French Market Insight, September 2019

The months of June, July and August are a key period for our industry’s trade. With a lack of foreign tourists, French holidaymakers seem to have saved the season. The drop in the number of foreign tourists, especially Brits, was compensated for by more and spend-happy local customers. Actually, the month of July wasn’t amazing, but visitor numbers were up 3% on July 2018, which was admittedly pretty dire. Those who were up for it were searching out the cooling breeze of the channel, the Atlantic coast and lakes in the more mountainous regions. However, the flagship destinations like Corsica, or the Cote d’Azur suffered a bit more. By August 1st, the Mediterranean had also suffered declines of 2-8% depending on location, while the Atlantic coast and mountains saw improvements of 3-6%.


Another pretty significant point this season, in particular for the Basque coast, the little California of Europe, Biarritz is hosting the International Heads of State Summit between the 24th-26th of August. In the middle of the summer season, holding this high-security event is worrying a great number of residents and retailers. At the time of writing this, people in the tourist trade hope to see a good August month but many concerns about footfall during the G7 week persist. For now, it’s impossible to know what impact this event will have on business, especially for the local boardsports players. What we do know is that all aquatic activity will be totally banned in Biarritz centre for those 3 days…

What does this really mean for retailers? How is the start of this 2019 season going for the shops in terms of visitor numbers and sales?

Overall, the 2019 season seems pretty good in terms of visitor numbers in shops. Despite the slightly mixed reviews, depending on the region and individual shops asked, the general feeling is positive. At Surf Avenue in Vieux Boucau, Landes, Vincent tells us: “We had a good number of people coming in on all of June’s weekends, but it was a bit quieter at the start of July. The weather is an undeniable factor in customer numbers on the coast, the best motivator is the sun and we’ve been pretty lucky this year!” The same goes for Vague et Vent in Palavas in the south where Romain confides: “The month of June was really good, we had great weather with sun and wind. Although there weren’t great waves for the surf segment, the wind section worked really well.” In Brittany at Swell Addiction, Mathieu sings a similar tune: “June was pretty good for us last year and it was also really consistent this year.” However, July was our biggest month since opening the shop, 25% up on last year. The weather was one of the major reasons for this success, with really great conditions for windsurfing, which made up a quarter of our turnover.” He also adds a more simple explanation: “We have launched a new version of the website, which also seems to have attracted quite a lot of people into the shop with people coming in saying they had seen the products on the website.” At Avenue Nautique in Bordeaux the start of the season was a bit mixed, as Franck tells us: “The month of June and the whole start of July have been quiet. The lack of waves in this period did nothing to pull people into the shop. However, since the 10th of July, we have seen strong growth compared to the same time last year. That can, of course, be explained by really great weather and high temperatures.” On the Basque coast, the new Unclezaz shop in Anglet has felt more or less the same effect. Cedric tells us that: “The start of July in Anglet was pretty tame, we opened the shop on July 5th and we saw a real increase in visitor numbers from July 14th onwards. The heat wave and the rescheduling of some of the exams seem to have played a role in when people went on holiday. The summer season is starting later and later each year but it also now extends well beyond August 15th.” In Paris, of course, it’s a different story, as Sylvain from Urban Suefer confirms: “July and August are normally quiet months in Paris but this year wasn’t as good as last year. The heat wave, the holidays and the inertia due to the protests are some of the reasons for this.” The reports from Hawaii Surf are somewhat different as Claude explains: “For us, visitation numbers and sales have been pretty decent considering our huge ‘moving house sale.’ We learnt more on the digital side of things, which now represents 65% of our business. So, the nice weather and good conditions combined with our offers on the website led to good sales across all segments.”

So, overall there’s a really good feeling about the 2019 summer with the favourable weather seeming to play a hugely positive part in proceedings.

In equipment, the good weather has provided good rates of sale throughout the majority of product categories according to location: At Vague et Vent and Swell Addiction, the windy conditions have brought really good sales to the segments dedicated to wind and kitesurfing. Both Mathieu and Romain agree that the craze for foil is catching on a bit more this season, especially in the wind/kitesurfing sector, even though its use in the SUP and surf world is limited. Mathieu from Swell had a special mention for the most recent addition to summer, foil wings, which seem to be the flavour of the month, selling really well at his place, especially from the brand Duotone.

As for Stand Up Paddle, the market now seems to have stabilised a bit. The SUP market has settled around inflatables, with people this summer looking for either entry-level prices with single layer technology, or really top-of-the-range gear (even though this market seems more limited). Rigid SUPs and especially the race market seems to have slowed down a lot, with the bulk of sales centred on leisure, bringing about a decline in the race market – it dropped by 70-80% at the big retailers. The brands most mentioned by shops were Fanatuc, Red Paddle, Ari’I Nui And Lokahi.

When it comes to surfing, and more specifically, surfboards, this season and its weather seems to be favouring foam boards, progressive boards and those with some volume for smaller waves. The most mentioned brands amongst the shops we asked were Torq, Perfect Stuff, Mahalo and Softech. Because of the high temperatures and particularly warm water, the classic neoprene family has been a bit slow in terms of in-shop sales this summer. Lycras, tops and shorties have therefore claimed the majority of purchases in shops with brands like Rip Curl, Billabong and O’Neill.

In clothing and accessories, it was obviously summer products that saw the best sales numbers. The good weather and high temperatures concentrated sales on holiday products like tee-shirts, swimmers, sunglasses, caps and sandals. Surf souvenirs like baseball caps and tee-shirts were once again some of the best sellers this season. The most popular brands were the big guns, of course, as well as Vans, Vissla and Rhythm. More and more, the ecological/ethical dimension is taking centre stage within consumer demand in shops, and brands like Patagonia and Picture are responding to this demand, as much in their products as in their brand philosophy, and are therefore enjoying increasing success in shops. At the more urban-based shops, the baggage category has been a triumph. The brands Eastpark and The North Face seem to be in demand the most.

So, as we’ve seen, the mid-season review seems to be pretty good for most shops. Obviously the particularly good weather conditions (along with the small waves) greatly contributed to this success. Here’s hoping that the sun continues to shine and we have a great back-end to the season as well…


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