French Market Intel April 2017

At the time of writing this, France is in the middle of a presidential race. Throughout its whole history, the fifth republic has never seen so many twists and turns. This crazy presidential campaign surpasses even the most far-fetched works of political fiction. We often wonder why France is incapable of creating a political series with the quality of The West Wing or House of Cards from America, Borgen from Denmark or The Thick of It from Britain. The reason is simple: reality goes way beyond fiction. A screenplay recounting the political events since 2012 would have to be toned down by producers for being too unbelievable. By Benoit Brecq.



In the years to come, political scientists will study the 2017 presidential election and will notice that there was no campaign, that the favourites, Duflot, Juppé and Valls were all eliminated in the primary, that the two leading candidates in the polls, Le Pen and Macron were the only to not have been selected by a primary election, that the right’s candidate was subject of an investigation and that there was a chance that an ex advisor and minister of François Hollande could be the incarnation of change, after five years in power, by being elected President of the Republic in his first attempt at the age of 40. This non-campaign is not a crisis of the institutions of the 5th Republic, it is a crisis of the current political personnel. It’s customary to say that if they are elected they deserve it but hasn’t the time come to ask whether France deserves better?

But is this stormy political climate favourable to our boardsports market? How do our retailers feel? While most shops we asked said that Winter 2017 was in line with previous years, half of them said it was actually better. For Cyril from the shop Tamarindo in Oléron it was even “more active than last year.” In particular he noticed, “a rise in foreign tourist numbers this year, which contributed to the success of this winter season.” Zaz from Uncle Zaz Surf shop in Anglet confirms this sensation with “a better start than last year at the same period.” At Ride and Style in Val Thorens, “there are always people around, we are well located at altitude and during the season we had lots of visitors.” They even had a, “rise in hardware and street clothing sales,” on winter 2016. At Sport Adventure in Bordeaux, it’s a bit more reserved. “Although the passionate riders were around at the start of the season looking for specific products, the rest of the winter was more difficult.” There was a delay to the real start of the season, undoubtedly because of a lack of snow around Christmas and the generally high temperatures throughout the winter. For shops in the cities, business seems to be flat on last year, as Terre de Glisse in Nantes confirms: “the frequency and the sales in store has been pretty stable over the last few months compared to last year in the same period.”

“Above average temperatures for the season had noticeable consequences on technical clothing compared to last year,” confide Ride and Style. This is a range of products that sold quite well last year but didn’t seem to go so well this season because of the weather. In terms of material and more specifically boards, Ride and Style adds: “Brands like Jones, Lib Tech and Gnu were more sought after by customers,” and they also noticed an increase in women’s ranges, especially clothing, boots and bindings. On the other hand, mainstream brands like Burton in snowboarding seem to have seen less success this season compared to previous years. But globally the winter season is a little bit better than last year. The snow arrived a little late this season and as we all know, the level of snow is important to help the resorts to stay open longer in the season. This directly impacts in retails. Ride and style confirm: “This season is pretty good, we’ve improve our sales in hardgoods and the streetwear is on a level with 2016.”

In Streetwear, for Le Cri Du Kangourou in Lyon, “skateboarding and especially cruiser and surf skates are popular products right now.” The popularity of surf skate is steadily growing and seems to be the ‘in’ product this spring with brands like Carve, Yow and FlyingWheels. One thing seems clear to everyone, as confirmed by the shop CDK, the plastic cruiser seems to be really in decline in specialised shops. As for textiles at Grand Central in Valette du Vars, brands that stood out already last year seem to be being requested by customers again this spring. The manager is talking in particular about brands like Thrasher, Stussy and Palace. “Our customers are looking for less mainstream brands with their own identity, they also like all the high-end products, in particular artist collab series.”

On the coast surf conditions were pretty decent. At Tamarindo in Oléron, Cyril confirms that, “the good conditions turned customers towards buying wetsuits and boards.” And it’s the same reality further north in Terre de Glisse, Nantes: “The weather was really good and the temperature was also good for the season, people came into the shop to buy surfboards due to the really good surf conditions.”

Cyril adds, “neoprene and accessory ranges worked pretty well this winter and spring with brands like Vissla thanks to their good value for money or Patagonia for their environmental appeal.” In surfboards, Cyril highlights: “The trend for retro/modern seems to be established this season, as is the return of the twin as well as new shapes from Rusty, DHD and Hayden.” Zaz from Uncle Zaz Surf shop in Anglet have another analysis regarding surfboards and more specifically constructions: “People are more and more interested in technologies. Brands like Surftech started out with variations on Epoxy construction. Now brands like Firewire, Torq and Lib Tech are the most in demand brands in this sector. They are constantly working on creating new performance boards for everyone.”

Everyone agrees in saying that the unquestionable strength of shops lies in advice above anything else. More often, clients are coming into shops to see the products and to obtain informed advice that is tailored to their needs. It’s this professional, trust-based relationship that customers are coming in for and shops have to work harder than ever to build the loyalty of their clientele.

Spring 2017 seems to be gradually creeping into retailers’ floor space and the preliminary signs are encouraging. Despite the topsy-turvy political climate in France, our market seems to be gliding through the current turmoil and the horizon of spring 2017 is providing glimpses into quite promising trends. The presidential election in May is sure to tell us more about it…

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