The ball in the belly, they tightened around the computer. It was May 19, at the end of the day, and Philippe Favre, the general manager of Pimkie, was speaking to them on a screen. “We knew it was going to hit us, but we didn’t expect to be sold,” says Lucie (her first name has been changed), busy storing shirts on hangers in the Roubaix store. A colleague confides her anguish: “What will become of us? Already, we are almost all part-time, we struggle. What’s tomorrow? Like most Pimkie saleswomen, she works twenty-four hours a week and is “afraid of unemployment.” Karine Thérage, store manager in Noyelles-Godault (Pas-de-Calais) and CFE-CGC delegate, speaks of “mixed” reactions. “Sales people are in denial, but most reacted badly right away,” she adds.

The day before, a CSE had been held, “and we learned that Philippe Favre would speak the next day”, says Sandra Morin, CGT delegate, who works at Rosny-2. Like the other union representatives and many employees of this brand, founded in 1971, owned by the Mulliez Family Association (AFM), she knew that “something was in the pipes, but we were thinking more of a PSE”. The last dates back to 2018. Thirty-seven stores closed, 208 jobs lost. It was already an electroshock. At the maneuver at the time, the firm Prospheres, specialized in the restructuring of companies, from which the new general manager, appointed in January, comes. “This is the fifth CEO in five years,” notes Force Ouvrière, who speaks of “hazardous appointments to the governance of Pimkie. They accumulated strategic errors. “The bleeding of 2018 was not enough to recover Pimkie, which achieved nearly 200 million euros in sales in 2020, and today has 232 own stores in addition to 81 affiliated for 1,500 employees.

Des fortunes diverses

In a ready-to-wear sector that has been swaying since the early 1990s, Pimkie has tried parades. The regrouping within the FashionCube group of the six fashion brands of the AFM, “to face successive turbulences” and “to initiate a movement of transformation with, for common ambition, to create a new business model with a positive impact”, as explained its leader Jean-Christophe Garbino at its creation, did not save Pimkie.

The latter left FashionCube (1.5 billion euros in turnover) on May 25. Within this group (Jules, BZB – formerly Bizzbee –, Grain de Malice, Pimkie, RougeGorge, Orsay), the brands have since had mixed fortunes. If Jules and Grain de Malice went back to development projects, Pimkie continued to sink. Outsourcing and pooling (purchasing, logistics, IT, design office, data processing, etc.) have not all been successful. “We had major delivery issues when the logistics moved to Logs. It didn’t help,” laments Sandra Morin.

Balance sheet: “100 million euros in debt”, underlines Karine Thérage. “Who will be mad enough to take us back?” Above all, beyond this financial hole, it is Pimkie’s entire strategy to deal with the profound transformation of the sector that questions internally. “Everyone is suffering, except at Inditex (Zara, Bershka, Stradivarius…) perhaps,” notes the CFE-CGC delegate. “Competition from online sales and then Covid-19 accelerated our decline. Dedicated to 18-25 year olds, the low-cost brand “brings itself about offering youthful products at a good price/quality ratio, but that is no longer its image. Communication problems ? Items that no longer fit the target? asks the manager of the Noyelles-Godault store, summarizing: “We looked for each other, we did not find each other. »

Recently, Pimkie launched the sale of second-hand clothes by the kilo in four of its 313 stores in France. FashionCube has opened a first megastore in Chambray-les-Tours, (Indre-et-Loire): 1,350 square meters bringing together, under one roof, Jules, Pimkie, Grain de Malice, BZB and RougeGorge lingerie. In Neuville-en-Ferrain, near the Belgian border, denims made in France will soon come out of the state-of-the-art factory built by FashionCube, which boasts of its shift towards ethical and sustainable fashion.

Too late, after years of trial and error? In the fashion business of the Mulliez group, Pimkie remained the weak link. Like La Redoute, which had fallen considerably behind in online sales, Pimkie was slow to react. Faced with the arrival of the H

” Let it go “

“Employees don’t understand this sloppiness. Pimkie was a great brand, even copied: what a waste! “, laments a store manager from the Lille metropolis. Sign of the acceleration of its fall, Pimkie has just separated from Orsay, its network of German stores – also present in Central and Eastern Europe –, sold to Gordon Brothers, an American investment company specializing in the restructuring of businesses. The sale of stores owned by Pimkie to Ceetrus, Auchan’s property company (7 billion euros in real estate assets), did nothing to help these stores forced to pay rents which weigh heavily on fragile finances. And, on April 7, the business plan, presented by the new management of Pimkie, was rejected by the AFM.

The question that haunts employees today “is whether a buyer will be found or if it will be a change of shareholders. Who to take us back? We really do not see who we could interest. And management cultivates vagueness, “worries the CFE-CGC delegate. According to a source close to Pimkie’s management, an investment bank has been mandated to “find an external shareholder solution before the end of the year”.

If the new general manager displays “a good father and benevolent side, we know that he has arrived to restructure”, loose this former member of the house. At Force Ouvrière, the tone is pithy: “We must ensure that employees are not sold off like old unsaleable balances. »