In the February issue of The Mover, we interviewed Jean-Luc Haddad of Grospiron in Paris on the subject of diversification. Seven years ago, his company ventured into the world of relocation by buying Cosmopolitan Services Unlimited (CSU). Here we talk to Ludovic Lemoine and Philippe Mirault about the industry, and the changes that have taken place since.
Grospiron had a dalliance with the relocation industry some years ago when it started Grospiron Relocation Services. “But when you have a company that is so well known for moving services it’s difficult to change people’s perceptions,” explained Philippe Mirault, the company’s group managing director.
So, in 2013, Grospiron bought CSU, a Paris company with a long track record in providing relocation services to people coming into the Paris area. The company grew successfully under the new administration and, in 2018, moved to new, larger premises in the city. Today, CSU employs around 30 people and has a second location in Lyon. But, in keeping with Grospiron’s plan to diversify the business, CSU evolved to provide a much wider range of services than those of a DSP.
Full relocation service
Today, CSU provides a full portfolio of relocation services, mainly for corporate clients. Rather than just working as a DSP, CSU now offers full global packages for those relocating abroad, from France, move management services and tenancy management for landlords. “Some smaller companies don’t understand what they are buying and have had bad experiences when moving,” explained Philippe. “It’s our job to help them.” Although CSU works for some giant organisation, Philippe prefers to work with smaller companies. “We like it best when we can have direct contact with the senior management of a company. It makes the operations and decision making much easier.”
Move co-ordination is now a big part of CSU’s business. Of course, having Grospiron as a sister company helps but Philippe explained the customer has full freedom in their choice of moving contractor. “Our role is to help the customer make the right decision for them, then co-ordinate the process door to door,” he explained. He said that there is no requirement for the customer to use Grospiron for moving and, where selected, CSU makes sure than the sister company only performs a minority of the jobs. “This makes sure that we have a positive relationship with our moving partners.” Grospiron does, however, retain the insurance in-house as this helps to control claims and is an important quality control mechanism.
Philippe explained that there is still a perception with some corporations that relocation needs to be handled by the host country. “They don’t always see the added values of having central control through which we can ensure the company’s policy is respected, budgets are met and that contracts signed are in favour of the customer,” he explained. “It also means that we can keep track of the administration for the client ensuring, for example, that work permits are renewed on time.”
In praise of the agent to agent principle
He also thinks that customers often do not appreciate the global nature of the industry and the way in which partners can work together to provide an excellent service. “Compared with the global organisation we feel our services is better with some hub offices and local services provided by our network of partners through Harmony, FIDI and OMNI,” he said. “This allows us the flexibility to use the best people in each destination and to appoint additional help when necessary. I think they are slowly beginning to understand.”
The changing scene
Ludovic Lemoine is the CSU director for operations and global alliance. He learned his trade with Prudential and joined CSU eight years ago. He said that it would have been easy for CSU to remain a French DSP, but diversification has enabled the company to flourish and ride the changes that have come along.
In the early days he had to explain to corporations what relocation was. “It was the Eldorado of relocation then with big packages and good margins,” he said. “But today the industry is well understood, with many relo professionals working client side. Now it’s more complicated. There is no filter as the client knows everything about our business. There’s more competition too. We used to have 50 relocation companies in France, now you have 130.”
Ludovic said that there is a trend for corporations to use smaller relocation companies, some with only one person, so the work remains important to them. “Although global companies like to work with global RMCs, I think the big relo companies are sometimes being shut out because the French market is complicated. If you don’t have good relations with your local people, you are done.” This has been accentuated recently by the French government that has been encouraging start-up businesses.
It’s been well documented that the nature of corporate relocation has changed. This is affecting CSU as it does everyone else. “We now have commuter packages where the assignee’s family stays in France and the company provides for the assignee to travel back regularly. There’s less cost for the client, no big home or schooling, and the assignee is happy because the family is content. Today this is about 30% of our work.”
There is a change too in the people coming to France. The Japanese and Indians are being replaced by Koreans, Chinese and Moroccans. “These can be less demanding but are often not given the same packages by their companies,” said Ludovic, explaining that having a multi-cultural and multi-language workforce was increasingly important. “If you can speak their language, the relationship changes completely.”
Ludovic does not believe that the trend towards greater automation has reached its limit. He thinks that customers will continue to demand high tech services and it is essential for the industry to develop the products and services they want. “Within ten years all the moving will be done by one link from an app,” he said. “Moving will be part of a global mobility service with everything in the same basket and you pick and choose what you want. We need to be ready and develop new services otherwise we will lose revenue.”
Despite that, Ludovic is positive and excited about the future. 2020 is looking good, with plenty of RFPs expected. Although he knows that technology is having an increasing impact, he also believes that there is no substitute for experience. “Our customers still need our skill and understanding of the human condition. Here we work with people, not things.”
And for Ludovic, what does success look like day to day? “When the client calls back after three months and asks for our help. Then we know we did a good job.”
Photo: Ludovic Lemoine (left) and Philippe Mirault.