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A La Carte Paris

24 January 2016

Words: Andrew Birbeck / Images: Neil Snape

Alex Wagner, who has an English father and French mother, was brought up and completed his schooling in London. He moved to Paris at the age of 18 and studied engineering at the Sorbonne. After graduation a promising career in his chosen field beckoned and Wagner found himself employed by Peugeot in La Défense, the premier Parisian business district. And so it could have easily remained, a steady rise through the corporate ranks, were it not for a chance conversation one day with his mother.

“My mother was an interior designer,” explains Wagner. “She had a great eye for quality, style and detail. In fact she kitted out my own apartment, which was in a terrific location too. She told me she’d spotted websites springing up offering short-term Paris rentals. I looked at them and thought maybe I could do something similar, something better. Perhaps décor and design was in my blood. My father was an architect so I guess I had the right mindset to give it a go and see what would happen.”

He decided to take the plunge. “The business was, quite literally, created out of thin air. All I needed was an internet connection, a PC, and it cost less than €100 to register the company.”

An idea is one thing, practicality another, especially when dipping a toe into the vacation rental sector with your own home. Wagner was still working at Peugeot and needed a roof over his head. How, then, did all this work out?

“I guess back in those days I knew no fear. I kept working at my day job. Well, I still had to make a living. Whenever a booking came in I’d pack my bags and move back to my mother’s place. She was very understanding.” Enquiries and bookings flooded in, not least due to the high-end décor and enviable setting of the apartment. “I ended up putting in over 100 hours a week, living a double life, working every day and weekend, nights, no time off at all.”

It quickly became clear that he had happened upon an untapped sector of the market – that of top-quality lets for discerning customers. Incredibly, within just four short yet gruelling months, the fledgling venture was financially healthy enough for Wagner to quit Peugeot and devote himself to A La Carte Paris full-time. Over that period other apartment owners had begun to approach him to let out their properties.

“The reason the transition was so rapid really boils down to a key part of the business plan. Cash flow is one of the big three reasons businesses fail. I’d started out with no borrowings and was quickly generating great revenue so, put simply, that problem didn’t exist.”

On the subject of the meteoric rise of Airbnb, Wagner simply shrugs. “At first I thought it was a huge threat but I soon realised it was, in reality, a massive opportunity. Of course it’s competition we take very seriously, but through Airbnb enormous awareness has been created for the sector. We offer a different product and always have done. It’s all about positioning.

“From the outset I wanted A La Carte Paris to be the best, to offer only the best apartments in the best locations. With us you know what you’re getting. There’s no worry or stress. And who wants to waste precious free time with worry when you should be enjoying your visit to Paris.”

The business now operates on three tiers – short-term rentals, private investment and design/refurbishment. The latter two are closely intertwined. “We offer a turnkey solution to investors, from finance to apartment design to guaranteed rental income. I’d say one of the biggest thrills we have is when new owners see their Paris home-from-home for the first time.”

Asked why customers, be they visitors or investors, should come to A La Carte Paris, Wagner replies, “It’s simple. We choose our properties with great care and have only the most beautiful apartments in wonderful locations on our books. It means you can experience the city exactly as it should be.”

alacarte-paris-apartments.com

Local Knowledge

To escape in the city go to…
Montmartre hilltop to admire the panorama of Paris’ zinc rooftops.

For a timeless memory of Paris I’d recommend…
A stroll along the eternally picturesque banks of the Seine.

To dress like a Parisian you should…
Try to avoid loud colours and instead go for subtle beiges and greys.

For local dining I’d suggest…
Simply popping along to your local brasserie. In Paris, good food is always reassuringly easy to find.

The best advice I can give is…
When business flows, invest your time and money. Don’t be tempted to kick back and relax.

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