Reimagining Europe’s Consumer Healthcare: Q&A with Vision Healthcare’s Bernard Lemaire
Co-Founder and CFO
Vishesh Raisinghani of MarketCurrents led an interview with Bernard Lemaire, the company’s co-founder and CFO. The recorded version is also available below.
Could you describe Vision Healthcare’s investment strategy?
So, we’re driven by Yvan Vindevogel, who happens to be the founder of Vision Healthcare, as well as Omega Pharma and Vemedia Pharma. He has been in the consumer healthcare industry for the last 35 years. Five or six years ago, we teamed up and wondered where the consumer healthcare sector was heading. We decided to go for an omni channel strategy with a focus on everything that is direct-to-consumer related. Consumer healthcare meaning everything that is self-care brands, OTC products, minerals and supplements, beauty and personal care.
We have looked quite actively to companies that are working in the sector and distributing their products and brands. We’re brand owners and not a workshop. When we look into these companies, we have found that our team and Vision Healthcare have core competencies that we can bring to brands in different geographies in Europe. These brands benefit from a common kind of front office platform that we’ve put together which is digitally driven, because most of the growth we see right now is digitally driven.
So that’s our investment path and we’re looking to do more of these as we go along. Our investment targets are brands that are consumer-related and could benefit from a marketplace strategy – whether that be through SEO, SEM, or e-commerce listings.
We also have an angle on OTC products because we do believe that the legislations on these drugs will loosen them over time. It’s not a question of when well it’s not a question of if, it is a question when. That’s why we want to be ready. What we’ll also do, as a second angle is that we look at business models that are a little bit more traditional, but that do have 1) The potential and 2) The ambition to become more and more ecommerce or digitally driven. Those are the opportunities or brands, or companies that we also look for.
In Germany, we’ve got a company that is called Bärbel Drexel which one is a good example. Because they were a capital-driven company, which we completely turned around. And we have made a digital company out of that. So, we want to do more of that. We want to become more data-driven to understand the consumer because they ultimately have the power to drive the market. Personalizing our offering and understanding our consumers is critical.
What are the biggest challenges you face as an investor in this sector?
I think we are quite unique in our setup. So I think the challenge I can see to really become and remain successful is to find the right people. And again, that is critical to me because I need to have the best in town. We want the best in town to be able to run and deploy the strategy that we have put together.
Regulations, as you mentioned, are not a challenge. It’s a given. You know, Yvonne, the main founder of Vision Healthcare, he’s a pharmacist by education. So he’s very cautious on that. And we are obviously doing what we can and we’re taking into account every regulation that is applicable. But the real challenge is really to become successful in our strategies to find the right people. People, people people.
Tell us more about your team.
We have over 50 people in the team right now and we’re looking to increase that. But the thing is, to have the right people and to keep them motivated. Because these youngsters are smart and really good at what they do. They need a challenge to keep them going. One way of doing that is really to to enable them to work on several of several projects and different brands so that they really jump from one thing to another and that’s what they like, but it’s not that easy to find them why because these are people who can disrupt a lot of industries and they’re really wanted.
With what’s happening with COVID now, I believe these guys or women are becoming more readily available because more traditional companies will probably decide to invest less in digital disruption. Meanwhile, we want to be at the forefront of everything that is happening. We need the right people to enable that.
During this period of crisis, has it heightened the demand for the products that the company sells or has a depressed valuation of some of the brands that you target? Has it made it easier for you to acquire new companies?
I think if someone wanted to prove the resiliency of a model, this has been the best test. We have had a tremendous start for the year. We are above budget because, you see, we are in the right sector which is vitamin supplements and minerals that reinforce your immune system. We also distributed products and brands through the right channel, which is more ecommerce-driven. So, we have had no impact from that perspective, obviously, people wonder whether this could have an impact on the long term in the economy and it will. But I think we are one of the few that has benefited from this situation because I feel it has resulted in a structural increase of e commerce demand as a whole. And I think that the prevention or preventive care for people, due to this situation, will become more and more acute and people who want to be more healthy will drive demand today and tomorrow. So when I think I see a structural benefit for our sector.