“A regular sales approach is simply not enough anymore.”

Gisele International supports foreign brands in Europe

The three founders of start-up Gisele International know the ins and outs of the European market all too well, after all, they have 15 years of experience in the sexual wellness market and the cosmetics industry. Operating as a strategic sales and marketing force, Lisa Sananes, Anne-Noëlle Bertel, and Julie Bonnet use their extensive know-how to support brands seeking to increase their brand recognition and reach in the European market. EAN had the opportunity to talk with CEO Lisa Sananes to learn more about Gisele International.

What made you start your own business – even in the middle of the corona crisis? 

Lisa Sananes: It all started last year when we were discussing with Julie and Anne-Noëlle the difficulties a European brand could face when trying to gain a foothold in the US market. Apart from just the logistics and financial issues, what we believed was more problematic was finding the right salespeople with a strong local market knowledge when you are in an unknown and far-away territory. So we started to investigate the situation in Europe and we found that the same applied here for certain brands: We identified a concrete need for foreign brands to get access to a sales person/team who would have a deep understanding of the European sexual wellness market, as well as the contacts and the strategic vision to build up and develop their sales in this region. We started thinking about how we could translate our combined expertise into a business offer for foreign brands and once we saw the need, we decided to give it a shot. 

Starting a new business can be – and is – a scary thing, but I had the example of Elsa and Marta from Bijoux Indiscrets, who inspired me, plus the reassuring feeling that I knew both Julie and Anne-Noëlle personally as well as professionally, so I was certain we would make an amazing if unconventional team. And then Covid happened. But Covid or no Covid, life goes on, and we were too far along in our project to put this on hold. Somehow it was the perfect timing: Our lives were going to change anyway, so why not make this change a global and exciting one! 

Two of the three founders of Gisele International have experience in our industry. Could you introduce your team? 

Lisa: Gisele is co-founded by Julie Bonnet, sales and marketing expert in both, the adult industry and the beauty world – six years as Sales Manager for Decléor and Carita, three years at Je Joue, and two years as International Sales Manager at Bijoux Indiscrets. Anne-Noëlle Bertel: finance and legal specialist, formerly head of risk in the banking industry in Luxembourg. And myself, formerly head of sales at Bijoux Indiscrets. 

What is Gisele’s field of business? What services do you offer? What is your philosophy?

Lisa: We like to think of ourselves as the voice of exclusive foreign sexual wellness brands in Europe. More specifically, we are acting as the strategic sales and marketing force for selected brands within the European space. Our tasks consist of developing and supporting the entire wholesale, retail, and communication network, and together with our partners, we build a streamlined long-term strategy that will nurture brand awareness and thereby drive organic sales. 

Our range of services includes: tailor-made sales and marketing strategies for each market, brand education and training, qualitative prospecting of new business opportunities, premium customer service, short- and medium-term marketing plans, budget and P&L monitoring, legal and regulatory support… Literally everything that a brand needs to be fully operational and successful in Europe. 

Like most of the actors in our industry, our ultimate goal is to see the educational gap around sexuality disappear and to empower people to enjoy their intimate lives free of any kind of taboo and prejudice. So, we act at our own level, doing what we know best for brands sharing the same mission. 

What tools and instruments do you use to act as the voice of your partners in Europe?

Lisa: How we operate truly depends on the brand’s global strategy and current position in Europe. Our best tool to act as the voice of our partnered brands is our network. We rely on our relationships with key European partners, distributors, retailers, and sexperts. Each of them has their unique role and a wide reach, so by supporting our partners, we are helping the brands build a stronger presence. 

What ‘free space’ does the market offer beyond the distribution and sales process? 

Lisa: Our industry has three very unique attributes: 

  • We are offering intimate products. Obviously, this requires access to more information and more training compared to other types of mainstream goods
  • We are talking to a target audience that might be lacking education on the topic. Most people still don´t know how their bodies work, what they like, what they don´t like – or they are afraid to express it.
  • The range of intimate products on the market is overwhelming and can be confusing to most, with similar but different toys, new innovations… The gap between what the consumer is actually ready to buy and the ongoing innovation in the toy segment keeps growing. 

A regular sales approach is simply not enough anymore. More than ever, a brand needs a 360° approach with a true focus on transparency, extensive support and training, tailor-made assets, and marketing in order to efficiently communicate with its customers. 

Do you not get in the way of distributors and wholesalers with your work & services? 

Lisa: Quite the opposite! Our goal is to optimise our brands’ sell-out so that everyone in the distribution chain is involved and satisfied. Clear communication is definitely necessary right from the beginning to explain how we will operate together, since it is quite unusual to have an outsourced sales team. That’s what’s happening here, we are at the distributors and retailers’ service. And we manage to do this by working hand in hand with the brands and the full wholesale, retail, and communication network. 

The market has changed a lot in the past few years. Are the expectations regarding marketing, communication, sales, etc. also increasing as a result? 

Lisa: Totally! Here again, it all has evolved together with the market. On one hand, there is a real urge on the consumers’ part (and this applies globally) to get more educational content on sexuality, especially feminine sexuality, and to understand the existing options for sexual wellness products currently available. On the other hand, there are always new products and new actors arriving on the scene, making the market fiercely competitive with new, cutting-edge innovations. In this context, yes, you need clear direct marketing, communication, and training more than ever. If you are lagging behind on that front, that will most probably lead to a slow process of losing market shares and eventually to the extinction of the brand. 

How will your years of experience in the sexual wellness market help you with your new tasks? 

Lisa: As head of sales at Bijoux Indiscrets, I gained knowledge about the specificities of each market, referring to all, mature markets, booming or emerging markets. I learned to identify the most effective strategies for each territory and sales channel, the good practices and potential risks. Entering mainstream markets even with the right sales and communication strategy is still a challenge, but we know how to reach and seduce an audience. Julie´s expertise in selling premium toys is also a huge asset for us, and her unique know-how in the beauty industry allows us to adapt sales and marketing techniques to our area of business. 

Lora DiCarlo and Überlube are the names of the first two brands you will be working for in Europe. What makes them a great fit for Gisele International? What are the criteria you use to select brands you want to work with? 

Lisa: We are not your typical salespeople. The truth is, we would really struggle to sell a product we don´t believe in, and on an ethical level, we aim to represent only brands and products that we know are bringing real benefits to the world. Both Lora DiCarlo and Überlube are totally in line with our expectations regarding brands and unique products. Überlube has many years of proving its excellence and providing the highest quality of silicone lubricant with a proper, successful bottom-up sales approach, and we want to replicate that in the European market. Lora DiCarlo is just starting, but we already identify with the company’s values and are impressed by the quality of their products. Finally, the common DNA between both of them and us lies in our commitment to constantly supporting the market at all levels. 

On a general note, Gisele´s portfolio will be favouring quality over quantity and will work only with a very limited selection of exclusive niche brands. 

What exactly are your plans for these two brands? What ideas do you want to realise with Lora DiCarlo and Überlube? 

Lisa: Less is more. Überlube has mastered this concept, becoming one of the leading lube brands in the US with just one formula. Our goal with Überlube is to offer the same level of excellent service in Europe and replicate the US strategy when it makes sense to do so. Gisele will not only provide retailers with extensive marketing support, brand content, and localised assets, but we will also look for new business and communication opportunities which will nurture the brand as well as its network. 

As for Lora DiCarlo, we have just finalised the European distribution strategy, having selected Eropartner as the main distributor in Europe, and we are currently planning the B2B launch on October 5th with retailers. It will be an exciting time as the brand is preparing some great promotions and surprises that will definitely support and animate the network. 

Where does the market stand today in terms of brands? What role do they play? As you know, opinions differ widely on this issue… 

Lisa: My personal opinion is that we are still quite far from a brand-driven market. With the exception of a few brands that have invested a lot of time and money into direct marketing and that are now famous in certain countries, the reality is that we remain in a product or needs-driven market. I truly believe though that the future will be different and mainly brand oriented, provided that the level of sexual education keeps on increasing. 

In which direction is our market heading at the moment? And which trends will gain momentum in our market going forward?

Lisa: It is hard to tell. We currently have two major trends, and I believe both are valid and working: brands aiming to democratise sexuality by making products affordable to everyone, and brands betting on premium tech innovation. My opinion is that both approaches nurture each other. Affordable products are opening new doors, reaching a wider audience and therefore increasing the desirability of intimate products, while innovative brands keep on bringing more attention from the mainstream world to our industry and building its credibility and legitimacy. 

What wishes do you have for the next few years? 

Lisa: With everything going on right now, I simply wish that people will adopt a more authentic and sustainable way of living, based on human experiences, solidarity, and curiosity. As for Gisele, I hope we’ll keep on having as much fun as we are having right now, all while hopefully making a small difference in this world.