By Elisabeth King
The 43 year old joined Clarins straight after graduating from the prestigious Institut Superieur du Commerce de Paris with a Masters degree in International Business and Marketing. A year as a travel retail product manager assistant was followed by a two year stint as a sales manager in Australia and a deployment in Singapore before becoming Export Zone Director and President of the Asia-Pacific region. Along the way, Zrihen worked closely with Christian Courtin-Clarins, the eldest son of the company’s founder and then President and CEO, who decided that his next career move was to head up a major subsidiary.
He was appointed President of Clarins Canada and then President of Clarins USA with the mission to make the brand a leader in skincare in the US. Success in the strategic role led to Zrihen’s promotion to President of the Americas in 2009, a core global position for the company. In 2015, he was appointed CEO of the Clarins Group. His mantra throughout his career has been that Clarins’ strategy should be constantly focused on giving more service to the customer. “Once you establish loyalty, you don’t lose the customer”, he notes.
Zrihen doesn’t operate by remote control and believes that senior executives should place a strong emphasis on building strong relationships with major retailers. “I come back to Australia regularly”, he adds. “I loved my time here in the mid-1990s, working in the joint venture between Clarins and Trimex under the leadership of Michel-Henri Carriol. I’ve probably been to more places around the country than most Australians such as Tamworth and Darwin because I believe that you should keep your feet on the ground in all markets even when your head is in stars”.
One of the best ways to truly understand your business is to talk to consumers and BAs, says Zrihen. During his recent trip to Australia in January, he also visited China, Japan and Dubai. “I had a breakfast meeting with select BAs in Australia because it’s important to reinforce the strengths of Clarins. I always pose the Harry Potter question - What do we need to change. They feel self-conscious at first but once they open up we discuss what we must do to maintain the renowned Clarins Touch and what we need to do better”.
Constantly curious, Zrihen believes that it is vital for CEOs to travel the world to experience all aspects of the business firsthand. “I meet fantastic people and get the inside track on different cultures. In Australia, it was eye-opening for me to visit Chatswood to see how culturally diverse the country has become since I lived here. We are going to develop new counters at David Jones. I am very excited about the refurbishment of David Jones’ Elizabeth Street store. When a CEO is in town David Jones offers a window in its Sydney flagship. I was also interested to see how important Chinese New Year has become to the Australian beauty market”.
China is currently Clarins number two market, but fast-growing Chinese sales will see the country become our top-ranking market by 2019, says Zrihen. “Two years ago, we conducted a major study of the shapes and skin tones of Chinese faces. Today, Western companies have to adapt and customise their products for Asian markets. We have to build the trust of our consumers in every region and not just through advertising and promotion. All of our products are made in France yet the home market only accounts for 7 per cent of global sales. We are tracking the latest technology innovations such as AI, of course, but our core approach is education, the training of our BAs and high quality products”.
Times are changing fast but people still want quality and authenticity, especially Millennials, says Zrihen. “They have a sixth sense about what’s authentic and what’s not. Clarins has always relied on potent botanicals and plant extracts, but five years ago the company bought a farm in the Alps to sustainably access our plant-based hero ingredients and continue to research their quality. Studies have shown that over 50 per cent of women in the US check out the ingredients in their skincare, rising to two-thirds of Millennials. More and more, beauty companies have to control their supply chain and the sourcing of ingredients because today’s consumers view skincare as part of the total wellness movement”.
Zrihen heads to the US West Coast every year to meet with leading tech innovators such as Google and Apple. “There’s been a seismic shift in the way brands approach customers. Retailers and the right service remain crucial, but technological advances allow us to make direct contact with consumers and our long-term aim is to convert them to becoming individual influencers. Clarins is also looking to open more standalone stores. Today, BAs advise customers only up to a point. Consumers have done their homework and come to counters saying - I don’t need all the in-depth information. I need places and spaces to discover the brand myself ”.
Yesterday’s beauty playbook was simple, says Zrihen. “There were three to four touchpoints in the selling process. Everyone needs to reinvent the way they do things to keep up with the changes ignited by social media and the rise of speciality beauty stores and e-commerce”.
But some things don’t change, says Zrihen. “We are seeing a return to substance, especially in skincare, rather than following the latest Insta-fad. Prestige skincare goes hand-in-hand with the highest service standards - at counter and digitally - and physical contact with the brand remains the electricity that drives everything. Only now we have become snipers, as it were, and can reach the right target consumers more accurately with new launches and existing best-selling products”.
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