International News: France

Between the “Stars and Stripes” and the “beret and baguette,” French skateboarders will have to choose-in more ways than one.

There’s a French saying that says: “Le bonheur des uns fait le malheur de d’autres.” Translated into English, it means “The happiness of some people makes the despair of others”-or something like that.

Until recently, the equation was quite simple: If you wanted a good board, you had to buy something that was made in the U.S.A. And all skateboards were made in America except for the cheaper Taiwanese models, but everybody knew the difference between the two.

V-7 Distribution has the best-selling hardgoods brands in France. The company recently announced the beginning of a new era in the global skateboard economy. With Dwindle Distribution’s late-October announcement of its manufacturing operations in China, the market changed as they lowered wholesale prices. No longer are boards from established brands sold for 90 euros to the kids. “It’s something that we have been willing to see happen for quite some time now,” says Pascal Lopez, sales manager at V-7. “We finally have the opportunity to bring our prices down to those of our European competitors.” Charging 35.5 euros for every Blind, World Industries, Darkstar, enjoi, and Almost board will ultimately help the market recover from the lower-quality Spanish products that some European companies were pushing as a good alternative choice.

The question is how the other U.S. brands will react-particularly the ones with a weaker position. “Of course there is a risk that some of them may suffer from this gap,” says Lopez, “but Dwindle is the best-selling brand anyway. It’ll probably force the other brands to go the same way. Element has started to walk this path but is not following the same program-yet.

“The overall view is that this should bring the consumer back to quality products. Why would they go for the easy-breakers when the same amount of money will allow them to buy one of the best?” adds Lopez.

On the other side of the French (and European) business, Loic Morice, owner of Art Print, is optimistic: “I started Art Print in December 2001. I’ve been doing screening on boards and softgoods for years on my own but only made it my business that winter. The fact that we have developed an automatic screen-printing device for skateboards has put us in the position where we are right now-the ‘transform’ platform for Woodchuck in Europe, which means that every single European brand that wants to buy a stock of Woodchuck boards will be working with us, for we are their antenna here. Nomad, Cliché, Eina, Doble are my clients including some others that do not want to be cited for marketing reasons.” Last year some 20,000 boards were sent to Morice’s warehouse to be screened and sent all over Europe.

“We did only 5,000 the first year, so that’s a huge progression for us,” says Morice. The ‘us’ he refers to is five people altogether. “We can do anything-high density, 3-D with glasses, chrome-everything. We make our own heat transfer without buying in China as all of the other manufacturers are doing. This gives us a complete control on quality. That’s probably why almost everybody is working with us now. That, and the fact that we deal with customs, shipping, and everything when the containers arrive in Bordeaux. It’s so much easier for, say, a German company to call me and ask for 500 boards for the next week and send me only half the amount of the bill, than to send all the money to the U.S. and wait for months before getting the goods that might not match their expectations.” It costs 2.7 to 3.4 euros to print a board, according to quantities.

Morice continues, “But reactivity is our main advantage. It’s so much easier to deal with a European screener. If Art Print has enough business with their screening department, it just doesn’t stop there. Our other activity is Elka Skateboards. At first, Elka was supposed to be the testing ground foor the screening side of the business. But it turned out that we are skateboarders, and we just can’t help it.

“We started up a line of boards,” explains Morice, “and then built a small team to help promote our business. It’s still really intertwined with the screening side of Art Print, but we take it seriously-I mean, as seriously as it is.” Will the European market suffer the big change Dwindle is imposing with its new China-made production? “Hmm, I don’t think so,” says Morice. “There’s still a good margin to work with. Plus there’s always the political/ethic dilemma.” As for Elka Skateboards, there are five boards in the catalog, “But we have a lot of limited editions with artwork for various artists. And we can do as many tests as we want … we have 5,000 boards in the warehouse. Woodchuck and I love each other so much for this 5,000.”