In trouble, iconic Tolix furniture declares war on counterfeiting

Icons of design, Tolix furniture is present in the greatest museums. But counterfeiting steals “half” of the SME’s turnover, a “cancer” which its new management intends to tackle, which recently saved the Balmain label from bankruptcy.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Center Georges-Pompidou in Paris, the Vitra Design Museum in Germany… Tolix furniture is exhibited in the greatest museums in the world.

However, the small company must lay off nearly 40% of the staff at its factory in Autun (Saône-et-Loire), a large town in Burgundy, i.e. 19 employees out of 51.

“The situation is very, very precarious”, confides Michel Vaillot, secretary of the local Union FO of Autun. “Since 2018, we have lost more than half of our turnover. The reason? Counterfeiting”, answers AFP Antoine Bejui, general manager of Tolix.

In the Tolix factory in Autun (Saône-et-Loire), September 14, 2007, a furniture brand founded by a modest boilermaker in 1927 (AFP/Archives – Jeff PACHOUD)

2018 is also the year of the death of Xavier Pauchard, the modest boilermaker who had founded the Tolix brand in 1927 (for “Tôle X”, like Xavier), after successfully galvanizing steel, which prevented rust and therefore allowed the use of metal furniture outdoors.

Success is there but the invasion of plastic causes a first filing for bankruptcy in 1983.

Salvation will come from the attic of the workshop: a designer discovers there the creations of Xavier Pauchard and reissues them. The success is overwhelming, especially for the cult A chair (in reference to its shape). Having become the symbol of so-called “industrial” design, it sells for hundreds of euros each.

“But an A chair produced in China sells for five times less,” summarizes Mr. Bejui. “Copying is like cancer.”

“But we will defend ourselves,” he promises. Above all in France, starting with this large DIY brand which sells “Tolix style” for less than 50 euros, “from China”, according to him.

It’s a Titan’s job that Tolix is ​​working on: listing all the counterfeiters in the world, attacking them, then starting again when others emerge. It is “necessary” but the cost is “prohibitive”: “It amounts to hundreds of thousands of euros”, calculates Mr. Bejui.

– “Educate customers” –

Galvanized steel furniture in the Tolix factory in Autun (Saône-et-Loire), September 14, 2007 (AFP/Archives - Jeff PACHOUD)
Galvanized steel furniture in the Tolix factory in Autun (Saône-et-Loire), September 14, 2007 (AFP/Archives – Jeff PACHOUD)

The invasion of copying had already been one of the reasons for the previous judicial liquidation pronounced in 2004 against Tolix. The accountant, Chantal Andriot, then took over the company by putting her husband’s cows on bail, but without being able to stem the impact of the counterfeiting. Losses reached nearly 400,000 euros in 2020, for a turnover of 4.1 million euros, according to figures made public.

Faced with the slump, Chantal Andriot sold the majority of Tolix to two former leaders of Balmain, who had saved the label from bankruptcy in 2004: Antoine Bejui and his sidekick, Emmanuel Diemoz. Arrived at Tolix in October 2022, they want to go further than defending the brand in court. Because the real solution, according to them, is to “educate the customers”.

“Counterfeiting will always be there, but in the souks of Turkey, fake Balenciaga bags or others do not prevent these big names from making billions because customers have understood the difference”, underlines the former CEO of the Balmain fashion house. We must therefore “+ rebrand + Tolix and go to the top of the range”, believes Mr. Diemoz.

“There are similarities with the world of fashion: Tolix can also be a way for a person to say: +Look, I have taste+”. But we are “on a 3-5 year plan”, he said, describing the current layoffs as “a break to reconnect with success”. “At Balmain, we went down to 15 people to have 250 ten years later”, he underlines.

“I’ve heard that 100 times,” denounced trade unionist Michel Vaillot. “Isn’t this a recovery to buy the brand and go produce elsewhere?” Asks the FO representative. “No,” replies Mr. Diemoz categorically. “Our DNA is “Made in France, but even more: in Autun”.

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