Big Wig Interview: Dakine’s Frank Heissat

Frank Heissat joined Dakine in December 2015 and has helped accelerate the EMEA division of the company’s business since the sale of the company from Billabong to Altamont Capital Partners (ACP) back in July of 2013. Frank has worked in the wider sports industry for 24 years and for this issue’s Big Wig interview, we find out more about his background and where the company is headed. We also cover a range of different topics including synergies shared with ACP, reducing and re-focusing initiatives and Frank breaks some exclusive news of collab with Äsmo. By Harry Mitchell Thompson.

Photo credit - Vanessa Andrieux

Dakine’s Frank Heissat. Photo credit – Vanessa Andrieux

Frank, please tell us about your career before Dakine.
I’ve been working for 24 years in the sporting goods industry, with the exception of a three year venture in the video games business. I started my career at Nike, then joined several companies such as Oxbow, Puma, Oakley and Le Coq Sportif, fulfilling various positions from Tech Rep to CEO, in France, Germany, Switzerland the UK and the USA. I consider myself very lucky to make a living from my passion for all sorts of sports.

Could you give us a brief overview of the company.
Dakine was born in 1979 in Maui, Hawaii, when founder Rob Kaplan created a surf leash allowing local surfers to ride bigger waves, safer. That approach was then brought to windsurfing, with tremendous success in the 80s. Our headquarters were then transferred to mainland USA’s best windsurfing spot: Hood River, Oregon in 1986.

Right behind Hood River is Mt Hood, so it didn’t take long for Dakine to venture into snowboarding accessories (1989). Our first winter gloves were launched in 1993 and then the iconic Heli Pack backpack in 1996. Since then we added skateboarding specific backpacks in 1999, bike accessories in 2000 and finally kiteboarding accessories in 2001. In 2013 Dakine was acquired by Altamont Capital partners from Billabong, who owned it since 2008.

How has the way in which the company is run changed since being sold by Billabong?
Dakine benefits from all sorts of support from Altamont Capital partners. They know the market, they respect the brands and they are in full support when it comes to help bringing the business to the next step. We also share some things with the other sport brands from the ACP portfolio (Lib tech, Gnu etc).

How are your financial results looking?
Dakine belongs to a private equity firm. From that point of view Dakine doesn’t report its financials publicly. That said the outlook looks very positive especially in the North American market. In Europe we started yielding the fruits of our initiatives in the last 12 months. We are confident that Europe is going to soon be a key contributor to the international growth of Dakine.

Could you tell us some of the major adjustments Dakine has made recently.
We have optimised a lot of things in the last 12 months. Some of the key adjustments have included: Setting up a distribution segmentation in order to better service each type of account, through dedicated sales, marketing and product assortment plans.

We have reduced the number of initiatives and focused our resources behind what matters to the end consumer and what supports the business of our partners. Finally, we have shifted marketing investments with a clear focus on digital, trade marketing and grass roots action sports.

Please could you explain the European setup of the brand, including any recent hires in the region.
The European HQ of Dakine is located in Annecy, France. It is a great eco system there, with a lot of companies operating in the outdoor and action sports industries. It also gives us access to great spots there, where we can test new products in close collaboration with some of the best riders and with our key business partners.

We have added a lot of new talent to the team. Flavien Foucher is in charge of the Product, Merchandising and Go to Market. He gained solid experience in action sports accessories at Rossignol. Pierre-Jean Rueda is in charge of Digital, Sport Marketing and Communications. He comes from a digital media background. Markus Otto has been promoted to Marketing Manager, and Anthony Alvin is Sales Manager for southern Europe. We have made additional adjustments to the sales team as well.

Which are your strongest territories in Europe?
Germany and Switzerland are the heavyweights in the mix. In the near future, France and the UK have arguably the largest potential for growth given the size of these markets and the current presence of Dakine. There are still plenty of growth opportunities, either from a country, product category or channel perspective. We are also adjusting to the evolution of consumer behaviour. With the rise of the omni-channel model, we want to engage further with the end consumer and offer them the best of the Dakine experience. This will be done in the coming months trough a new ecommerce platform and the development of shop-in-shops with our most strategic partners.

In addition we also see opportunities for growth across Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa, in countries where participation in action sports is developed but the presence of Dakine is not yet maximized.

In general, it’s been a tough couple of years for action sports apparel. What lessons have you learned and what are you doing to safeguard against any future problems?
Our core business is still rooted in action sports accessories, with a large chunk of our mix represented by bags. For that reason, we have not been deeply impacted by the difficulties encountered by the apparel business. That said; apparel is important for the future of Dakine. We are not overly dependent on this product category, which means we can take the right approach. In Europe, we are still testing the market with some key partners. The key here is to take the right steps from the get go and grow sustainably.

For instance we have landed our outerwear connection at some strategic point of sales. We then gauge the reaction of the market, give a distinctive edge to our partners, and take the necessary time to learn and adjust our strategy. One of the potential mistakes is to rush things through, load the market with too many products, and have to deal with left overs at the end of the season. The combination of weak snow conditions, the change in consumer behaviour, the intense competition and the rise of digital is forcing brands to adjust and change the way they approach the market.

Where do you see the future of action sports retail? How important are bricks and mortar in Dakine’s long-term plans?
We strongly believe in the convergence of the various channels of trade. We believe that the consumer and the experience we deliver to them should be at the epicentre of everything we do. As far as Dakine; authenticity, quality and consistency prevail. There are more than 300 points of contact for the consumer. It is a challenge to remain meaningful and consistent across all these points of contacts. The mission purpose of Dakine is to enhance and celebrate the ride. That mission purpose needs to translate in everything we do, on and off-line. Omni-channel is a winning retail evolution. Online allows a global reach, the easy access to a wide range of products wherever you are, while bricks and mortar allows the consumers to interact physically with the products, get recommendations and service from knowledgeable store staff. The way the consumer receives information, reviews, buys, picks up the products and makes recommendations doesn’t matter much as long as the brand experience is consistent with your mission purpose and positioning.

We can’t mention future trends without addressing eco innovations and sustainability. What are Dakine doing along these lines?
We have many backpacks and accessories made out of recycled materials. The environment matters for Dakine, as it does for our athletes. John John Florence’s most important requirement was that his signature line’s packaging would be eco-friendly. He simply wouldn’t accept any product on the market without it. We had to review our packaging process to meet his requirements, and we are grateful that he inspired that change.

What are Dakine’s main marketing pushes for 2017?
We are starting 2017 full speed with bike. Yoann Barelli joined the team, and we are tying links with Commencal Bikes. Our award winning protection is a key category. Warmer months means surfing for us… John John Florence joined the team in December 2016 and his signature line of products will hit the shelves in spring. Watch out for it, those limited editions will fly fast!

Gloves and backpacks are going to be at the epicentre of our marketing efforts for next winter. Our riders Elias Elhardt and Victor Daviet are out there filming everyday, and will be key in our Cold Transmissions. It’s still a secret but we developed a super limited edition of products with Äsmo, only available at some key specialty stores. Can you believe that Äsmo’s founder, Wolle Nyvelt, has been riding for Dakine for 14 years?

And what are your key product categories?
The core business of Dakine is still rooted in action sport accessories, with a large portion of the mix represented by packs and bags. Currently our fastest growing categories are snow gloves and mountain bike. Speaking about mid-term development, apparel should be a key component of the Dakine product mix in the coming years, with a strong focus on the technical surf, snow and mountain bike categories.

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