Introducing Charlotte DE CUGNAC, area sales manager United States and Canada for PENELOPE and PADDOCK SPORTS.
Charlotte, how did you cross paths with Ekkia?
My professional journey was shaped by a pivotal encounter. This person, who was both unique and incredibly creative, with an impressive entrepreneurial spirit and a generous heart, is Céline Leroux (Editor's Note: co-founder of Pénélope and a member of Ekkia's Executive Committee). I crossed paths with her in the late 2000s while I was in business school. I worked on her brands, Horse Avenue and Paddock, during an exciting period where I had to be versatile, switching between sales and preparing packages. At the same time, I had been passionate about horseback riding since I was three years old, and at 17, I decided to head to the United States, a country that had always fascinated me. I spent all my summers in Virginia, working at a stable to earn pocket money and improve my English. When I finished my studies, Céline, who had just co-founded the Pénélope brand, offered me the opportunity to take charge of the sales aspect. We started from scratch, and for five years, we developed the brand in France and internationally, with retailers in Australia, the UK, Belgium, Spain...
But not yet in the United States...
In 2018, the brand was integrated into Ekkia. I took on the role of traveling across Europe to train all the representatives on Pénélope's products. However, the idea of opening a North American branch never left me. In early 2019, I took the plunge, sold everything – my house, car, and horse – to create my own company, French Equestrian Company, initially distributing the Paddock, Pénélope, and Jump'in brands in the United States. I spent months reaching out to potential clients, with my suitcases and catalogs, taking about fifty flights in a year to convince retailers to offer my products to their customers. It was going quite well until COVID-19 abruptly halted this development. I returned to France, dealt with visa-related administrative formalities, without giving up on my project. After a nine-month hiatus, I returned and took advantage of the strong interest in outdoor sports in general, and equestrianism in particular. Today, from New York, where I've been living for six months, I manage my network of 50 dealers in the country who trust me.
Are the American market and customers different from those in France?
First, it's important to know that when I arrived, no one knew my products, let alone Pénélope. Then, it's a matter of perseverance and networking. I remember a retailer who decided to carry my products because I had been courageous and bold. Another one did it based on the recommendation of one of her equestrian customers, who had seen our products being used by her daughters at a competition in California. And not just any customer – it was Jessica Capshaw, an actress from Grey's Anatomy :) In general, the clientele of riders is older than in France, mainly due to the fact that the sport is more elitist. There are no pony clubs or riding schools, only owner's stables or competition stables, which creates an economic barrier to entry. As for sales, the products that sell well align more with the taste of young women, who prefer a more elegant and understated style, less sportswear. And you also need to offer products for an equestrian discipline that is unique to the United States, the hunter. It's like show jumping, but the scoring is not based on speed, but on style.
How do you assess Ekkia's role in the development of your business?
I never forget that they've been with me from the very beginning. I have a very close connection with Monique, my point of contact for the daily management of my account, development, and commercial activities. With Céline, we focus on creative aspects and imagine products specifically for the American market. I also keep in mind to find opportunities for other brands in the portfolio, as I did recently for Equithème and Pro Series.
What is your preferred human or interpersonal quality, and what do you dislike?
Kindness and respect for others. And for that, I am fortunate in the United States! On the contrary, I cannot stand selfishness and disrespect. I dislike it when people speak to me rudely.
I have two: "fortune favors the bold" and "time will tell."
Ekkia in one word?
Steadfastness. The processes may sometimes take a while to set up, but once they're underway, they are well-structured and very efficient. It provides stability and visibility to the collaboration.