Patience, admittedly, has never been Jacques-Olivier Chauvin’s long suit. But the president and CEO of Paris-based Fauchon Hospitality is learning. In fact, his required patience to sign a long-awaited deal at Diriyah Development in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia paid off in December when the hotel division of the iconic Paris food purveyor announced a partnership with owner Diriyah Gate Development Authority and local operator Yakoon Hospitality International. The property will be situated within the Diriyah Square project, becoming one of 16 luxury hotels set for phase one of the five-square-kilometer mixed-use heritage, tourism and lifestyle destination.
Riyadh is the third hotel for the predominantly franchised brand launched not at the best of times, 2018, which has made the ramp up more challenging for Chauvin. A deal in Miami is on the back burner, but others are heating up, according to Chauvin, including a recently signed deal in Xian, China. In early January, Chauvin, whose luxury brand experience included a 10-year stint (2000-2010) as director general of Relais & Châteaux, was close to getting deals done in Tokyo and was having very good discussions in Istanbul. He was also in advanced discussion for a residence license in Dubai and is working on a glamorous, artisanal and not-too-big resort concept.
While the plan at one point was to target major metros like New York City and London, bigger picture today the targets for Fauchon Hospitality are evolving to secondary cities like Nashville, Tennessee or Munich, Germany. “It’s about curating 20 cities around the world where it is worth celebrating the art of Fauchon,” Chauvin said.
He added that Fauchon’s game is about finding what he calls the perfect triangle – good investor, good operator and they have the good brand. “We’ve even partnered with Aimbridge Hospitality, which has officially endorsed our concept, and they are ready to promote the brand to investors.”
Fauchon has also been working with Chicago-based Gettys Group to hone the concept for a U.S. audience not too familiar with the Fauchon culinary empire. “They’ve been very generous in their exchange of advice to slightly adapt the concept,” Chauvin said.
Perhaps Chauvin is also seeing traction because his culinary-focused hotels have found a unique niche which attracts developers and operators. Early results at the inaugural owned and operated property in Paris and the second in Kyoto are encouraging, he said, with Paris running above 70% occupancy and a buoyant €500 (US$566) rate. Kyoto was running at about 40% but was getting an even higher rate than Paris.
“After three years [in Paris] we are in a position to assess the situation and try to give a vision for the 10 years to come,” Chauvin said. “Number one, it’s a successful hotel… We have chosen a position which is a bit original in Paris, more of a high-end boutique hotel like a Firmdale or Connaught in London as opposed to aiming to become a 5-star palace hotel – this is not our dream. We want to remain this intimate, private, bit of a kept secret hotel.”
But naturally, especially today, growth is not without its challenges. Chauvin pointed to a need to find investors with brains and heart who also understand that it’s a great long-term venture. “But at the same time, it should also come from an element of irrationality because any brand is irrational at its core. There is a lot of goodwill in a brand. He should understand that it is long term and about establishing cultural bridges and bonds – but for the sake of generating value. It’s not a charity, of course, but it goes beyond the usual private equity venture.”
Even with the pandemic, Chauvin said he has learned to make business profitable.
“I used to be told that you cannot make money in hospitality below 40% occupancy,” he said. “I can tell you that you can make money with 20% occupancy.” The likely reason is strong F&B sales through the Fauchon brand name. It is known for providing luxury contemporary food for restaurants, gourmet cafes, retail boutiques, and 6-star hotels. The company’s signature products include haute patisserie, macarons, chocolate, tea, fine foods, and gourmet gifts via 100 franchise shops and 400 points of sale in over 50 countries. But what has made even more of a difference in its hotels, Chauvin said, is a proper approach to monitoring costs and dedicating funds to what really matters.
“One thing which has been very much under considered in the hospitality industry is productivity,” Chauvin continued. “We want a PMS that saves time, and that is a very different kind of approach in a 5-star hotel… Take bath amenities – it takes 10 minutes to arrange them properly so they look good. But no, this is not what people care about. So, we took our SOP book and classified it by what really matters, and it gives you a very different kind of approach to operations.”
But having a great reputation for F&B has truly helped Fauchon drive revenue during the pandemic. Normally known as a break-even department, Chauvin said the pandemic has guests and local who come in splurging. “When it comes to celebrating life in a hotel today, having a great wine list matters. You cannot imagine the kind of bottles people have bought; it’s the kind of wine you would drink on the last day of your life.”
The 54-room Paris property also went as far to take an entire guest floor and convert them into dining suites and Chauvin said it worked so well that guests were still requesting them, even though the restaurants were open again. “You can easily deliver the starter to the room and then 20 minutes later, the main course. And that’s a feast,” he explained.
At the same time, finding food stuffs to fill out the menu became a problem at one point, to which the operator would ask guests what they want to eat and they would try to find it for them.
Nonetheless, room service has remained strong because Fauchon Paris guest rooms have proper dining tables and were designed to act as more than just a bedroom. There is a special minibar cabinet with many Fauchon products offered for free with the obvious expectation that guests will leave the hotel having bought the goodies at the retail stands in the hotel. “There is a real return on that. When you are generous, there is a return,” Chauvin said.
In Kyoto, where there have been no international guests, again F&B has been a savior. “The number one thing doing well in Kyoto is our retail with volume three times more than what we expected,” Chauvin said. “Japanese people are so desperate that they eat a lot of macarons.”
What Chauvin has also learned through the pandemic has been not to diminish human contact with guests.
“We’ve had so many French and European people coming to Paris just for the sake of saving their mental health – a true need to escape from something that was very tough,” Chauvin said. “So rather than actually putting up barriers, we lifted barriers. Our check-in is not over the counter; we have a sitting room… So, when you have the proper mask and sit with the guest, you have a clear exchange. We have learned that we should not actually diminish anything in what we believe, which is number one, human contact.”
That attitude also works in concert with the hotel’s discreet emphasis on women travelers, predominantly with in-room amenities and hardware like hardwood floors that are very conducive to walking barefoot, backlit, transparent wardrobes that show off clothing, 50 kinds of teas in the minibar and great lighting and branded hairdryers in the bath. The staff is also very deliberately trained to help women maintain their privacy and promote a feeling of safety. “It shows that we were right in establishing this intimacy in the relationship, but also the privacy at the same time,” Chauvin added. “It’s a fine line between both. So, that was something we try to train our people about.”
And because Fauchon has established itself since 1886 as a local beacon in hospitality, Chauvin believes it has helped attract young people to the hotel team. “It’s good to attract guests; it’s even better to attract staff.”
Fauchon will also be further attracting and recruiting team members this September when it opens its own 6,000 square meter, 500-student hospitality school in Normandy, France.
“Staff is more important than clients… Cherish your teams and they will then take care of your clients,” Chauvin implored. “Is there anything better that you can tell them or give them than hope, vision and an education? Of course, eventually they leave. But the one experience I want them to be really proud of is Fauchon. That would fulfill my day.”
For advice, Chauvin said he most often reaches out to the sole owner of the Fauchon empire for the past 20 years, Michel Ducros. “He keeps telling me, ‘keep going.’ And when there is a crisis, it is the best time to do many things that you would not be able to do in normal times – like investing. It’s a great time for renovating it, it’s a great time for training.”
Chauvin closed by suggesting that the pandemic has taught the hotel industry so much. “We have found so many keys to type to take required action. Everybody is now aware of these keys and this new agility required to adapt… It’s like we have now the antibody of adaptation.”