Stéphane Roche, 57, was appointed Vivarte's general manager on March 4. He will be working with Vivarte's current president, Patrick Puy, who had been looking for a retail expert to initiate a new phase after three years of restructuring at the French group, which still owns La Halle and Caroll, after divesting many other shoe and apparel retail chains including André and Besson.

After his graduation, Roche was briefly with RSCG (now Havas) before spending five years as a marketing manager at Procter & Gamble. He then spent 11 years with Ricard, the big French spirits company, first as marketing chief, then as director general of Pernod Ricard Russia and finally as director of Ricard's international development.

From there, he went on to spend four years as director of international marketing at Decathlon. Roche then had briefer stints as general manager with La Redoute Benelux, Redcats UK and Cyrillus, all in apparel. In 2011, he became brand director at Brice, the French menswear retailer. Six years later, and most recently, he was retail and development leader at Fashion 3, described as a French “ecosystem of fashion brands” owned by the Mulliez group, which controls Decathlon, Brice and many other retail chains.

Vivarte's press release on the hiring singles out Roche's “capacity to define and deploy marketing, digital and international-development strategies” as essential to the sustainable growth of the group's La Halle and Caroll retail brands. This aligns well with recent events.

As we have previously reported, Vivarte has been burdened with debt since 2007, when it was acquired by institutional investors in a leveraged buyout. In the following months, the group acquired a number of retail brands, including Beryl, Accessoire Détente, Accessoire Diffusion, Défi Mode, and Naf Naf. The next year, the group also made a foray into sporting goods with the purchase of Super Sport. Unfortunately, the global financial crisis was right around the corner.

Vivarte renegotiated with its creditors in 2012 to delay reimbursements but defaulted on a loan covenant the following year. A deal was struck in August 2014 that made Oaktree Capital the new majority shareholder, followed by Alcentra, Golden Tree and Babson. Richard Simonin replaced Marc Lelandais as chief executive, and the group reduced the number of its chains to 16.

Vivarte closed 200 stores in 2015, after a decline of 6.5 percent in annual sales, and another hundred the following year. In October 2016, the group hired a new chief executive, the noted turnaround expert Patrick Puy, who embarked on a strategy to cut debt through asset disposals. That same year, Vivarte sold one of its two factories as well as the Pataugas brand of footwear and the Kookaï and Merkal banners. The group's Ebitda rose for the first time in half a decade. Moreover, creditors agreed to convert debt into equity and accorded further loans.

By late 2018, Vivarte had sold off a number of properties – most recently André, Besson and Naf Naf – and thereby reduced its retail chains to six. In the financial year ended in August 2017, the group generated €1.8 billion in revenues and €84 million in Ebitda. In the following fiscal year, ended in August 2018, it generated only €1.4 billion in revenues and €50.7 million in Ebitda, but this excluded three other chains recently sold off and Chevignon, whose sale to Groupe Royer is reportedly imminent. The group said this past December that it had reduced its losses from €305 million to €122 million by the end of fiscal 2018 and hoped to turn a profit in 2019.

Last month, in a change that had no effect on its staff, the group merged La Halle Mode et Accessoires and La Halle Chaussures into one single low-priced retail chain, called La Halle. It also confirmed plans to sell its remaining footwear retail banners – Minelli, San Marina and Cosmoparis – in the coming weeks. Once that sale takes place, Vivarte will be down to two banners, La Halle and Caroll, which currently account for about 80 percent of its remaining turnover.