Babolat is celebrating its 135th birthday with a stunning increase of 20 percent in its consolidated sales for the eight months ended last April, although this was partly due to the fact that it decided to launch some important new products at the beginning of this year instead of September. Other tennis companies have decided to follow this pattern in Europe, as is already the custom in most of North America and Asia.
The new products include a new line of black tennis strings to mark the origin of the French company in the sector. Called RPM Blast (RPM stands for revolutions per minute), it got high visibility in the tennis courts from the beginning of 2010, starting with the Australian Open, creating strong demand that put a strain on the manufacturing capacity of its French factory near Lyon.
Babolat's RPM strings have been available in the stores since last March along with several new racquets such as new versions of the Aero Pro Drive, developed together with Rafael Nadal, and the Pure Drive. They are being used by Nadal and by Jo Wilfried Tsonga, the top-ranking French tennis player who switched over from Wilson and joined the team of Babolat endorsers last Jan. 1. Babolat has also put out a new model tennis shoes signed by Andy Roddick. A special line of racquet holders celebrating the company’s 135th anniversary is being used by all the tennis pros sponsored by Babolat who are competing in this month’s French Tennis Open at Roland-Garros.
Two years ago, Babolat changed its financial year to make it end on June 30 rather than on Aug. 31 as before. The revenues that the company generated between last July and the beginning of May have already reached the magic level of €100 million, compared with €96 million for the 12 months ended in June 2009.
Tennis racquets now represent about 50 percent of the total turnover; strings 20 percent; shoes and clothing 15 percent; stringing machines, balls and accessories 10 percent; and badminton products 5 percent. Because of its continuous strong momentum in tennis, Babolat continues to market most of its badminton products, including its new line of badminton shoes developed with Michelin, mostly in France.
On a comparable basis, the company recorded a sales increase of only about 5 percent in the four rather mature European markets where it has been controlling the distribution for many years – France, Germany, Italy and Spain – but it made strong progress elsewhere. Sales grew by 39 percent in the U.K., where Babolat took over the distribution recently, by 47 percent in the U.S. and by more than 10 percent in Japan.
These figures indicate that Babolat has been gaining market shares in the more developed markets. The tennis market declined in the U.S. during the past calendar year, in spite of a higher number of participants in the sport, but Babolat reached the No. 1 position in the pro and specialty tennis stores, keeping a market share of more than 30 percent in the last few months. Its turnover in the U.S. grew to $25 million in the first eight months of this year, partly boosted by increasing demand for its tennis shoes, developed together with Michelin.
According to Sports Marketing Surveys, the European market for tennis racquets decreased by 0.2 percent in value and by 0.7 percent in units, but Babolat consolidated its position as the second-largest supplier after Wilson, with a European market share of 27.6 percent in value.
Babolat regained the leadership in Italy with a market share of 31.9 percent, slightly ahead of Wilson. It kept the leadership in France and Spain, where its market shares grew to 34.0 percent and 30.7 percent, respectively. The brand remains in third position in Germany and the U.K., but in both countries its market shares increased, reaching levels of 19.3 percent in Germany and about 14 percent in the U.K. The takeover of the distribution in the U.K. has allowed the company to achieve a broader penetration in the country, where its sales are now at an annual level of more than €3 million.
Elsewhere, the company registered sales increases of 60 percent Asia-Pacific region outside of Japan and 37 percent in Latin America. Sales continued to grow slightly in Russia, but there have been problems in Greece and parts of Eastern Europe, due to the financial crisis.
Babolat is still looking for a new country manager in Germany, but it has filled the top positions in the U.S. and the U.K. Jérôme Pin, a 47-year-old French executive who worked for 10 years with Lacoste in the Americas, has taken the place of Tim McCool at the head of the U.S. subsidiary in Boulder, Colorado, with employs more than 60 persons including those involved in administration and logistics. Babolat has a staff of about 300 people around the world, including 190 at its world headquarters in Lyon.
The company has dispatched one of the executives posted at its head office, Franck Debauvais, to run the British sales subsidiary. It has appointed Philippe Jullien to the new position of operational marketing manager to help Jean-François Morard in the development of its business in the major European markets. Giovanni Pietra continues to handle sales in the rest of the world. Plans to appoint an international sales director have been dropped.
At the age of 40 years, Eric Babolat continues to run the profitable family company as chairman and chief executive, representing the fifth generation at its helm. He has decided to promote two top officials, naming them vice presidents. They are Christophe Sicaud, in charge of R&D and manufacturing, and Jean Ferrier, in charge of administration and finance.