Stéphane Knapp is an EMLYON Business School Graduate and he doesn't hide the fact that he fell in love with the LEGO brand! In 2001, after nine years in the company SC Johnson (which produces household cleaning products), he obtained a challenging job position where he would have to re-launch LEGO (the children's toy brand, famous for building bricks) on the French market. From the 1990's up until his arrival, the Danish brand had had a very difficult period, managing the French market from the Southern Europe Head Office in Milan (Italy). Within 12 years the company quickly became a true French subsidiary, catching up with its competitors to the point where today it is 3rd in the French marketplace, just ahead of Playmobil and behind Hasbro and the market leader, Mattel. Stéphane Knapp, who is also a fan of comic books (especially Hermann), very quickly discovered a passion for the world of children's toys "a world which evolves very quickly and forces you to work with a double target audience, parents and kids" he explains.
Discover the profile of Stéphane Knapp through this interview:
"Rebuilding the French LEGO market was a challenge I really enjoyed!"
When you arrived at LEGO, did you have to start almost from scratch in re-launching the brand onto the French market?
S.K: For 3 years we found ourselves in the same position as a new start-up and the general context was tough as the company itself was going through a very difficult period. Firstly I worked on the key accounts, then on managing the sales team, and from 2006 I have been working on setting up the marketing side of things. In 2004 the French branch became a fully-fledged subsidiary and since then we've been rebuilding and reintroducing the brand. From having a 2% share of the market we moved up to 9% with 15 staff members in France (marketing, sales, and management) and we still have strong potential for further growth. I have invested all my energy as a business professional in this adventure, and I have done so with the utmost enthusiasm, especially since, on the one hand, the world of family business really appeals to me, and on the other hand I loved the challenge of rebuilding the French market. I really appreciated the fact that the group allowed us to do things using our own initiative; whilst things are very structured within the group, a great deal of autonomy is given to the director of each country. The French campaign was developed in France...the only constraint you have is of course the sales figures!
You also had to learn about the world of children's toys?
S.K: Yes, and contrary to what people often think, children make very demanding customers!
For a number of years we have been using 360° marketing, we don't only think in terms of the toys but also T.V, video games...children evolve really quickly and are curious and enthusiastic. They don't understand it if they can't get Star Wars on their games consoles!
Fortunately, LEGO is a really innovative group and my road map is simple: LEGO comes up with a strategy for international product launches and it's up to me to decide on the order of importance for the national market. Our product portfolio contains about 400 references, 60% of which are renewed each year.
I am also quite proud of the first creativity campaign, known as ‘Grey', from the LEGO brand, but above all, of the opening of the first two Lego stores in France, in Paris and Lille.
The aim of these two 'brand showcases' was to bring LEGO and consumers together.
At the beginning of 2013 there was more innovation with the launch of the 'Legend of Chima' range, featuring figurines, small vehicles, etc. Finally, for the past year and a half we have been trying to appeal to girls between the ages of 6 and 9, through games which combine building and role play. This range already represents 12% of sales revenues for LEGO France.
We had a strong demand from girls, but it wasn't a straightforward strategy.
What are your plans for the future?
S.K: I am currently considering a position at the European regional level with LEGO. One thing is certain - I definitely see my future with the brand. The aim of the French subsidiary is to become No.1 in the national market, today we are in third position not far behind the first two and we have what it takes to reach the top. The economic crisis isn't affecting us directly, although we do experience a knock-on effect during certain periods... children's spending is still protected even when people are tightening the purse strings in other areas.
In your opinion, what are the most important qualities when starting out on a professional journey?
S.K: Curiosity, the desire to innovate, and rigor... In my opinion young people would find enormous benefits in looking into areas that are not too strictly formatted, so not necessarily large companies, and it is also wise to develop skills in two areas, in my case marketing and sales. The important thing is to find a position where they feel that they can be themselves and have a certain level of autonomy. Taking the initiative is vital nowadays and there is no manual to explain how things will work tomorrow! At EMLYON I really appreciated the group work, sharing experiences, and people's diverse profiles. Working on practical case-studies and my role in the student organization, the 'Bureau des Elèves', really helped to develop the entrepreneurial skills which I've been putting into practice for the past 12 years at LEGO.