By Elisabeth King


The question – Does a company culture matter? – has become redundant. According to Deloitte, more than 80 per cent of companies today rate building a high-performance work culture as a top priority. That’s not just lip service at L’Occitane Australia. Since becoming Country Manager just over a year ago, David McConnachie has emphasised three core values as the essence of the L’Occitane approach – respect for the individual, the best service to customers and striving for excellence.

Few senior executives know better that there is a strong causal link between creating a solid corporate culture and sales growth. I’ve grown up in retail, says McConnachie. “Looking after your staff is key and I have always believed that it’s extremely important for senior executives to serve and support in-store associates. I do so on a regular basis, spending entire days in stores, assisting managers and waiting on customers”. McConnachie’s guiding goal has always hinged on finding better ways to do things. A competitive impulse with an emphasis on improvement that began early in his retail career as Manager Perfumery and Cosmetics with storied British department store chain, John Lewis. Before joining L’Occitane UK in 2007, he was Head of Retail for Neal’s Yard Remedies. Prior to coming to Australia in 2016, McConnachie was Country Manager for Canada and Senior Vice President Retail & Development, also working in the US market.

Deeper Staff Engagement and Communication

McConnachie’s hands-on attitude has been a remarkable morale booster for those who face the retail front line every day. L’Occitane has a great gifting business, but it’s crucial to engage staff outside Christmas and holidays, he says. “They love the story of the brand, but there was a real need to learn more about each level of the business. In April, we invited office and warehouse staff, store associates, retail and store managers to a town hall-type event held at The Ivy in Sydney. They shared best practices, became aware of all the issues that affect the business and we gave out awards. It was a huge success and an important learning experience for everyone. Changing times make for changing measures and we will be holding get-togethers twice a year in April and October from now on”.

Creating a winning company culture isn’t a quick fix, says McConnachie, it develops over time. Another initiative inaugurated this year was the hosting of regular breakfasts for non-management employees. There’s no agenda beyond an introduction that tells everyone what the company has been up to, he says “We serve great food and each one lasts two hours. Dialogue is open, whether individuals want to speak or appoint a spokesperson. Staff of all ages, especially the younger ones, are looking for a company culture with career development opportunities, work-life balance, job satisfaction and open lines of communication. Building loyalty and commitment is what really drives the energy of L’Occitane as it continues to increase its network in Australia”.

New Digital Training Platform and Sunshine Concept Stores 

A recent study from the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick in the UK revealed that happy, engaged workers are 12 per cent more productive than the average worker, and unhappy employees are 10 per cent less productive. Apart from the town hall events and breakfasts, McConnachie has also refreshed and refined L’Occitane’s training programs. “We road-tested a new digital platform for training associates called My Learning – The L’Occitane Way – in August. We will be introducing it nationwide in October. We can see who is logging on and what they are enjoying to prompt feedback and spark ideas and action”.

L’Occitane’s success in Australia continues to centre on three areas, says McConnachie – serving customers and anticipating their needs, developing employees and cultivating leaders. “We are enjoying continuing growth. L’ Occitane currently has 47 stores and we are opening five more through to March 2018, including Claremont in WA and a new concept store in The Rocks in Sydney.

The look is much cleaner and we have opened two in Australia – at Chadstone in Melbourne and Westfi eld Sydney in the CBD. Australia is one of a select number of markets to roll-out the new concept first, along with Hong Kong, Taiwan China and North America”. Global Expansion with Social ResponsibilityThe company is also rolling out the new Sunshine Concept store design globally, adds McConnachie. “The fresh, new look is based on a bright, golden-yellow decor. More a multi-sensory boutique, customers can test and play and the layout is segmented into key shopping areas arranged according to need, such as fragrance, skincare, home and more. 

The look is much cleaner and we have opened two in Australia – at Chadstone in Melbourne and Westfi eld Sydney in the CBD. Australia is one of a select number of markets to roll-out the new concept first, along with Hong Kong, Taiwan China and North America”.

Global Expansion with Social Responsibility

Corporate culture is also shaped by everything from global vision to shared values. It’s been a big year internationally for L’Occitane. In May, the multinational acquired a 40 per cent stake in LimeLight by Alcone to expand into the US cosmetics market and to develop the makeup brand worldwide. China was the best performing market for the company in the three months to June this year, with sales lifting 26.9 per cent. L’Occitane has also invested heavily in new products. “Our Chairman, Reinold Geiger, believes that if you never take a risk then you are not trying anything new”, says McConnachie. “And if you make a mistake, then learn from it and find a way to sell through it”.

A never-say-no-to-an-opportunity philosophy that dovetails with McConnachie’s own personality. “I’ve always been a bit cheeky and prepared to push the envelope. When I worked in the UK, L’Occitane did a much-publicised promotion at the Chelsea Flower Show. Last year, we opened a mega-store in Disney World in Florida. Everyone thought it wasn’t an obvious choice for us but everyone goes there – locals and tourists – and it’s been hugely successful”.

Consumers and employees are also looking for corporate cultures rich in social responsibility and community giving. Giving back has long been part of L’Occitane’s strategy, says McConnachie. “We constantly strive to do the right thing whether anyone is watching or not. Since 1980, L’Occitane has sourced its shea butter from a community in Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries in Africa. It was one of the first fair trade agreements in the beauty industry and 17,000 women are now involved. Shea butter has become synonymous with L’Occitane and we are launching several new products this summer, including a body wash containing 10% shea butter oil and an ultra light body cream”.

Working for L’Occitane requires having a low resistance to change. Our new staff initiatives help to break down the management “silos” that plague many companies which can hamper communications and performance, notes McConnachie.” I’ve always loved working in the stores, meeting customers and staff. Many of them ask me – How did you get where you are today? My answer is always the same – Always be at your best, always take opportunities presented and work hard, it’s really quite simple. We want to build a culture that promotes innovation and celebrates life and the successes of our employees”. As good as his word, McConnachie has instituted a weekly talent wall to honour L’Occitane’s top-performing team members close to the head office yoga room.

L’Occitane Australia was accredited as a GREAT PLACE TO WORK, Aug 17 – July 18.  

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