We are working on a chapter about non-English language blogs and
we found Patrice Cassard through Loic LeMeur, Six Apart’s EVP and FM for Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Loic is being most helpful for us in Europe, introducing us to senior executives at a few European-based global companies. By contrast, Patrice’s blogsite,
La Fraise (means: ‘The Cutter’), is a one-person, highly original operation. Loic told us he it is one of his favorites because La Fraise puts the customer (and his blog) at the very center of the company, not out on the edge as in most big companies. Patrice has his customer design the products and decides what will be manufactured. The blog is the central conduit for all this as well as the product distribution channel. Patrice also treats the customer as his board of directors, being fully transparent with readers on the financial aspects of the business including costs and net operating profits.
Patrice lives in St. Etienne, near Lyon, in southern France, and he jokes that this makes him a French redneck, but from what we know of the area, we suspect his neck is well-tanned. His passion is t-shirts and he founded his online store because he believes most of the commercially produced, mass-marketed t-shirts are crap.
Writing daily, the blog steadily built a community of like-minded French-speaking t-shirt aficionados. Over time, his readers started sending him their own designs for t-shirts, which he posted on La Fraise and other readers would give him feedback—lots of feedback. While an average blog gets him about 30 comments, one recent posting netted him 345 comments. In short, he has a passionate active audience which has a lot to say about t-shirts.
People submit original designs on any subject and had the other visitors to his blog vote on their favorites. He then manufactures the most popular, compensating the designer with 300 euros (about 250 USD). He sells the t-shirts through his blog as well. This may sound like a cottage industry, but if it is, it is a very large cottage. .
When Loic goes into global enterprises, he often uses La Fraise as a model what can be accomplished by large corporations. “They often laugh at me. They say, this is a geek writing about T-shirts. I say, no, wait. Our T-shirt guy realized very quickly through the comments that the customer had more ideas about the products than he did. It's not just about feedback. The customers design the product. ” I think it’s pretty good to talk about this t-shirt thing because it is simple and makes a good point. Corporate prospects either throw me out of the room or they say: ‘Let's talk.’
Here are some excerpts from our interview with Patrice.
1. Please tell me a little about your background. What did you do prior to LaFraise?
I’m 100 % self-educated, and I learned web design by myself, with friends teaching me. Then I got lucky and started as webmaster at a UBISOFT (video game) subsidiary. Then, I developed a community site for Orange smartphones users, the leading French carrier. Of course, I continued developing and maintaining my own web site, in parallel of those working experiences.
2. Why are people so passionate about t-shirts?
I believe this is due to the fact a t-shirt is now a tremendous opportunity to express one’s self, not only for the designer, but also for the person wearing it. Indeed, it is a universal piece of cloth that it allows you to convey a message, but also to stand out from the crowd. You can even say that it defines the fact you belong to a tribe.
3. Did any specific event happen to make you decide to turn your blog into a business, or did it just sort of evolve?
Well, I started to write on the blog the same day I launched the shop. I confess the primary goal was to feel less lonely, as a new
Entrepreneur. I worked ! The original idea was to share my experience with those who were interested. I quickly realized how important it is to have this human presence in an online shop. A lot of big
shops do not have this. People get the impression that they know me (and actually it's true), as I talk about my personal life, my family....And probably they feel more confident.
4. How many visitors per month (or impressions) do you receive?
Roughly 2 000 000 viewed pages per month, and 300 000 unique visitors, which is actually huge for an independent 100 percent French online store.
5. Do you stockpile t-shirts, or just wait until they are ordered by customers?
Yes I maintain storage for all the articles for sale. I stockpile several thousands t-shirts at a time.This is necessary so I can send the products the day they are ordered. Moreover, there are also technical reasons due to the manufacturing process.
6. Are your customers mostly French? Where else do they come from?
90 % of them are French and 10 % European (French language) from Belgium,
Switzerland and a few orders from all over the world .
7. How much on the average are you making per month? Is it level or are you still growing?
I sell between 1500 and 1800 t-shirts per month. The number keeps growing from one month to the next.
8. Is 100 % of your business blog related? What other revenue sources do you have?
Yes, this is my only job. I've created a company to dedicate myself to this .
9. Additional comments?
I'd like to add that the site concept as it is (except the blog) is in fact
coming from a US concept . I inspired myself a lot from this site to set up lafraise.com, in France. This site is Threadless.com.