PARIS, France — Only the really wealthy know Goyard.
Unlike Gucci or Louis Vuitton, the more than 200-year-old Parisian maker of luxury luggage and bags — with one of its 19th-century-style trunks going for €52,380 ($59,315) — maintains a studied silence. It does not advertise in glossy magazines, and is among the last of its kind not swallowed up by a larger peer. So far, that is.
Kering chief executive officer Francois-Henri Pinault would not be averse to adding it to his company’s stable of brands, a person familiar with the matter said. While neither Kering nor its larger rival LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton will officially comment on whether they are interested in Goyard, industry observers say it is unlikely they would pass up a chance to consider buying it.
"In the event that Goyard is for sale, LVMH and Kering will surely take a look," said Mario Ortelli, London-based head of luxury at Sanford C. Bernstein. "The Goyard brand would be compatible with Kering’s portfolio, for example, or LVMH could seek to increase its market share in leather goods rather than let another company build up a competitor to its brands like Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Céline."
Businessman Jean-Michel Signoles, who bought Goyard in 1998 from its founding family, will not say if he wants to sell the company he turned around by expanding sales to the new, burgeoning wave of the world’s wealthy.
Luggage maker of aristocrats in the 19th and 20th centuries, Goyard counted the Maharaja of Kapurthala, the Rockefellers, the Romanovs, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Karl Lagerfeld among its customers, it says on its website. The company, which boasts a "complete disregard for marketing or mass-production," also says it doesn’t engage "in any form of e-commerce." It declined to respond to Bloomberg’s questions.
A visit to Goyard’s flagship Paris store on rue Saint-Honore, across from Louis Vuitton and Moynat outlets, is a journey into the past, with trunks hearkening back to a bygone era. The shop also features an array of cases and duffle bags ranging from less than €3,000 to close to €6,000, as well as tote bags from €1,560 and a red crocodile-skin number for €37,000. Beach bags, towels, pouches, wallets, hangers, belts, dog collars, slippers, umbrellas, pens and pen cases complete the collection.
On a recent day, customers had to wait outside the shop because it could only accommodate a limited number of clients. Assistants in white gloves attended to the shoppers fortunate enough to have entered.
"Goyard has evolved from a very functional brand, and while it remains very classic, it’s technically and aesthetically appealing to people, with its hand-painted initials, seals and images," said Dana Telsey, founder of Telsey Advisory Group in New York.
The company traces its history back to 1792 when it was founded in Paris by Pierre-Francois Martin as a maker of cases and boxes to transport fragile objects. Childless, Martin passed his company on to one of his workers, Louis-Henri Morel, who hired 17-year-old Francois Goyard in 1845. Goyard took over the company after Morel’s death.
In 1885, the business was taken over by Francois’s son Edmond, who came up with the company’s emblematic Goyardine canvass, a soft and waterproof mixture of linen and cotton inspired by the clothes worn by the family’s water log drivers and their community in the village of Clamecy in Burgundy. The business was then handed down from father to son until it was bought by Signoles, who brought his own sons Alex and Remi on board.
Raking in Profits
For all its claims to "timeless elegance, craftsmanship and exclusivity," Goyard was accumulating losses when it was taken over by Signoles, the founder of children’s clothes brand Chipie. Signoles pumped in capital, refurbished the Saint-Honore store and opened outlets in Asia and North America as well as a couple in Europe and one in Sao Paulo.
"The fact that it’s no longer family-owned, that it’s gained a better-known name, expanded its leather goods assortment and opened new stores, like the one on Madison Avenue in New York, that already says that the brand is aiming for greater reach," said Telsey.
The strategy has paid off, regulatory filings with Paris’s Commercial Court show. Revenue surged to €41.1 million in 2013, the latest available data on the company, from €1.14 million in 2000. Profit rose to €12.8 million from €18,000 as exports accounted for a third of sales from less than 4 percent.
"Signoles has done a brilliant job of maintaining the brand heritage while growing it slowly," said Milton Pedraza, chief executive officer of the Luxury Institute, in New York.
Still, to be all that it can be, Goyard may need some help, he said.
"To reach a critical mass where it can survive and thrive on a larger scale, while remaining unique and exclusive, it will need the larger capital and know-how that larger groups can provide, as happened for Bottega Veneta with Kering, or Vuitton with LVMH," Pedraza said.
By Angeline Benoit and Alexandre Boksenbaum-Granier; editors: Jerrold Colten; Geraldine Amiel and Vidya Root.