Business en famille
For the past 22 years, my husband and I have spent the month of August at our home in the enchanting south of France. Although we do some work over there, thanks to WebEx and the internet, it is truly a place to relax and see old friends. Our high school French returns, but because most of our small village speaks English, it becomes all too easy to lapse back into our native tongue.
One can see why so many artists, like Cézanne, Renoir, Picasso and Miró, came to this area to paint. Something about the shimmering light, the beauty of the terrain and the deep azure of the ocean lends itself to being immortalized on canvas. Of course, the delicious Mediterranean food and French wine add to the flavor. The markets offer a dazzling array of Provençal goods and specialties like olive tapenade, Saussicon, thousands of cheeses and sea salts. I cook at home half the time; on other nights, we sample the huge variety of family-owned restaurants.
It seems everywhere we look, family businesses abound and flourish. These are often fourth-, fifth- and sixth-generation establishments thriving despite complaints about the French labor market. The local boulangerie is buzzing with sons, daughters and cousins selling mouthwatering croissants, pissaladière and baguettes, with more family in the back working the ovens. The seventh-generation Huile d’Olives in Opio has made the best olive oils in our region since 1848. The NextGen has expanded the business, which now also sells an assortment of linens, soaps and candies.
Up the hill in Grasse, Maison Molinard has been passionately dedicated to producing perfumes, soaps and accessories since 1849. Fifth-generation family member Célia Lerouge-Bénard continues to build and expand the company with branches all over the South of France. Nearby is the competing Parfumerie Fragonard, founded in 1926 and currently managed by third-generation Costa sisters Agnès and Françoise. The store includes a museum of Fragonard family artifacts relating to the early manufacturing of perfume.
One highlight every summer is the Cirque Arlette Gruss, a delightful one-top country circus that travels the region, stopping for two weeks in each town. This well-run circus, featuring acts that include lions, clowns and trained horses, was founded in 1985 by Frenchwoman Arlette Gruss and was taken over for many years by her son Gilbert. Today, Arlette’s granddaughter, Laura-Maria Gruss, runs the big show. The family has tried to keep up with the modern times using technology, lighting and unusual acrobatic feats. The title of their 2017 show was “And We Reinvented the Circus.”
Newspaper articles on the business climate in France lament the tough competition, treacherous labor conditions and lack of innovation and investment. However, “entrepreneur” is a French word meaning “one who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money.” Risk taking is a key element. Obviously, these French families have risked their livelihoods and family reputation by starting and continuing these businesses. Vive la France! Vive les familles!
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