Michel Brousset takes a good look at my hair and sits back in his chair again. L’Oreal’s charismatic UK chief executive, himself perfectly coiffed, seems satisfied with what he sees: “You have fine hair, like 65 per cent of British women,” he declares.
Hair is far from a trivial matter for the 41-year-old photography and climbing enthusiast, who moved to London last year after overseeing L’Oreal’s business in his native Peru.
The Paris-listed cosmetics giant, which has a stable of 28 brands including Garnier and Maybelline, is the UK’s biggest beauty company with 14 per cent of the market. But Brousset believes haircare still has a lot more growing to do.
“Although we are number one overall in beauty, we are not number one in every category and one of the key things we have done this year is to have a concerted effort to drive our growth in haircare,” Brousset says, sitting in his spacious office at L’Oreal’s headquarters in Hammersmith.
In his first year as chief executive, the company has launched two haircare ranges for UK and Irish consumers – Garnier’s Ultimate Blends (to help brave Britain’s wet and windy weather conditions) and L’Oreal Elvive Fibrology, a thickening shampoo for people with thin hair.
These innovations, Brousset hopes, will help to revive slowing sales in what has been a tough year for consumer goods firms, hit by weak consumer demand in developed markets.
The group is also seeking to ramp up growth within its luxury division by launching flasghip stores for brands such as Urban Decay and Kiehl’s.
“There has been less price inflation than there has been historically and there are also some specific category dynamics that are impacting the market. For example, customers are colouring their hair less and that impacts the category,” he added.
But Brousset is confident of a stronger 2015. Although it does not break down its performance by country, figures out yesterday show sales picked up in fourth quarter after a gloomy year, rising by 6.7 per cent in western Europe.
Working in Britain’s slow-paced market makes a change from Peru, where Brousset was based for two years and was credited for turning L’Oreal’s fledgling business into the region’s fastest growing cosmetics company.
“Peru was a small operation and allowed me to see a market that is constantly changing and where malls are opening in every corner all the time. It gives you a strong urgency in terms of decision-making and there isn’t a lot of time to philosophise,” he said.
Before joining L’Oreal, Brousset spent 15 years with rival consumer goods group Procter & Gamble (P&G) in a number of senior marketing roles in North America and Europe.
While growing the business is at the forefront of his agenda, Brousset’s is also on a mission to make L’Oreal a better place to work, launching a scheme called Worksmart to help its primarily female workforce – some 68 per cent of the company – clock hours remotely.
“My hope is that everybody that works here – all 3,800 people – have that same love and passion for what we do. It isn’t super revolutionary but in a sense my goals are simple with a focus on growth, consumer, retailers and our people.”
L’Oreal said sales bounced back in the fourth quarter of the year, driven in part by strong demand for its luxury fragrance and cosmetics brands such as Yves Saint Laurent and Armani.
Like-for-like sales jumped 4.9 per cent in the last three months of the year, beating analysts’ expectations for 3.4 per cent growth and a sharp turnaround on the previous quarter.
The French-based company had slumped to its lowest point since 2009 in the previous three-month period, hit by weak trading in its mass market products division.
Total full-year revenues rose 3.7 per cent in 2014 to €22.53bn (£17bn), driven by its luxury products division.