French furniture designer and manufacturer for 60 years

Tribute to Dominique Soulard – "Gautier: my whole life"

It is with great sadness that all of us at Gautier announce the death of Dominique Soulard. Dominique helped to shape Gautier with his dauntless devotion and proudly promoted its values in the Vendée, in France, and all over the world.

"I’ve always been simply and honestly true to my values. I never imagined that this way of living would prove fundamental for the company."
Dominique Soulard

Beginnings at Gautier within a flourishing family project

Dominique joined Gautier in July 1964, at the age of 17. His older sister Annick offered him a job in the new company she had set up with her husband, Patrice Gautier. She was a woman who lived by the values of hard work, affection and solidarity. "'Why don't you come and work with us?’ she said. And by "us" she meant Gautier."

The company was in its infancy back then, and Dominique was the youngest in the factory. He began in the moulding machine department, then moved onto assembly and packaging. After nine month’s experience in furniture making, he decided to travel around France to sell Gautier’s products.

 

"When I set out in my little car on the roads of Brittany, no one had heard of Gautier. [We had] no photos of our models and no advertising leaflets, let alone any brochures: just a few sketches of our furniture."
Dominique Soulard

No matter: the company was a success from the word go. The idea of creating bedrooms for children was very appealing and easily found a niche in a market that was completely new at the time. Between 1965 and 1980, Gautier continued to grow by an average of 45% every year. "When we doubled the previous year's figures, we realised we also had to double the workforce!" All these changes could have in fact crushed the family spirit. Instead, it ended up establishing itself as the company’s trademark: "Most of the staff we recruited came from the country. They were very often members of the same family – fathers, children, cousins and so on."

Dedication on a global scale

In 1972, Dominique got an idea to pass the time during his holidays and shared it with Patrice: he would go on a trip around the world to explore the furniture market. "I set out without any people to contact or addresses. It was a leap in the dark!" After reaching Belgium, Gautier began to develop in the form of subsidiaries in countries like the Netherlands, the UK, Spain, Italy and even the USA. Then, Dominique decided to establish the brand in the Arab states.

Dominique's innate sincerity led him to contribute to Gautier's prosperity more than any professional would. For instance, when he talked about one of his Israeli partners, he would say, "We did some important business together, sure, but more importantly, he became a friend." He formed countless friendships with export partners as well and some remain Gautier’s customers to this day.

"Certainly a united family, but always open to the world."

A major disaster followed by a tenacious, unusual strike in his name

Gautier's glory days came to a sudden end in the early 1980s. "With so much success both within and outside France, we were lulled into a sense of euphoria. We were asked by the public authorities to take over some companies in difficulty." The company’s financial structure was weakened by very high and risky investments and collapsed as soon as business dropped following economic crisis. For Dominique, as for all the employees, it was a rude awakening. "The axe fell in 1985: it was not even bankruptcy, but liquidation. It was a real tragedy."

Gautier was taken over by the Seribo group. Dominique stayed on as Managing Director. However, following a dispute in 1999 over a share buy-out, he objected strongly to the group's decision and was shown the door. 

"In a few minutes, I found myself on my own at home, after leaving behind a company, employees, their families, a history – that of Annick and Patrice – and an epic: the glorious adventure of Gautier’s creation. My whole life."

Then, to everyone’s surprise, the entire workforce – managers, workers and employees of the subsidiaries – unanimously voted to shut down the factory immediately! "I would never have imagined this for a second." And even less what was to follow…

An industrial support committee was formed to engineer Dominique's return: "a kind of solidarity typical of people in the Vendée region." All the media closely followed this unusual and extraordinary event: workers who seemed to have gone on strike to defend their boss’s job! After a week, the national daily newspaper Le Monde even ran the headline: "Meubles Gautier staff strike in support of their CEO." Over 800 people marched through the streets of La Roche-Sur-Yon, all united behind a single slogan on a huge banner, which read: "Give us back our Dominique!"

Saving the furniture, literally and figuratively

After the strike had lasted two weeks, Dominique, with the approval of his wife and children, took a bold and rather "crazy" decision: to buy back Gautier. The amount of money involved was colossal, as was the effort needed to succeed. "I don't know if it was sheer recklessness, but I never lost any sleep over all this. It just felt right."

Upon his return, work resumed in a "World Cup atmosphere" as the press put it at the time. However, there were still numerous challenges awaiting him. Dominique was taking Gautier in a new direction: from now on, the brand would develop its own network, though without turning its back on conventional distributors: "We decided to launch our own shop policy and create Gautier shops!" Over a hundred of them were then opened in France and abroad. "Our profitability enabled us to meet our repayment deadlines. (...) I thought fate must surely be on our side."

"Everything took time, and there were endless problems."

The strong, genuine bonds forged with all the staff have always been part of Dominique’s recipe for success. "We can see a strong sense of belonging, not so much to the brand as to the company’s very identity: that of a manufacturer, a French producer, in the heart of the Vendée." On the strength of this, after the closure of the Paris Trade Fair, where Gautier "was a brilliant host", Dominique started up the "Gautier conventions":  "We had this idea of bringing all our partners together on a regular basis to remind them of our values, our company’s identity and the quality of our products". A kind of big family reunion. 

Gradually, Dominique let his children take over in the running of the company: An obvious decision in the light of all the milestones marking the history of Gautier and Dominique. 

Dominique, surrounded by his wife Ginette, his children David, Hervé, Valérie and Arnaud

"It is up to the new generation to adapt with eagerness and skill, with human values but also with a great deal of joy. All this while never forgetting our longstanding master strategy: hearts as trumps."
While Gautier was Dominique's whole life, the company itself would not have been the same without all the impassioned boldness and love of its first champion.

Message by Phillipe Raimbaud

Faithful friend of Dominique, who collected his testimony for his autobiography "Atout Coeur"

When we talk about the economic miracle in the Vendée, the “region of countryside factories”, we evoke the astonishing commitment of creators who led people and companies along the road to success through their tenacity, unstinting courage and commitment.Through their love for their country, and their passion.

Dominique Soulard was one of such people. 

And undoubtedly one of the most remarkable.

This sincere, generous and incredibly combative man took Gautier to the very top. Working from Le Boupère in the heart of the Vendée bocage, his attachment to his family roots, the people of Vendée and his company was so powerful that – as everyone remembers – all his staff came out on strike in 1999 to defend one single job: his own, that of the "boss" whose shareholders at the time wanted to oust him.

In the 1970s, Dominique set out to sell his furniture – "Made in France" and even better, "Made in Vendée"! He travelled all over the world, from the deserts of the Middle East to the shores of the Black Sea in a Ukraine not yet in turmoil; from a newly awakening China to the fiery sands of Saudi Arabia. He worked tirelessly, with the unshakeable faith of someone who believed in humankind, and in that beautiful word "partner" – graced with an even stronger qualification, "loyal". 

Everywhere, in France and throughout the world, "loyal partners" have made Gautier’s name a byword, because one fine day they had an improbable encounter with the inimitable Dominique Soulard – and believed in him. 

With his staff, as in his life, he always lived by the "3 H" rule: Humility, Honesty and Harmony.

In this magnificent region with its rich historical past, Dominique Soulard will forever remain a shining source of inspiration.

(Re)Discover 60 years of Gautier story in video

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