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I opened my shop during the pandemic (I got help)

Interview with Estelle Garnier, manager of delicatessen shop “Comtesse Saveurs", the first “Comtesse du Barry” store in Luxembourg.

Tell us about your entrepreneurial adventure

“Comtesse du Barry” is a childhood memory for me. I would go to Paris with my parents during the Christmas holidays, and was always enchanted by the pretty shops with their beautiful products… I’ve actually been loyal to the “Comtesse du Barry” brand ever since! That enchantment is what led me through my professional transition, but it takes more than enjoying good and beautiful things. Running a shop in downtown Luxembourg is a profession in itself, it’s a real challenge. You need to value a job well-done, be able to recognize a product’s quality, respect it, and constantly have something new to offer in Luxembourg’s multicultural setting… But what is fundamental to me is offering a truly high-quality service to customers.

How did nyuko help you make your project a reality?

I took part in the Entrepreneurs Days, and more importantly attended a presentation by Thibaut from the nyuko team on failure and the importance of making time for rest to better bounce back and move forward with your project. I thought “I don’t know if I’m the only one who feels this way!? I’m a go-getter, but with entrepreneurship I always know how to gauge the risk factor. Then again, entrepreneurship means loving adrenaline and giving your all in tough situations to bring your project to life and give it meaning. It’s a mass of work and you need to be able to manage it!” I felt understood, like I was in the right place.

After that, I met Pelagia who helpes me as well. I wanted all the details to be well worked-out before diving in. The Business Model Canvas really helped me. We fine-tuned my business plan, which helped things with the bank who granted me a loan, and with the help of the Mutualité de Cautionnement. We met on a regular basis, they helped me every step of the way, and I was able to move forward a lot faster! Even during lockdown, nyuko stayed alert and by my side.

You managed to open your shop in the midst of a health crisis!

I took the different variables of the crisis into account one by one to be able to move forward and open my shop. Everything came to a sudden halt with the health crisis and the first lockdown, which happened just one week before the initial launch date. The project was very advanced… I didn’t have the option of turning back! The shop was ready in May 2020 with the “deconfinement” but I had no merchandise because my French suppliers were blocked! We had to adapt and find an effective way to communicate about our launch and our concept. So, we started an appetizer pack with nine products we selected with care! It was a hit! We pulled up our sleeves and took the plunge, and today, more than a year and a half later, I can say it was definitely worth the effort. Judging by our results, we’re going to be expanding our team in the coming months and I’d like to take this opportunity to launch a call for your applications!

The human element is very important in my line of work. For instance, my meeting with Philippe Kratz, the sales manager of Comtesse du Barry France at the time, hugely helped me advance my project because we got along right away. We spoke the same language on a business level, and there was a relationship of trust between us almost instantly. It doesn’t take long to tell whether a business relationship will be smooth or not… The same goes for my suppliers. I only work with people who are passionate about what they do and share certain ethics and values. Today, what really drives me are the people, my customers.

Without my twenty years of experience managing shops in Luxembourg and France, this adventure would have been much harder and may never have taken shape. Now it’s my turn to train students and hire them during school holidays because I think young people have really suffered from Covid… I’m also looking for an apprentice. It’s important to pass on to our youth what we ourselves have learned so entering the work market can be a positive experience for them.

What about business strategy…?

My company, “Comtesse Saveurs,” develops the “Comtesse du Barry” brand in the Grand Duchy and distributes it in Luxembourg. We offer and promote the quality and know-how of Comtesse du Barry brand products and sell a variety of other very carefully selected complementary products. Here again, I call upon new delicatessen products from Luxembourg to reference alongside the fine Luxembourg wines we already showcase in our shop.

The B2B segment is complementary to detail grocery shops and is very important in my business plan. Last year, we did not expect to have this much demand! We’ve now taken it into account and plan to offer a business-oriented catalog starting this fall with our range of business gifts, baskets, wine articles and individual prepared meals for offices. B2B makes up a non-negligible part of my turnover.

I’m currently part of the Business Mentoring program with the House of Entrepreneurship for my business development. For an 18-month period, I get the advice of a mentor with extensive experience in my sector. We touch base once a month. Since nyuko helped me in the beginning, this specific program can help me keep growing my activity and progress. And after the 18 months, I will have the option of becoming a mentor…

Any challenges, unforeseen developments, development paths?

Digitization! We started a showcase site with a catalog of company gifts from the very start, but the intention is for it to become a real online store beginning. Right now, our customers can find a small selection of our products on the website. We’re working toward getting our e-commerce site up and running before the year’s end.

Someone also suggested the option of opening a popup store, but I determined the risk factor to be too high at this point so I turned it down… Maybe down the road?

Any final advice?

To sum things up, I would say: surround yourself with the right people, gather a max of information, protect yourself, know how to analyze, know your business by heart and be on the field all the time.

Do not neglect your cash flow starting out, until you hit the break-even point. Otherwise, you might have trouble with replenishment orders, which could mean lacking products in your shop and have an impact your revenue growth. Your store has to be well-stocked, orderly and, most importantly, have exemplary customer service.

Having the help of people who understand the challenges of entrepreneurship (solitude, weariness, fatigue, etc.) is a big relief. nyuko’s support was invaluable to me. It’s important to surround yourself with the right people! For me, it’s reassuring and it helps me realize what I’m doing is real. Also, having different points of view can help advance more quickly even if I’m the one who has to make the decisions and take responsibility for them in the end. With entrepreneurship, support is vital. Because you need to be strong morally… You have to keep moving forward. Entrepreneurs are brave. I really respect my peers… It takes courage to see a project through to the finish!

Interview conducted by Delphine Anzevui

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