These are rather complicated times for entrepreneurs… It is not always easy to start out on the workplace as a young graduate in the current economic context. Most Vatel alumni prefer salaried positions providing both job security and a way of gaining experience before striking out on their own.
However, every year, there are always several graduates who choose to set up their own business, usually in the restaurant trade, but also as caterers or managers of fancy food shops. The hotel business, which calls for much heavier investment, is less accessible.
Bérengère Bulgheresi-Descuilhes, who graduated from Vatel in Bordeaux in July 2012, is one of these entrepreneurs. A native of Bordeaux, Bérengère was well aware of the economic impact of summer tourism on the Cap-Ferret peninsula since this is where she has spent her holidays ever since she was a child. Soon after taking her exams, and with the help of a few friends, she created her small business,La Conciergerie du Cap, which offers a variety of services to assist holiday makers.
One year later, in July, and just a few days away from the arrival of the first wave of tourists, this bright and dynamic young woman answers a few questions about herself.
Interview of July 04, 2013
What motivated you to set up your business?
After discussing with my sister, we came up with an idea: to create a conciergerie in Cap-Ferret to offer all sorts of services. I was not sure that the project was viable, but Vatel offers third-year students options for two-week-long practical applications of what they have learned in the classroom. This can either be a job placement or experience with a company the student has created. That was when I decided to go ahead with my plan. The more I looked into it, the more I was convinced that the idea of concierge services was truly interesting and feasible. I said to myself that, at the age of 20, it was now or never to do my own thing.
However, isn't it much easier to find a job when you leave school?
I am very independent. I despise taking orders and kowtowing to authority. So, being my own boss was the ideal solution. Also, I didn't see myself immediately going to work for someone else at the age of 20. Creating my own company enabled me to enter the work force the way I wanted. I now have some very worthwhile experience to put on my CV, and it looks pretty good. In addition, the business is doing well. What more could you ask for? Later on, nothing prevents me from changing my mind and following a different path. But, prior to doing what I have done, I didn't feel confident enough in my abilities.
Why did you target concierge services?
First of all, there is a clear need for such services in Cap-Ferret because the population is multiplied tenfold in the summer months. Also, most holiday makers have strong purchasing power. So, I said to myself that there was a real opportunity. And seeing as I hate monotony, the sort of activity I'm in lets me do something different every day.
Exactly what kinds of services do you offer?
Housecleaning, ironing, catering, breakfast delivery, picnics and meals, dealing with rental formalities, baby-sitting, shopping, etc. I try to handle all requests.
What about catering?
I really didn't see myself staying in Cap-Ferret all winter, because there aren’t many people around at that time of year. That's why I focused my catering activity on Bordeaux. I do everything: buying the food, preparing it and serving it. I really love cooking, which I learned from my grandmother and mother. I must have received my first cookbook when I was 9 years old, and took things from there...
How do you assess your first season?
I’ve had my own business for a year now, and was truly surprised by the results the first summer. I started in June and didn't stop all season long. My catering activity in Bordeaux was successful even though there are many other caterers far better-known than me. My clients must have thought what I was offering was more unusual… My first year was really very good and, by the end, I was able to pay myself a minimum monthly salary. But no more. However, the profits were sufficient to develop the business.
I assume that if you continue, it's because you believe in the company you created. What have you changed compared to last year?
After one year, I am better able to adapt to the various demands of my customers and can now offer more options, such as cocktail receptions on the Banc d’Arguin sandbank, for instance. That having been said, I haven't changed anything fundamentally on the premise that if it’s not broken, don’t fix it… What I do calls for a great deal of organisation. I am also looking at different sorts of new jobs in order to have more work.
How did you go about making yourself known?
I invested in advertising the first year, especially in the local newspaper, but this was not really useful. What worked best was work of mouth, social networks and the flyers I distribute. People like to know whom they're dealing with.
What are your goals for the coming year?
First of all, I intend to work all summer in Cap-Ferret. As for my catering activity in Bordeaux, I haven't decided yet. I have planned to go abroad for 3 months if things prove to be a little difficult. In any event, I will start up again in January. I would like to expand the business but, for the time being, I am lucky to be able to live in my parents' house, so I have few living and operating expenses. However, I would like to have my own office and hope that the profits this summer will enable me to invest in one.
“Vatel made me more open-minded and allowed me to meet people who contributed to making me who I am today.”
Aurélie Ponce - Operations manager for the Cheval Blanc Paris Hotel / 2006 Alumnus
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