superb years, a magnificent school of international responsibility, and which aroused my taste for product development. » Whilst he was looking for a company to buy, he was offered the job of Sales Manager for the Reybier Cheese Company – no longer a family connection – at the time of its merger with the Entremont group. He set up the marketing division of the new structure – 4 billion French francs at the time – and went back to his project.

The specification sheet was clear: a manufacturing company, mass market products, exportable,
and located in the Rhone-Alp region. He found the rare gem on the banks of the Saône river: a family metalworks, with no sales or administrative organisation, almost exclusively mono-product, and suffering from competition coming from plastic goods. « I had the intuition of possible ways to develop. Iron is the material of ideas, it expresses line-width, the drawing you have in your mind. »

He painted a niche strategy – product innovation and globalisation –, with four decisions on his palette: to cease selling to hypermarkets, to announce to all the press the come-back of iron in garden furniture, the first contacts would be abroad, and there would be a resolute commitment to design.

He invented colour for garden furniture in 1996, in a world which was too often monochrome, and in doing so, took some radical industrial decisions, and called in designers to design contemporary products. He rolled out a real branding strategy as from 2005, with a mass market catalogue hoisting the colours of Fermob: joie de vivre and respect for the environment.

Everything was ready for him to continue with his fresco: Procurement practices were introduced for fitting-out in 2010, acquisition of the assets of Roland Vlaemynck in 2013 broadened the range to textile products, a company was acquired in China in 2014. He brushed up a rainbow future for Fermob. « Our objective is to reach €50 million sales and 250 staff, to join the ranks of the ‘’country-brands”. »

The happy CEO defines himself as an ‘’enlightened autocrat.’’ « I am the protector of values, ideas, and products, the enthusiastic project holder, a traveller interested in world evolutions, for himself and for the company. » For EMLYON, he is an ‘’authentic lamplighter” who shares his tastes and his colours.

EM Lyon: Grande Ecole 1975
Translation : Carole Bausor, ILTC
Date de parution : 12/09/14