Spitfire is amongst the most patriotic names you could imagine, but this distributor’s unique point of difference is in fact French – namely they only deal in cycle product that comes from the Gallic land.
Spitfire Distribution has been in the business for two years, operating out of Grimsby Town and, since the summer, from an Enterprise Centre just outside the North Lincolnshire town, but its latest signing is going to help cement its name in the trade – Hutchinson Tyres. That brand’s forthcoming road tyre launch – the Fusion 5 – is a big deal, one that Spitfire co-founder Clement Pichon calls a ‘comeback’ tyre.
The Fusion 5 has been two years in development and uses a new rubber structure. “It’s got performance, puncture protection, grip, rolling performance...It’s had massive pre orders,” Pichon says. “The quality is 100 per cent. They control the rubber right from the start of fabrication.”
On the MTB side there’s the tubeless-ready Gila, affordably retailing in the region of £30. Pichon points out it was Hutchinson who was the first to put tubeless tyres into production, back in the noughties and believes more wheel manufacturers will accommodate the form in the next two years.
Tubeless is a favourite in France, Pichon’s native land, thanks to the terrain. The market is considerably different too, thanks not least to the impact of huge retailer Decathlon and its dominance of the more affordable end of cycling. Consequently, IBDs over there tend to be very high end.
So, other than Pichon’s own heritage, why does Spitfire only work with French brands? “We have to specialise and stand out,” he tells BikeBiz. Not only does it help Spitfire carve out an identity in a busy market, but there’s also obvious logistical advantages, which is good news for retailers, Pichon tells BikeBiz. Changing customer expectations has also played into the hands of French brands, he says - those perhaps lured into cycling by the achievements of Sir Bradley Wiggins have been keen to get more technical, playing into the hands of high-end French brands.
Spitfire started out with Osymetric, then Kenny Racing (amongst Europe’s largest clothes manufacturers, the firm reckons).
“Kenny is a fun brand with modest prices and the production line is still in France. It is affordable, but still with the latest in technology in protection and clothing and cleaning.”
Osymetric is one of Spitfire’s biggest sellers, with over £1,000 of product shipping a week. “It was hard for customers to understand initially, but now there have been many articles and we’ve held shop open evenings to give customers better understanding.
“It’s almost the same product from the ‘80s. It gives you a ten per cent performance improvement and the shape has been protected.” Thanks to heightened awareness of power, not least with the furore around Froome stoking journalist interest, the sector has benefitted, we hear.
Then there’s the likes of Cycling Ceramic. Pichon’s French connections helped seal that deal – Cycling Ceramic’s owner was still a pro racer when Spitfire took them on – the first distributor for the brand. Spitfire helped with translation and now they’re the biggest retailed ceramic bearings brand in the UK, we’re told. Their durability is a point of pride – they’ve had zero per cent returns in two years.
Spitfire is on the look out for brands, including tools, wheels and a bike brand and Pichon is in talks with many of cycling’s French labels: “We want to cover all the specs. There’s not many brands in France now, but they have a prestige and a passion.”
Spitfire also seeks new dealer customers, with exclusive areas for shops. “Then you can support a dealer, that’s very important.” In the near future, Fusion 5 dealers are being sought. “The tyre’s development won’t stop. It will be upgraded over the years and will stay ahead of rivals,” Pichon says.
There’ll be a B2B in early 2016 to support customers and more marketing in the form of supporting teams. “Smaller retailers we love,” Pichon concludes. “They can tell the story behind the brand.”