France Market And Industry Report

Some may think that geopolitics have little to do with skateboarding and that Monsieur Chirac isn’t a serious man to watch in France. Well, that might not be true. Politics do have a big impact on skateboarding.

Let’s take the dollar for instance. Its devaluation facing the euro is benefiting the old continent in such a way that for the first time in a long while, buying hardgoods and softgoods from the U.S. is actually cheaper than it ever was. Solely for that the European distributors thank the Bush administration every day. The direct effect is the ten-percent decrease on their wholesale prices that the country’s largest distributor, V7 Distribution, will apply in their autumn catalog.

Apart from the fact that the international cold winds have slowed the opening of European offices for many companies that had planned to do so, there have been little changes as far as the major players are concerned. V7 Distribution, who will not distribute Element apparel from now on (Billabong in Hossegor will take care of that), is still the main hardgoods distributor as well as the proud French antenna for all Sole Technology products.

Templar is still distributing smaller board brands such as The Unbelievers and Consolidated Skateboards, but Templar’s forte is Osiris (although the D3 seems to have lost its impact in shops), and 88 shoes, which seems to need some good marketing in France to make a real start. Will TDG, the French branch of Titus Distribution Company, suffer from the loss of Airwalk and Genetic or will they focus on brands like Adio and DuFFs that have never been developed in a proper way? That might be the question of the summer. Whether TDG’s management has enough faith in these brands to really try to sell them the proper way could be an even better question.

In the sea of Puma shoes in Paris, Lyon, Marseilles, and all the other cities of France, there is absolutely no reason why the DuFFs Gambler would not sell. Since they found shelter under Hoff’s umbrella (distributor of Circa Shoes), Cartel Skateboards seems to have prospered in slowly but surely. And to tell the truth, so have most of the other French board brands. Several new French brands have started to pop up here and there within the last few months-most of them with only a couple-hundred boards in production. Is this enough to change the face of the market? Well, maybe. The fact is that the retailers’ main concerns are to please their clients and not miss a sale, right? Having a wide range of cheaper boards available is the best way to please the most modest clientele or at least the ones that need boards more often.

A little earthquake marked the announcement of the end of Glissexpo and the arrival of the European branch of ASR on the Anglet shores of Southern France for their first trade show on the old continent. The response wasn’t entirely positive, to say the least. Most of the French distributors and French offices have switched to the “wait and see” mode, not knowing where the EuroSIMA wanted to go with the ASR (EuroSIMA is the main orgizational body for the European skateboard industry, whereas IASC takes on this role in the United States). In doing so, they joined the general feeling of the American brands that now have small shows or showrooms near the ASR rather than risking to be immerse in a sea of booths.

Generally speaking, the U.S. brands are still the best-sellers, with Blind leading the pack. But if you asked retailers in all the major cities, they would tell you they developed small European and French companies to offer a variety of product and increase the general margin because of their low price. Indeed, a smaller brand board can be bought for as little as 40 euros, which is far from the 90 euros a gripped Blind board costs.

The shops that progress are the ones that keep improving the selection of products-offering more than a good range of hardgoods and softgoods, but also true advises and more services.

Riide Spirit, one of Paris’ finest shops, put a lot of effort on this part of the job. “It’s a huge part of our strategy to treat our clients the best we can. Offering the best counsels (advice) possible. I feel it’s a part of what we have to do if we want to keep on progressing,” says Mathieu Claudon, manager of the shop. So even if we can’t actually speak of a huge progression, it is still visible that a lot can be done.

See you next month.-Fabrice Le Mao