The World’s Leading Home + Housewares Show

March 2–4, 2025 | McCormick Place | Chicago, IL

The World’s Leading Home + Housewares Show
March 2—4 | McCormick Place | Chicago, IL

The French Global Innovation Award (gia) winner for 2024 – Maison Empereur – offers customers a fascinating, heartfelt journey through a museum-like space that preserves the country’s history while shining a light on myriad artisans and esteemed manufacturers.

by Michelle Hespe

In 1770, André Empereur established a craftsman’s workshop near Marseille’s main port, which he later handed down to his son François. Deciding to create a profitable business from his father’s original enterprise, in 1827 François created Maison Empereur–France’s oldest drugstore. Since its inception, the store has been handed down through eight generations of the Empereur family–each one being guided into the future by the requests of its loyal customers. Today it is still a store, but also a “house,” a museum and café with a unique accommodation offering.

Those familiar with the pivotal moments in France’s perfume and fashion history might know the story of how the most famous perfume in the world, Chanel No. 5, came to be.

Coco Chanel launched her signature perfume at her rue Cambon boutique by infusing the dressing rooms with the now-famous scent, and she gave bottles to her favorite high-end clients. It was brilliant olfactory-based marketing, and soon everyone wanted the exclusive scent.

Maison Empereur adopted a similar approach to marketing its signature scent that is a mix of polish, linseed oil and pure orange oil, based on the polish regularly used on the antique furniture. Customers loved the smell so much that a candle with the same scent was created so that they could take a little piece of the store home with them.

This beautifully considered, clever marketing detail is one of many to be found at Maison Empereur, which was an immediate favorite of the gia jury this year. “This is a heritage store in all senses, with the new generation running the store adding modern features and services, while paying great attention to maintaining the special character of the store and the feeling of it being historic,” one of the expert jurors said.


Inside the “House”

Maison Empereur stocks products from more than 250 French manufacturers and artisans, and almost as many from other countries. And because the Empereur family have their eyes on the future, with their roots still firmly planted in the past, they love sharing the history and stories of the product creators with their customers.

“From our past as artisans, our roles as ambassadors for historic manufacturers came naturally,” says CEO Laurence Renaux Empereur. “Those which have existed for more than half a century are highlighted on our shelves and in our museum space—standing as a guarantee of timeless production and proven quality.”

Laurence explains that the store’s displays are discreet yet omnipresent. “In each department, dozens of small texts, published with the greatest simplicity, explain an unusual object, a manufacturer or perhaps a tradition,” she says. “We like to go beyond commerce and find the meaning that we are all looking for. This is why we have devoted nearly 150 square meters to our museum space. We believe in the power of knowledge and the value of dedicating space to culture.”


The many spaces which host so many wonderful objects both new and old across two stores is like a rambling home. Furthering this feeling of homeliness, in each department pieces of the family’s precious heritage are displayed: a handwritten store order from 1836, family photos from the 1920s, manufacturer catalogues from the 1950s, all presented as a jumble of pieces under yellowish lighting to give the carefully constructed tableaus an old-fashioned feeling.

The layout of the store is mainly made up of family furniture and imposing professional furniture sourced by Laurence. The objects are arranged by “universe”—in other words, the different section of the home. This gives customers the impression of being in an Ali Baba’s cave and being the master of their own discoveries.

“We’ve had to expand generation after generation, so that one reference does not drive out any other, and this constant need to push back the walls has given us this joyful maze of 12 universes,” explains Laurence.

“Customers move from one department to another with a Maison’s shopping basket just like they would when strolling through the market,” he adds. “And then finally they come to the tea room, and the museum space welcomes themùoften at the end of their visit—for a moment of relaxation.”

If guests want to take this experience even further, the store extends into a unique guest house which offers the opportunity to experience a night in the back of the store. “Just like in the olden days,” says Laurence. And indeed, the suite with a queen-sized bed is decorated with many wonderful products from yesteryear.


Marketing a French Institution

Three staff work across marketing–social media and website–further sharing stories and news about the store, manufacturers, brand partners, products and traditions. And in 2023, Maison Empereur published a 260-page retrospective book, devoted to the history of the family, the factories and the objects that make up the store.

The family embraces innovation, but in line with its historical significance without technological innovations taking center stage. “Our innovation is the preservation of what a local store is,” says Laurence. “The store discreetly takes advantage of the effectiveness of new technologies to attract customers and maintain a regular audience, to manage stocks and relationships with suppliers. If we are at the forefront of innovation to ensure the performance of our business and our communication, that is not what we emphasize to our consumers as they are looking for an old-fashioned atmosphere.”

The gia judges saw right away that Maison Empereur is innovative in that is goes beyond what a retail business can be. It’s a cultural and historical institution and “a unique concept built upon its history,” they commented.

“Every day, we are writing the history of everyday objects and sharing the know-how from manufacturers and artisans,” says Laurence. “More than a store, Maison Empereur has become a place of wandering, discovery and pleasure which draws up with simplicity and perseverance a sort of inventory of the objects of our heritage. A place that appeals to childhood and collective memory and invites us to discover or rediscover objects sometimes forgotten, sometimes dreamed of, sometimes sought after.”


Laurence’s son Martin was in Chicago with Laurence to accept the gia award, and Martin explained how the award was a turning point for them all. He also added that Laurence’s mother, at 87 years of age, is still working in the store. Since the win, she has been busy telling all of Marseille about their win, and it was one that all of their beloved customers are rejoicing in too.

The mother and son say that they owe their longevity to their customers, because it is always their ideas that help to create the store’s next chapter. So much so that in the apron of each staff member there a small cardboard box and a pencil for customers’ suggestions.

“An elderly lady may ask for a wringer, while a painter begs us to find him bitumen from Judea. A regular might suggest sardine-shaped molds or a glass polishing paste,” says Laurence. “This is how our SEO is created over time. Our pride is this loyalty, this closeness – this unwavering bond that remains, even against the passing of time.”


To learn more about Maison Empereur, visit


Sponsored and organized by The Inspired Home Show and the International Housewares Association (IHA), gia (IHA Global Innovation Awards) is the world’s leading awards program honoring overall excellence, business innovation and creative merchandising in homegoods retailing. For more information about the gia retail program, the co-sponsors or participating in 2024-2025, contact Piritta Törrö at [email protected]. Additional information on gia is also available online at


For more information about The Inspired Home Show and to pre-register for the 2025 Show, taking place in Chicago on 2-4 March 2025, please visit