The Manufrance brand is selling more and more

The name “Manufrance” is no longer associated with the industrial decline of Saint-Etienne. The brand now radiates a capital of sympathy, an authenticity that seduces. Carole Tavitian, heir to this monument, has refocused the activity around “natural” and “homemade” products made in France and sold through e-commerce. Because Manufrance’s object is not limited to selling the right to use its vintage logo. Most of the products to his name are designed by the company itself, from its own design agency…

Carole Tavitian renewed her late father’s legacy in 2016. Her efforts are beginning to pay off. © IfMedia/Xavier Alix

She still can’t find it. But, as she says, a beautiful “Manufrance” sign on the outskirts of Saint-Etienne, clearly visible from the main roads or at the entrance of the town, would not lack allure, nor would it nourish the communicative pride of Saint-Etienne. Etienne more current in 2022 than in 1982. Carole Tavitian wants to move the company she inherited from her father, Jacques, who died 6 years ago. He had it installed in the city center, rue de Lodi, a stone’s throw from Place Jean-Jaurès. An entire building with this shop on the ground floor, the curtain of which has finally been lowered, does not do justice to the real revival of activity that takes place behind the walls. No more than the dilapidated state of these buildings, which have remained in their “gravy” and are not easy to maintain.

The whole amounts to 1,600 m2 on several floors. It is not only too big, but also badly located and not adapted to the logistical requirements of an e-commerce activity typical of an era of ours. ‘Why did my father have such a big plan? You put me a glue! I’ve always seen it that way. Could he have foreseen a strong development when he started? † Carole, the Tavitians’ eldest daughter, was 11 when she heard her name spoken on TF1 news that day. We are in 1988 and his father has just bought the Manufrance brand and its patents at auction, the last vestige of an economic monument that was so 3 years after his 2and liquidation, 6 after the takeover by Tapie, the attempt at a workers’ cooperative, revival, the result continued to evoke a national echo.

Cocorico fiber carried by Manufrance

This name is magical. The brand radiates a lot of sympathy, it still appeals to the consumer.

Carole Tavitian, co-owner and director of Manufrance

For those who don’t know, remember that the Manufacture française d’armes et cycles de Saint-Étienne (Manufrance under its trade name), created in 1887 by Etienne Mimard, at its peak, in the early 1970s, up to 4,000 people in its factories in Saint-Etienne, totaling more than 120,000 m2 from Fauriel course premises. This mail-order king, who published a famous catalog with 30,000 references, had more than 60 stores in France alone and largely produced the proceeds of his sales: such as shotguns and their ammunition, bicycles (the famous Hirondelle model) or the Omnia sewing machines for the most famous products. An empire was wiped out in less than a decade by opening its markets to international competition.

Up to 4,000 people have worked for Manufrance. Here’s an undated postcard (the current Verrière?) that can be found on the company’s website.

Also, “the name Manufrance has long been associated with the industrial collapse of Saint-Etienne, with demonstrations, with social conflictsremembers Carole Tavitian. But time has done its job. This huge exhibition of the Loire departmental archives in 2010 marked a turning point. Today, the Stéphanois are proud of it. And in France, the brand radiates a lot of sympathy. It still appeals to the consumer. † At a time when “made in France” is on everyone’s lips, what other name could better embody the cocorico fiber? “This name, it’s magical. When my father got sick, I was a freelance marketing consultant. (Carole Tavitian, a graduate of the Saint-Etienne trade school, worked in the company from 1997 to 2014 in management control and then as a sales representative). But I never hesitated to come back.

“Manufrance far too much spread”

I think my father was too ruthless in recreating some kind of ‘mini-manufrance’.

Carole Tavitian

Impossible to imagine the family work disappearing and you notice this when you see it pass under random control. Upon his death in early 2016, the daughter’s assistance to the father changes into a definitive takeover of the management of the company, of which she is co-owner together with her mother and sister. At that time, difficult decisions had to be made. Jacques Tavitian had tried to relaunch the activity of selling a wide range of textiles, hiking, fishing, hunting, cutlery, bicycle items… Through mass distribution and his shop opened in 1993, again through correspondence with the revival of a catalog and finally a first website. A workshop for the manufacture of shotguns and even high-quality bicycles had been established in Montreynaud, employing up to seven out of a dozen people at the end of the 1990s.

“Things never went quite the way my father had hopedsays Carole Tavitian† It’s not because of a lack of hard work! But I think he tried too hard to create a kind of mini Manufrance. We were spread over way too many products, in many areas, without our own brand. He also never understood the historic change e-commerce brought about and the adjustment we had to make. It’s a different generation… We stopped making bicycles quite early, a little before 2000. But it was I who had to decide to close the hunting weapons workshop in 2016 and then the shop. It was not easy, my father was looking forward to it. † At the end of 2016, Manufrance only employed four people, including Carole Tavitian.

The seventies logo as standard bearer

Collection of 100% organic cotton T-shirts and sweatshirts launched in February by the Foot Dimanche website with the legendary Seventies logo. Linkedin screenshot

But the entrepreneur has perfectly understood the immense sympathy that her brand carries. An advantage illustrated in itself by the serial reissue, since 2011, of ASSE’s legendary 1970s jersey called “Manufrance”, the company that had long been the sponsor during the club’s golden age. It is not without reason that the famous logo of the time – the one where the M and the F merge – which has not yet become the official one, is now applied to many products sold directly or indirectly by the company. Because we are now ringing the bell at the company to be able to use it. As with this collection of 100% organic cotton T-shirts and sweatshirts, launched in February by the Parisian site Foot Dimanche, whose young leaders didn’t even know the 1980s, except as semi-residents of the crèche.

However, the company’s strategic shift isn’t just about selling it using a vintage logo. True, by clicking on the “Manufrance vintage” tab on the company’s website, which has been redesigned in several stages since 2016 to adapt to the canons of e-commerce, you will find this type of product and many others yet always playing on the fiber nostalgia. Between catalog reissues, vintage posters and even… spare parts for the famous Omnia sewing machine. But Manufrance now has its own design agency, with its own designer, who designs its own products in collaboration with French subcontractors.

French know-how guaranteed

“90% of what we sell comes from this design. We always have textiles, belts, suspenders. But we are now concentrating on the development of kitchenware with, for example, cast iron dishes from Roanne, cutlery made with companies from Thiers and natural and discovery products such as decoys, walking sticks made in Isère. † Carole Tavitian is increasingly in demand and may be tempted to stamp Manufrance on anything and everything. But she wants to remain cautious, because she has refocused an offer she is gradually expanding – currently 1,500 references when her father had reached 10,000 – on this line consisting in favoring companies that use, at least in part, know-how in France.

Walking stick and compasses made in Isère; cast iron coaster made in Roanne: 90% of the products sold are designed in-house in collaboration with subcontractors.

“The cotton for the t-shirts, for example, comes from elsewhere, but they are well finished in France. It might be 10 or 15% more expensive, but I honestly think more and more people are realizing that it’s in our collective interest that it ultimately fuels their own business. We attend the made in France fair every year. We spend a lot of time visiting, consulting with subcontractors or suppliers. At the beginning of March I was in the Jura with the idea of ​​developing wooden games and toys”illustrates Carole Tavitian who employs one more person than 5 years ago and has finally seen her turnover (turnover) increase again after falling to 100,000 euros in 2016, when it had increased to 500-600,000 euros at the end of the years 2000. “The pandemic has been beneficial for us, as it has for the entire e-commerce industry. †

An increasing turnover

One must still have had the good idea of ​​​​arming oneself against the virus between a modern interface for the users of the site (not only on ergonomics but also on information: detailed sheets on each product for example), the reference (provided by the couramiaud Web Media specialist), continuously working on social networks (including recently TikTok), that around customer rejuvenation, communication. This entails the essential presence of a community manager. The result is there: Manufrance’s turnover increased by 20% in 2020 and then by 15% in 2021 to 400,000 euros. “We are aiming for 600,000 this year, then it would be a return to balance”laughs Carole Tavitian† My goal is to reach a million euros within 3 to 5 years. †

What do you give yourself to revive in the long term an in-house and genuine Saint-Etienne production of some of the products with the Manufrance stamp? “It is absolutely not on the agenda for the time being. We are already trying to continue our development. But… I must confess that I keep this in mind. It would be a strategic mistake not to take it into account at all…” And that wouldn’t be lacking in tempo for the board either.

Rue de Lodi in Saint-Etienne in front of the building that Manufrance hopes to leave by early 2023, three generations of logos (the current one on a green background) rub over each other. © IfMedia/Xavier Alix

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