Abstract: Selling Cosmetics in Pharmacies: Intermediaries and Institutions, 1960-2010

Ludovic Cailluet


Economic sociology informs us that intermediaries are more than neutral platforms relating economic partners. These active entities are actors involved in the construction of markets and the dynamics of the values that drive them. As a consequence they have an impact on the cognitive categories and the values that order goods, people, and organizations on markets and institutions. This paper examines the historical significance of intermediaries and institutions in the case of the cosmetics industry. The paper is based the case study of Pierre Fabre Laboratories, a pharmaceutical and cosmetics company created in 1962 in the southwest of France by a pharmacist. It has developed into a 2 billion Euro multinational company with strong market shares in anti-cancer drugs and dermocosmetics. The paper looks at the development of the company facing much larger competitors such as the "big pharmas" or beauty products giants L'Oreal or Shiseido. The success of this family-controlled firm was based among other factors on its capacity to develop products from natural substances for a therapeutic or dermatology and cosmetic use. Using the archives of the company and interviews, we analyze the internationalization of the firm's dermocosmetics division to its present position, in which 60 percent of the company turnover is generated outside its home market. The paper will reflect on a series of cases illustrating the internationalization of the Pierre Fabre brands and the opportunities for collaboration with colleagues, prescribers, complementors, and competitors in achieving success. It will look also at international failures and at the issue of cultural adaptation.