Thomas Rouault (Snowleader): "It's in the DNA of the box to be profitable"
It is one of the main players in the sale of ski equipment and outdoor activities in France. Snowleader is ten years old and has an Olympic form. Step by step, its founder Thomas Rouault supports his double-digit growth, taking care not to distort his company. Portrait.
He wanted the customers of his website * to have the impression of entering a mountain store. That is authentic. So, Thomas Rouault chose to put a wooden board on the home page, a gondola that climbs and "a team of experts and enthusiasts" offers to advise you. Snowleader's mascot is a cow and, for each order of more than 150 euros, the team slides a farmer reblochon in the parcel. The full name of the company is: "Snowleader, The Reblochon Company".
The recipe works well, since ten years after its creation, the company grows by 20 to 40% per year and displays a turnover of nearly 23 million euros. In addition to the site, which sells the products of 250 partner brands, Snowleader has opened three stores (Annecy, Lyon and Chamonix) and offers its offer in several languages to deliver in several countries. "In one month, in January, we made the annual figure of three or four years ago," summarizes Thomas Rouault.
The complexion marked by the sun, the sporty look, it seems to have melted well in the Savoyard landscape. Born in Tremblay-en-France (93), 36 years ago, he holds his passion for the mountains of van California rides with his father plumber and his mother accountant. After doing a business school in Nice (Skema Business School), not too far from the slopes, he worked for a while for Nike in Paris. But after two years, he decided to get closer to the peaks and he moved to Annecy, without a specific professional project.
"We no longer talked about price, but about product"
Snowleader was born from the meeting, in the evening, with the owner of a local ski shop, Gaëtan Bastard-Rosset. In just a few weeks, with their respective skills and with 12,000 euros, they launched the website. They managed their stock in a garage of 12 m² in Grand-Bornand. "We worked like calluses (" like madmen "), smiles Thomas Rouault. During the day, suppliers were approached and at night we made the product sheets ... I was worried about delivering a site that was beautiful and not deceptive ". Little by little, they seduced more and more suppliers, the bankers followed and after one year only, Snowleader made nearly 500,000 euros of turnover.
From the beginning, Thomas and Gaëtan chose not to be limited to winter sports, but to offer more outdoor activities and clothing, to be able to sell all year long. They have also relied heavily on marketing, with this reblochon slipped into orders over 150 euros. "We have diverted the debate, explains Thomas Rouault. We spoke more about price, but product and something that was fun! We sold ski packs at huge prices, but what people were saying was, it's good your cheese! "
From the beginning, too, the two partners chose to manage their business "as a good father". In ten years of exercise, says the leader, Snowleader has had three years of losses, which have been experienced internally as trauma: "It's in the DNA of the box to be profitable," he continues. We gravitate into a world of mountaineers. At the suppliers, there are majors, but there are also many small businesses with whom it is important to establish a relationship of trust. We would not distribute all these beautiful brands if we had not been profitable from the beginning!
A turnover that doubles every two years
This entrepreneurial adventure did not escape a lot of hard times, as when Gaëtan Bastard-Rosset chose to leave in 2010 to take over more traditional ski shops. He explains that he no longer recognized himself in the strong growth of the company, with the "stress" that it induces and the pension funds that entered the dance ... But he says he has no regrets. He always sees his former partner, whom he describes as someone "atypical enough, a perfectionist, who will always be at the end of his ideas" and who "was made to run a large company."
Thomas Rouault gives himself without false modesty to the more difficult moments, to the "isolation of entrepreneurs" and to a deeply disturbed social life. It even evokes a "long and complicated descent". The first fundraiser relieved him. Since its creation, Snowleader has raised 3 million euros. Today, the company continues to grow at a high speed, with a turnover that doubles every two years, but it is structured. Snowleader, which employs 85 employees, plans to create between 10 and 15 positions this year, excluding store openings.
" It's necessary that it moves "
Amandine Rousseau, purchasing manager at Snowleader, talks about this growth not always easy to manage: "We all run after the train, very often, it is sometimes tiring, she says. But it is a very stimulating universe, where there are a thousand things to do and a thousand challenges. It's a very beautiful story. Trainee at the beginning of Snowleader, she returned in 2016 after a few years in the north of France. The company has grown a lot, but it ensures that "the values have not moved, even if it is hard to maintain the family spirit. Thomas is committed to maintaining it. " Amandine Rousseau also emphasizes this "great product sense and passion of marketing", which animate everything that his boss does.
One of the latest ideas to date, for ten years, was the launch, in the fall, of a magazine "Mountain Spirit", printed with 100,000 copies and sent to customers with their parcels. "This is the biggest draw of the mountain press," says Thomas Rouault, who signs articles himself. He multiplies events and communication operations, always around the mountain spirit and reblochon. "It must move," says the entrepreneur, whose engine is "continue to learn and have fun."