Vincent Wauters on Rossignol's Ascension 2026 plan, brand image, product lines and eco-responsible offer
With its Ascension 2026 plan, the Rossignol Group is aiming for a turnover of 500 million euros by the end of its 2026 financial year, compared to 313 million euros in its last financial year, which ended at the end of March. More than a commercial objective, Vincent Wauters, who has been at the helm of the group owned by the Norwegian fund Altor Equity Partners for two years, has readjusted the model of the mountain sports specialist. A more environmentally friendly industrial strategy for its ski factories, an increase in its clothing and footwear offer and a new shop concept should support this growth ambition. The director explains his ambitions to FashionNetwork.com.
FashionNetwork.com: In the autumn you unveiled your Ascension 2026 plan. But since your arrival two years ago, you have already evolved the companie's brand portfolio by divesting several activities. What is your approach?
Vincent Wauters: I took up my position on February 1 2021. My perception is that Covid-19 was a catalyst to accelerate necessary changes. And in the end it gave us renewed energy to deal with the situation. I believe that in a group it is important that all brands share a common value and emotional projections. In a world that fluctuates strongly and rapidly, this is a very important asset. When I arrived, we decided to sell road bikes, which were manufactured, developed and marketed from the American West Coast under the Felt brand. We also sold Time pedals. For Dale of Norway, we have a marketing partnership in the United States but it is not within the group's operational perimeter. This whole approach represents a strategic refocusing. It allows us to mobilise our energies and focus on an approach that is natural and authentic to us.
FNW: So you are refocused on the historical business and Rossignol?
VW: In fact, our desire is that the Rossignol group embody the mountains even more. This means fully assuming the very inspirational side, which goes beyond the technical and sporting approach. We have to be consistent with the mountain in terms of aesthetics, semantics and value. When we manage to do this it is very, very powerful. We have an incredible opportunity with our historical core business of winter sports equipment, because I believe that sports activity is an important emotional element. But it's only one of the aspects we have to activate. In fact, the après-ski is almost as important as the skiing.
FNW: You are aiming for a turnover of half a billion euros in your 2026 plan, which is 75% higher than in your last financial year. What are the margins for growth that you have identified?
VW: For the product, winter sports equipment is a mature market. Even if everyone hopes to see China take off, as the Olympics have brought good visibility, it is more a battle for market share. And last year we gained two points. We now have a 19% market share overall with cross-country skiing, alpine skiing and alpine footwear. But the real growth driver is softgoods with clothing and footwear.
FNW: By working in what universe?
VW: First of all, it's winter, because that's where we're anchored, with a good market for après-ski. But we are going to develop towards the versatile active multi-season. That's where the bike has its role to play. Even if it will not be a large volume at the start, it will bring credibility to the spring-summer season. We are keeping the same mountain universe, with the same consumer profiles and the same commercial partners. We are just changing the activity.
"For off-frame projects, you first have to build a solid framework".
FNW: You have reviewed your product offering?
VW: I think we had already done some interesting work on the products. But there were some gaps in our offer. So we launched shoes, backpacks. We reworked the lines, the coherence of the branding, the strength of the design... But what changes is the way in which the aesthetics of the brand is highlighted. In our latest film, we are in the emotion business with the idea of transmission. With the passing on of passion, of know-how, with kindness.
And we would also like to use all the beautiful energy created around competitions, beyond the actual competition, to get away from the pure performance, competing for the medal, even if it works very well and brought the group 25 gold medals with our athletes at the last Olympics.
FNW: You have your style team, with Alessandro Locatelli as general manager, based in Milan. Some of the brands from the sports world showed on the runway during the Fashion Weeks. Is this part of your plans?
VW: In the first instance, our work is about authenticity and focus. But in the second instance, once that's established, then it's possible to look out of the box and to look for the sparkle. I love that. When I was the CEO of Hunter, I had a lot of fun. With Alasdhair Willis, who was the art director, we did some amazing things. But you have to do it at the right time. Collaborations, like with Balmain last year, are good tools for now. For the stronger projects, to be out of the box, you first have to have a solid framework.
FNW: The product is a key part of your growth plan. But you also have ambitions for your distribution channels. In this context, what is the role of your new Start Gate shop concept?
VW: This new concept is installed in Bex in Switzerland and Bromont in Canada. It has been designed with the customer's journey in mind, with a slalom between the different brands of the group. It is an emotional journey, with very strong colour-blocks, red for Rossignol, blue for Dynastar, yellow for Look. The whole thing plays on contrasts with an all-white universe. You know, for urban people who go to the mountains, there is always a moment on the road when you feel you have almost arrived. We positioned this Start Gate on the path between the city and the mountain. It's the idea of capturing the moment when you pass through the emotions from anticipation to the experience.
FNW: But there were Rossignol shops in Milan and Paris. They are no longer in operation?
VW: Yes. We had several concepts. We had for example Proshop in Italy, which was already multibrand and focused on service and performance, which remains the DNA of the group. With Start Gate we are adding a functional and emotional proposition. We are also keeping the Rossignol monobrand shops. I am waiting to strengthen the spring-summer offer with footwear to have a relevant offer all year round, before starting a new deployment. Without this, we can enjoy ourselves but it is not very profitable.
FNW: What is the weight of e-commerce today?
VW: In our growth plan, our development will be omnichannel with the same pace in e-commerce and wholesale. We want the experience to be equivalent online or in a partner shop. Direct sales, online and physical, represent 10% of the group's turnover and we want to reach 15% with the Ascension 2026 plan. But on the Softgood side we are already at over 40%. In my experience, a strong brand in B2C is also strong in B2B because it manages to create appeal and visibility.
FNW: If we look at your Ascension plan, which also includes a whole section on the production of more eco-responsible skis, you are moving towards a rather radical evolution of Rossignol's role on the market.
VW: Totally! Clearly I imagined a context a little easier than the management of the Covid crisis when taking this job. But such a context allows us to reflect on all the established operations. I had the chance to work for two other beautiful brands before, and I always take the time to reflect on the company's purpose. It is necessary to analyse the values and the articulation of the brand. For the Rossignol group, this also meant looking at the role of each brand in the portfolio. And it turns out that at the same time I joined "La convention des entreprises pour le climat" (a group of 150 leaders who put forward impactful and ecological proposals to be implemented in companies, editor's note). So my approach to working on this 'purpose' was also strongly influenced and enriched by my personal experience within this group.
FNW: How do you justify the price increases and smooth out the impact?
VW: Our responsibility is to secure jobs and the company. We are optimising our actions, but we have also transferred these increases to our prices. And we have taken responsibility for this. We have done this in connection with the price increase of materials and certain product segments. Furthermore, we have an advantage, which is that Spain and Portugal have been able to have an exception to the European electricity price calculation methods by decoupling from gas. We have a factory in Spain, where we produce 600,000 pairs of skis, whereas in Sallanches we produce 160,000. So since the spring, we have had a stabilised price, which is still high but much lower than in France. And solar energy will also help us very soon!
FNW: How do you anticipate this year 2023, with consumption priorities not necessarily oriented towards leisure and clothing?
VW: We are already closing the year in March. In 2021-22, we had recovered 95% of the pre-Covid level of activity. On a like-for-like basis, we were at 331 million euros. In March 2022, we closed at 313 million euros. But we are very confident with a new sales record in equipment and clothing with double-digit growth. We can see that sales of ski passes around the world are good. We feel that there is a very strong craze for the mountains, which we saw at the end of Covid and which continues, and I think that this is because there is such anxiety about current world events that people need to escape and that the mountains offer a place to recharge their batteries. The growth is seen in all our regions with an even greater acceleration in North America. For next year, I'm fairly confident about equipment because the season is looking good and stocks are going to turn around. On the other hand, in clothing, we can see that the summer was though and that discount levels are high, particularly in lifestyle. I still think that we will have a good growth because we are introducing new products in skiwear, new segments with shoes but also backpacks.
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