French baby store chain Orchestra Prémaman is going to fall back on the French-speaking part of Belgium, closing all stores in the Dutch-speaking part. "We have never been able to make a breakthrough there", founder Pierre Mestre admits.
Unable to conquer hearts
Mestre, who retook control of his chain just a week ago, has good and bad news for his Belgian branch. The company will not exit Belgium completely, but only ten stores will remain operational - not nineteen as was promised before. The CEO points to the coronavirus lockdowns, which have cost his chain a hundred million euros in turnover in just two months.
All of the ten chosen stores are in Brussels and Wallonia, Mestre confirms in Belgian newspaper L'Echo: "We are leaving the North of Belgium because we have not been able to find the keys to this market". Orchestra acquired Belgian baby icon Prémaman in 2012, but it was never able to conquer local hearts.
The acquisition of Orchestra Prémaman by Mestre has hit another bump in the road, too: trade unions have filed a complaint in Montpellier, claiming that Mestre's takeover is partly financed by government funds meant to survive the coronavirus crisis. Strictly speaking this is not illegal, but the unions say this raises questions about embezzlement of state support. Meanwhile, Mestre says he is not concerned, saying that it is up to the franchisers - who support his bid - to decide how they use government grants.