Jimmy Blakeney on TAHE’s Acquisition of BIC Sport

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Last year, after more than 40 years as a French-made watersports icon, BIC Sport merged with Tahe Outdoors to become a new brand, TAHE, whose mission is to develop products that are accessible, reliable, innovative, ecologically responsible and manufactured in France whenever possible.

BIC was born from the windsurf culture of the early 1980s, with the company developing some of the category’s best-selling windsurf boards. Tahe Outdoors has long built its own high-performance, expedition kayaks for the northern European market. The new TAHE brand is a fusion of the two, now covering six sports, including SUP, kayaking, windsurfing, surfing, kitesurfing and sailing. Tahe’s brands include Core Kiteboarding, SIC (SUP, foil and surfboards), Zegul (high-end composite and HPDE touring kayaks) and Tahe (applying BIC’s history to SUP). Under the agreement, BIC Sport’s workforce remains in place and its most popular category names will carry forward (products such as the Techno windsurf boards, Borneo and Bilbao kayaks, the Cross and Performer SUP series, and Ace-Tec and Tough-Tec technologies will now be incorporated under TAHE).

North American marketing and product manager Jimmy Blakeney, who moved over from a long career at BIC, catches Paddling Life up on the move.

Tahe Bic Blakeney
TAHE’s Jimmy Blakeney

Can you tell us a bit about the merger? BIC Sport was a legendary watersports brand for 40 years, but always had its challenges from being associated with pens and lighters. The new TAHE brand inherits all the best of BIC Sport including the employees, our Made in France construction technologies and best-selling products. We’ll build on this foundation with the energy and excitement of a new brand with innovative, forward-looking products such as the SUP-YAK.

How’s the merger going, launching TAHE as a new brand replacing BIC? It’s gone better than we expected. We’ve retained our distribution network while redirecting all digital properties to TAHE, both of which have been very helpful in making sure customers find the new brand. It’s also helpful that we are all the same people, management and capabilities, making it fairly seamless at the distribution level.

Do you think customers will be confused by the name change? We’ve done our best to communicate the brand story and information about the change, which we’ve highlighted in our communications as well as on the TAHE website.

How hard is it for a French company to gain traction in the U.S. market?  For BIC Sport we had over 40 years of brand awareness with the brand history going all the way back to the early windsurfing days. Now with TAHE we’re carrying all that history and DNA forward with a fresh new brand. We certainly have our work cut out for us to elevate TAHE to the same level of awareness that BIC Sport enjoyed, but we’re confident the product and our partners will make this happen. BIC Sport, and now TAHE products, have distribution in over 90 countries so we are legitimately a global watersports brand.

What are some of the difficulties and hurdles to overcome? At the moment getting product to market is our number one priority. It’s a huge challenge, not just for us but across industries and globally. We’re working hard every day to support our retail partners and end consumers by getting product to market as quickly as we possibly can.

How did the company get through the pandemic? Did it suffer any inventory issues? Absolutely, and those challenges continue today based on the latency of the COVID impact on supply chains and shipping/logistics issues, which are simultaneous to significant spikes in demand. Even labor shortages at home in U.S. are impacting our ability to return to normal operations, or support the growing volumes. Everything reported in the media on these issues has some relevance in our business.

Tahe
Foiled again…

Your brands cover six sports, including SUP, kayaking, windsurfing, surfing, kitesurfing and sailing—which segment seems to be growing the fastest? We’re seeing strong growth across all categories. Watersports are on fire right now at every level, and now the emerging foiling activity is incremental as well. We’ll have to wait and see how much of this growth remains after the COVID dust settles, but we expect this will take a few years, and hopefully at an increased baseline of active participants.

Which brand has the best technology story to tell? With TAHE our Made in France technologies with a focus on sustainable manufacturing are still our mainstay and remain completely unique on the market. SIC has the lightest weight, highest performance race, downwind and foil boards with Superfly construction. CORE continues to be the leader in premium kitesurfing products, and offers enhanced performance and progression for all level riders. 

How is the foil market going with SIC? We see Foil as the next emerging segment across many of our categories. SUP and Surf Foil are fairly niche, but Wing Foil should be widely accessible and become mainstream and our 2022 offer will reflect that trend. In sailing, following the recent America’s Cup cycles, windsurf foiling is now an Olympic Class and TAHE is well positioned with the Techno Wind Foil package as the feeder class for clubs and schools. In CORE we have also recently launched the SLC Foil program, which is already selling well. So, we’re already focused on foil and will be adapting to the market as it develops for the foreseeable future.

How does SIC Maui, your premium brand, differ from Tahe? SIC Maui was born in Hawaii and has performance DNA from the downwind and racing disciplines. This influences everything about the SIC brand and is now transferring over to the foil market. TAHE is a family-focused brand with an emphasis on products for recreational use – easy and fun to use. At the same time TAHE continues the BIC Sport tradition of ‘one design’ racing for youth participants with our Techno 293 windsurf class, the largest in windsurf class in the world, and our Open Skiff sailing dinghy for kids. 

CORE focuses on kiteboarding—how is that market doing these days? As the name implies, CORE is about as focused and dedicated to premium, high-performance kiting equipment as a brand could be. This pure focus is key to the success CORE is experiencing for increasing global market share in the otherwise mature kite market. Our XR7 Kite just released, which is a groundbreaking product.

Tahe Bic
Putting Tahe’s Sup Yak through its paces…

How does the high-end sea kayak market with Zegul compare growth-wise to TAHE’s other watersports niches? Zegul is currently focused on the European/Scandanavian markets since the product is built and designed in Estonia. There’s been quite a bit of work to do across all our brands since the TAHE Outdoors Group formed. Zegul is currently in focus for similar attention, with plans for outside of Europe in the future.

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