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INTERVIEW: Aurelian Brunet, Zefal - BikeBiz

INTERVIEW: Aurelian Brunet, Zefal

Zefal is still going strong after more than a century of trading...
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Zefal provides a golden example of how to survive the ups and downs of the industry. Zefal’s Aurelian Brunet and Zyro’s Neil Mountain speak to Jonathon Harker...

You don’t have to be a fresh-faced company with only a few years on the clock to be able to refashion yourself to a changing market. Zéfal, 130 years young, is proof that adaptability is not just the preserve of new kids on the block.

Over the last decade, the French-based manufacturer faced increasing competition from the Far East, and faced losing a slice of the market. The arrival of a new management team decided the time was right for Zéfal to makes some key changes.
“We faced stronger competition from ‘off the shelf’ products coming from the Far East and lost some market share, but we have grown by focusing on our core,” explains Aurelian Brunet, Zéfal’s sales and marketing director.

“When Matthieu [Brunet, brother of Aurelian] and I took over management three years ago, we reviewed our strategy and decided to focus on our core businesses: pumps, bottles and cages, mudguards and others accessories on the mid to high-end levels, while historically we have been offering entry to high-level products. Our goal is to keep on offering reliable and innovative bike accessories at the right price point.”

Keep it in the family
The management duo have a lineage that runs all the way back to Zéfal’s early days. Back in 1880 Zéfal was two companies – Poutrait (inventor of the famous Eugene Christophe toe-clip) and Morin (pump manufacturer and inventor of the Presta valve). They merged in 1935 and, naturally, became Pourtait-Morin. The firm saw a post-war boom in international sales, while in the ‘70s 75 per cent of production was exported and by the next decade Poutrait-Morin changed name to the decidedly more snappy Zéfal, after its most popular brand.

Brunet continues: “Today most of the shares – as the management – are still held by my family, the descendants of Mr Morin. My brother Matthieu and I took over the management in 2007. While Matthieu is in charge of operations and production, I manage the sales and marketing, but we are both involved in product development. Loic Ravily is in charge of some key export markets, including the UK and Ireland. He is assisting Zyro in the development of our business in the UK and is mindful of the particular needs of the market.”

French connection
Zéfal’s products are all designed in France, with over 75 per cent of product made in the country.

“Innovation has always been our main focus. A lot of features that you can find today on all pumps were invented by our staff and today we are still looking for new features to improve for instance ease of drinking or efficiency of pumping.”

Innovating and moving with the market has paid off for Zéfal over the years, seeing it make considerable gains in specific sectors: “In the early ‘80s we were very strong in the US market and very aware of the new mountain bike trend. We reacted quickly and designed the first mini pump, the mini double shot. We have reasons to believe that is the best selling mini pump ever.”

And has the firm seen any more recent trends that it is planning to respond to with new ranges? “We are following the commuter market closely and that’s why we launched the patented keyless locking systems for wheels and saddles two years ago. The growth in the commuting sector has also led to dramatic sales increase in the range of mirrors. We have others ideas to respond to this growing demand, but you will understand it’s a bit too early to talk about them.”

Revenues are encouraging for the firm, and in the UK in particular, as Brunet explains: “Sales are increasing at around eight per cent globally, while Zyro has grown 45 per cent year-on-year since they took over sole distribution. The new mini pumps range has been very well received and the Air Profil Micro is already a best seller, likewise the Pulse bottle cage. Our sales in bottles have grown more than ten per cent and I believe we are taking back some market share, despite new competitors coming into the market.”

In the short term, Zéfal is looking to cement its gains and ramp up its presence in the UK, according to Brunet: “In order to reposition the brand we felt we needed more marketing. In 2011 you will find Zéfal advertisements in the UK consumer press, which is crucial to re-establishing the Zéfal brand.”

He concludes: “Over the last year, our main focus has been to work on our core businesses. We are already seeing successful results especially in mini pumps following our more focused development. We have no intention to move into another direction if it makes us loose that focus. Having said that, we are always aware if any opportunity arises…”

Talking Product: Zyro brand manager Neil Mountain takes BikeBiz through some of the key 2011 products from Zefal...

Mini pumps:
“This range has been further strengthened by the introduction of the Viteo, Air Profil Micro and Z-Cross pumps. They draw upon Zéfal’s expertise in producing inflation products, but are enhanced with a modern design feel.”

New Z-Sealant:
“This is a puncture prevention sealant which has been designed for either tube or tubeless tyres. It has been designed to be effective at sealing small punctures (up to 3mm) in a inner tube whilst also containing a concentration of rust and corrosion inhibitors that enable the sealant to work with Tubeless tyres too.”

Puncture repair:
“This category has been further enhanced with the introduction of glueless patches for 2011. These are an absolute must for all cyclists and provide a simple and quick solution for those emergency situations on the road or trail. The kit contains six glueless patches and a stainless steel tube scuffer.”

Personalised bottles:
“Zyro rolled out a programme in 2010 offering retailers the chance to order water bottles personalised with their shop or event details. It’s been a huge success, especially considering the minimum commitment is only 250 bottles. The turnaround is much quicker than our Asian-counterparts due to Zéfal’s proximity to the UK and regular shipments. Enhanced pricing is available also for those retailers who want larger quantities.”

Other 2011 highlights:
“There is a new lightweight Carbon Bottle Cage which is only 30g in weight and a lightweight Fibre Glass Bottle Cage following the same design theme as the carbon cage – weighing only 40g. Zéfal also has new Z-light saddle bags. The small size is designed to provide enough space for a tube, two tyre levers and a multi-tool.”

“Zéfal is successful right throughout the world because of the comprehensive range of well priced products, with very rewarding margins for retailers. For 2011 there is going to be a range of stocking-in packages and to help maximise sales Zéfal has revamped its packaging, creating a much stronger and more noticeable identity. There will also be in-store header boards to create a shop-in-shop experience.”

QUICK-FIRE QUESTIONS:

How many patents has the company registered?
Every year, we apply for five to ten.

How many staff does the company employ, approximately?
Around 120 people are working in France for Zéfal.

How many pumps does the firm produce annually?
We make around two million pumps a year.

How many countries is Zefal represented in?
Zéfal is represented in more than 60 countries with all these markets showing substantial growth.

How many products are there in the entire range?
There are around 125 products in total.

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