Aristide Boucicaut was born on July 14th, 1810 in Bellême. His father was a hatmaker and had a shop in Bellême (Place Boucicaut, currently the offices of AXA, an insurance company). He started his career selling hats in local markets, but in 1835 went to Paris and became a salesman in a shop called “Au Petit St Thomas”, rue du Bac. He made his way up the ladder and became head of department.
Encounters that changed his life
The first was his meeting with Marguerite Guérin (born on January 3rd, 1816 in Verjus, Saône et Loire). They married and had a son, Antoine Anthony Aristide, born in 1839.
In 1852, the couple formed a partnership with Paul Videau, the owner of a shop called “Le Bon Marché”, selling novelties and haberdashery in Paris. It had 12 employees and was located on the corner of the rue de Sèvres and rue du Bac . Here, they put into practice their innovative ideas in the field of commerce.
In 1863, the couple became sole owners of the shop, buying up Paul Videau’s shares thanks to money lent to them by Henri Maillard, a pastry cook from Mortagne-au-Perche who had become a millionaire in the USA.
An innovative commercial policy
Boucicaut was the first to envisage modern commercial practices, such as:
- allowing people to look around the shop with no obligation to buy
- cut-price sales in June and October
- temporary exhibitions and promotional sales, such as the “Blanc” (bed linen, towels, tablecloths, etc.) in January, Oriental carpets in September, toys in December, etc.
- Mail order sales by catalogue throughout the world.
These practices, which seem evident to us today, were totally new at that time.
Other shops, such as “Les Galeries Lafayette” and “Le Printemps” imitated them.
“Le Bon Marché”, a modern store
The couple invested all their profits in the development of their shop and soon the original “Bon Marché”, despite buying up all neighbouring premises, became too small. So the Boucicauts decided to build the first Parisian department store, an architecturally modern and functional building.
The first stone was laid on September 9th 1869 by Mme Boucicaut, during the economic boom of the Second Empire. Louis Boileau and the engineer Gustave Eiffel (builder of the Eiffel tower) were responsible for designing the store. Emile Zola’s inspiration for his book “Au Bonheur des Dames”, written in 1883, came from this building.
An “avant-garde” social policy
It would seem likely that these innovations were inspired largely by Marguerite Boucicaut who had had a very poor childhood, but who had always been very attentive to the needs of others.
- In 1870, Boucicaut put a notice up in the “Bon Marché promising that all employees conscripted to go to war against the Prussians would receive an indemnity and retain their job on return, even if wounded or in bad health.
- - In 1872, the “Bon Marché” opened a vast canteen to feed its employees.
- Boucicaut set up free medical services and annual paid holidays.
- 150 rooms were allocated to young employees, with a reading room, library and billiard room.
- He offered other training opportunities to employees outside working hours, such as English or German lessons, music lessons etc.
- He made Sunday a “day of rest” (which will only become legal in France in 1906), created a Provident fund for the employees and a Pension Fund providing a pension after twenty years of service.
- Each salesperson received a minimum wage and a bonus for every sale.
- He enabled every employee to progress according to his seniority or personal qualities.
- One year before his death, he set up a profit-sharing system for employees.
Mme Boucicaut, who came from a modest background, went to great lengths to set up a welfare home for unmarried mothers and a hospital for the aged. (Villa Place Boucicaut).
In Paris, she bequeathed money to build the Boucicaut hospital and to develop the Pasteur research institute.
Aristide and Marguerite Boucicaut were very generous donors to all the charities in Bellême and in the Saint Sauveur church, we can admire the Chapel of the Rosary, donated by Aristide in memory of his mother.
With thanks to Ghislaine C, Solenne P and to Eric Y, historian. Translation : Marion D and Maureen P