France Summer/Fall 2003- Retailer Survey Report

Considering that new shops have been opening until early this year, France’s market is still doing well. Most of these new shops are being operated by skateboarders, and it appears they are more successful than the older shops with an established clientele.

It also appears that a good percentage of the new ones are preexisting shops’ second or even third locations. Many of the owners opened their first businesses in their hometowns and figured out where the demand was after a couple years. Although the great majority of shop owners agree opening new shops gets harder, they don’t complain about the state of business even though they had to readjust their choices to follow the demand. Some of them became the hip shop in town, as opposed to the underground skateboarders’ hut it once was. While a few seem a little bit disoriented about being hip, most of them look at it like a reward for years of hard work.

Overall Sales

With an average increase of ten percent (we are in a recession, after all) it appears that the retail sales estimate for skateboard and skateboard-related products touches the one-million euro mark annually. Shops order 75 to 85 percent of their goods from the distributors, and the rest comes from French companies, “homemade” decks and products, and the occasional order to a distributor in the U.S.

A noticeable change in the market is the appearance of juniors’ and girls’ clothing lines. While the juniors’ line is yet to be developed, the girls’ clothing line is progressing, thanks to the influence of surf-oriented Roxy, Gallaz, Rip Curl, and Billabong girls’ lines. Nonetheless, many shop owners complain about the fact that most companies haven’t set their design to the European market as far as color and price goes. If they do that, this part of the market will skyrocket. Nowadays 50 percent of the shops carry girls’ clothing and only 30 percent care about carrying a juniors’ line, although the demand is booming in that area. Twenty percent of them carry surf apparel, inline hardgoods are only carried by twelve percent, surf hardgoods by 25 percent, and snowboard boots, apparel and hardgoods are carried by 55 percent. An interesting topic all the shops want to point out is how the shoe market has gained the biggest profit percentage over the last four years. As much as 35 percent of their business is shoes, fifteen percent apparel, twenty percent decks, trucks nine percent, wheels twelve percent, and accessories nine percent.

Decks

Clearly enough, the market is dominated by Dwindle with the Blind, World Industries, and Darkstar (in this order) combo well ahead of the rest. Then comes Girl followed by Element and its sister brand, Black Label. Finally, it’s a combination of shop decks and French decks that are very close to being best-selling brands, with a noticeably strong progression for each of the ten-plus national brands. Also the pro models still lead the pack (40 percent), logo and team decks are battling for second place with French brands (25 percent each), shop decks sweep the remaining ten percent, but it’s often a matter of availability. The most popular board width is 7.75 inches.

Trucks

Still leading the pack because of its better price, Venture dominates the truck sales with 60 percent. Tensor seems to have a slight edge (eighteen percent) over Royal (sixteen percent) for the second spot. Destructo, Independent, Thunder, and Grind King close the deal, respectively.

Wheels

Spitfire has been leading the wheel market for years before Cliché and Lordz entered the picture. So the French brands have a slight edge-31 percent overall (eighteen percent for Lordz and thirteen percent for Cliché) over Spitfire (eighteen percent), but with the return of the California brands in shops it looks like the coming months will see an interesting battle. The rest of the market is held by low-budget wheels-either no brand (twenty percent) or budget models from big names (thirteen percent).. The eighteen percent remaining can be split between the different brands on the market (amongst the most popular are Blind, Ghetto Child, Element, Pig, and Powell). The most popular size is 52 mm.

Apparel

With a clothing market split between so many brands, it’s really hard to distinguish a leader. As far as regular crossover brands, Volcom is surely leading the game. But Element is close enough to be considered a strong brand as well as European Broke, Lordz, and Cliché. The problem with softgoods is the prohibitive importation taxes that gives the opportunity to lesser-known Euro brands and licensed surf-wear brands to take the lead. Also, the popularity of some hardgoods brands tend to ease the painfully high price.

Shoes

The strong effort and the opening of their French bureau has allowed DVS to take a slight advantage in the oh-so-competitive shoe market. But France being the homeland of Etnies Footwear, it seems like the Lake Forest, California-based brand has enough juice to battle it out. Circa has done really well over the last couple years, while és has lost its edge. Emerica is the new challenger that DC Shoes will have a hard time dealing with.

Internet

The number of cable/DSL subscribers has doubled over the last year. Undoubtedly, the main reason 50 percent of the shops actually use the Internet is to learn about companies and products but not necessarily during business hours, and 45 percent more plan on using it in the near future. The remaining five percent don’t use it but plan to do as soon as they can. The interesting point is that almost none feel that the Internet can be useful in their business, and while fifteen percent of the shops have their own Web site, none sell online, where as fourteen percent sell via telephone and mail orders.

Trade shows are an important part of the board culture, although 40 percent admit that they don’t wait for them to place their orders, especially as far as softgoods are concerned.

While 60 percent seem to be satisfied with the fact that the shoe and apparel department of their shop has developed well enough to palliate the sometimes calm hardgood days. But the lack of P.O.P., the saturation of the market and competitors, and overwhelming creation of brands seems to challenge their judgment and their confidence in the future, as bright as it may be.