INTERVIEWEE: Peter Durham, Product Manager
How has the European SUP business been over the past 12 months (in %)?
Flat. The market is saturated with too many brands, too many products, particularly in the inflatable segment that is dominated by brands selling with a relatively “direct” sales model.
What are the main 2017 trends in Stand Up Paddleboards in terms of sizes, shapes and features?
We are seeing a significant shift towards our popular all-round flat water CROSS shapes, that offer maximum stability with boxy rails and a keel shaped nose for better tracking. As most clients start SUP on flat water, these boards are often the best starting point compared to more traditional all-round surf shapes from longboarding.
What’s new with your inflatable board construction? And where do you see inflatable sales heading?
For our inflatable boards we have increased the width of our deck and bottom stringers to improve the stiffness of all boards. We have also differentiated our board thicknesses to offer the final client more choice according to their needs : Our 10’0’’ & 10’6’’ Performer boards are now in 4”3/4 thickness offering greater stability (due to lower centre of gravity) and a better rail for surfing small waves. Our 11’0 & 12’6 Touring Boards remain in 6” for maximum stiffness.
Ultimately we are not convinced in the long-term success of the inflatable market for various reasons.
1/ Yes the boards are easy to transport and store, but many customers get tired quickly of constantly inflating, deflating and packing the boards. It is often much quicker and easier to simply tie a board on the top of your roof rack, and we often see local people transporting inflatable boards inflated on the roof of their cars (which is of course a disaster for the durability of such a product).
2/ At least with the technology available today it is also not possible to get an interesting level of stiffness and performance with an inflatable board. If you want to progress in SUP either in SUP Surfing, Touring or Racing, you cannot beat a hard board with a clearly defined shape.
3/ Yes it may appear to be cheaper, quicker and easier to sell (or buy) an inflatable board, but at the end of the day given the life expectancy of inflatable boards it is often more expensive for the final client. We have an expression at BIC Sport : You have to be rich to purchase something cheaply! ie. If you buy a 499€ inflatable board every 2-3 years, very quickly you would have been better off buying a hard board for 699€ or 999€ that can last up to 10 years (at least in BIC SportTechnology), and still have a good second hand resale value if you want to change the board within this time.
4/ Finally, if the final consumer has a conscience about their buying choices then purchasing a PVC inflatable board, made in China with glues and working practices that could not be done in Europe, is not really the good solution. BIC Sport boards are made in Europe, under European regulations of course, without PVC or any particularly hazardous glues.
Of course some market share will always remain inflatable, particularly for those clients that have “no choice” in terms of storage or transport, but often “no choice” is a matter of priorities and/or motivation and such problems can be quickly solved.
Ultimately for the long-term health of the industry, we need to develop customers who want to participate in the long-term of the sport and evolve their SUP riding. To build such a market for the long-term we are not convinced that the inflatable market is the right direction, and we prefer to focus on our hard boards.
Which sector of the market are you focusing most energy on? (iSUP, Race, Touring, Surf) and why?
As above we are focusing our most energy on our hard boards that are produced in our BIC SportFactory in Vannes, Brittany, France. Our ACE-TEC and new TOUGH-TEC Technologies are ideal for SUP boards as they offer the best compromise between price, performance and long-term durability. These boards are unique on the SUP Market, only offered by BIC Sport, and represent probably the most ecologically friendly boards available : Low energy consumption for production, little material waste & reduced transport to market.
Please tell us about your new technologies or product breakthroughs for 2017?
We have developed our new TOUGH-TEC technology that is a significant break-through in board construction. By moulding a PE skin around an EPS core in a very quick and efficient manufacturing process, we are able to produce boards that are extremely durable, relatively light, and remain cost effective. Available on the market in early 2017, these boards will be a significant break-through for either first time consumers or SUP schools looking for a long-lasting and cost effective product, with good performance.
Which country market has been the most interesting for you and why so far this year ?
Generally the European market has been pretty flat in 2016, and no one country and distinguished itself compared to the others.
What opportunities do you look to capitalize on for 2017?
We will be looking to capitalize on our new TOUGH-TEC boards, and make a strong push of hard boards to first time buyers, schools and rental locations. We will be working with these products to communicate the long-term benefit of purchasing a BIC Sport product.
How have prices evolved for the hardboard / inflatable categories and what are the main price hot spots?
Our hardboard prices have remained largely stable for the last 5 years with production in Europe. We have two main price hot spots of +/- 649€ for TOUGH-TEC and 999€ as a starting point for ACE-TEC boards. The relative stability of our pricing is a key sales point for working with BICSport, as we are not subject to the same regular and constant price increases from Asia.
Take us through your two key products for 2017
Our new TOUGH-TEC range as explained above will be produced in 5 different sizes : 9’2, 10’6 & 11’6 Performer for traditional all-round flatwater and small wave use. We will also have our unique 10’0 & 11’0 CROSS sizes for all-round flatwater use.
Otherwise we are developing a new 12’0 CROSS that is a huge 350L board targeted at particularly the growing Fishing market or large entry-level consumers. This board will be made in ACE-TEC for an unbeatable weight/price/performance ratio. Including 3x sliding rails and multiple insert positions it will be a platform that can be fully customized to the consumer’s requirements, meaning that they can add multiple attachments : GPS, Fish Finder, Rod Holders, Coolers… etc.