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By Chris Oddo | Tuesday August 21, 2018

 
Nicolas Préault

Nearly a year after Tecnifibre was purchased by Lacoste, we chat with Tecnifibre CEO about the new direction of his company.

Photo Source: Tecnifibre

It’s been nearly a year since Lacoste and Tecnifibre joined forces and in that time the companies have explored and developed synergies that will soon be taken to fruition. Tennis has its racquet and string makers. The Babolats, the Heads and the Wilsons of the world. And it also has its apparel and footwear producers—think Nike, Adidas and Uniqlo—but it has never had a company that can fill both roles so well.

Tecnifibre and Lacoste, together, are well-positioned to be one of the most impactful full-service tennis providers of the next decade. Backed by the power of Lacoste, which boasts over €3 billion net sales, Tecnifibre suddenly finds itself in a position to expand its influence.



We recently caught up with Tecnifibre’s CEO Nicolas Préault to talk about the exciting prospects for these two highly respected brands and what it might mean for the future of the Tecnifibre we already know.

Q: Tell us your initial thoughts on the merger:

Nicolas Préault: “It’s very exciting. Tecnifibre is just a small company—it’s 22 million Euro net sales, it’s 45 employees which have been working for the company, but it’s a big brand, With a huge awareness, with a strong image, very premium positioning and value around the brand.

“The first word which could be a good description of the value would be authenticity, and the reason why we are an authentic tennis brand is because since the beginning of the corporation, 40 years ago, Thierry Maissant (Tecnifibre’s founder) and his team have been working in the same direction. Just to be the expert of this market, the expert of the string business, and to bring a lot of knowledge to the market.

“So this is the starting point of everything, and I’m quite lucky because I am today in the position of the person who is the new CEO of Tecnifibre but we for sure aren’t starting from scratch. We don’t start from a white page, we start from a huge heritage which was cultivated day after day, year after year by Thierry and by the team and today Tecnifibre is based on a very, very solid foundation and it is from this foundation that we want to set up the future which will be possible with the arrival of Lacoste.”

Q: It’s been nearly a year – what can you tell me about the two brands being together now?

Nicolas Préault: “Now with the arrival of Lacoste we can think about a lot of things. It was my first mission when I arrived a few months ago. Thierry Guibert (Lacoste’s CEO) asked me to first of all set up the future for the next five years of the future with Tecnifibre; this is done, and then to think about all the possible synergies.

“There are two types of synergies that we are going to set up. The first one is what you can call a classic company where a big company buys a small one. Today we can use all the expertise and the power of the Lacoste group in terms of human resources, in term of legal department, in term of IT systems and so on and so forth. This is very important for us because we move from 45 people to 10,000 collaborators so it’s very important, but it’s not enough.

“There is a second part of the synergy which is much more strategical. The starting point of the thinking that we have set up as a team is to say, well, who are our consumers? The consumers of Tecnifibre are for sure the players, and there are different types of players, in terms of style, in terms of frequency of playing, but the players have some needs which are linked to different parts in terms of product categories, so there are textiles, there are shoes, there are racquets, there are strings, balls and when you think about the market today you have some giants in this market, for example Nike, which have been selling a lot of textiles and shoes but no racquets on one side and on the other side you have another giant like Wilson or Babolat or Head—even some challengers that are moving up like Yonex—which are selling a lot of racquets, strings, balls—they try to sell textile but it’s quite tough and we cannot say that today those guys are really pushing on textiles.”

Q: And you feel that you can do both in a way that maybe has not been done before?

Nicolas Préault: “With Lacoste on one side and Tecnifibre on the other side we are today potentially the only group which could be in the position to say okay there is the needs of the players and we are able today—at least tomorrow—to bring 100 percent of the product to fit the needs of the players, so this is very interesting. This is the reason why we want to set up a new approach, even for Lacoste, which is an approach of a sport performance group based on tennis and squash with two brands, which are two specialty brands, one on textile and shoes, the other one on equipment, to be sure that we will fit 100 percent the needs of the players. This is the approach.”



Q: The possibilities seem endless, don’t they?

Nicolas Préault: “When you have set up this kind of approach you can say, okay, there are a thousand of possible synergies, we can bring some synergies for products like, for example racquets, today we are the expert of the racquet business for the Lacoste group—imagine tomorrow that you can have a Lacoste racquet by Tecnifibre, sitting at the Lacoste shops just to bring to the Lacoste fan a racquet with a high level of playability.

“We are going to use this expertise. We are going to use the network of Lacoste to develop shoes for Tecnifibre for squash. It’s another example of what we can do.

“Today the key accounts like Tennis Warehouse, Tennis Express, Tennis Point, Tennis Pro, are visited by one guy from Lacoste and one guy from Tecnifibre. We are coming from the same group, so we can now set up one team which will serve all the products from the group.

Q: You already have some top professionals playing with Tecnifibre racquets, like Daria Kasatkina, Daniil Medvedev and others. Do you plan to have more now?

Nicolas Préault: “We have a project which is a top priority project at the highest level of the group which is to have one player, as soon as possible, playing for Lacoste in textile and shoes and for Tecnifibre in racquet and strings.

“It’s a top priority and as it is a top priority we have a very detailed program so we know exactly what shoe is the target. We have defined the target, we have defined all the steps from the wish to the signature of the contract.”

Tecnifibre T-Fight

Q: How important is it to have big-name players in your stable?

Nicolas Préault: “It’s crucial. When you are a small brand you really have to carry your communications through your athletes. For me, the athletes are the first ambassadors of the brand. It’s impossible to say Tecnifibre wants to use its positioning on the string—we are the real brand expert of this business—to sell more racquets if you don’t have one or two top players.”

You have to have a personal image which fits with the brand, which is not so easy—It’s complicated but it’s a huge opportunity for us.”

Q: Big stars, say Novak Djokovic and other top players, become pretty comfortable with their racquets. Is this a massive impediment?

Nicolas Préault: “Nothing is impossible. You can see what happened with Roger Federer. Let’s say a few weeks ago that nobody expected that Roger will finish his career with Uniqlo and not with Nike.

“This is what we want to do. We have three to five targets, let’s say three to five top players, and we have been working on it.”



Q: You are a new CEO. Can you tell us what makes Tecnifibre special and how Lacoste can make the company more, let’s say, potent?

Nicolas Préault: “We are competitors, we are coming from the sport industry. We want to do it step by step. We want to do it with a high level of humility, because the business is really tough and we want to go step by step. So no revolution. Strong evolution for sure. Determination.

“In the case of Tecnifibre it’s even more important. We are starting from a huge heritage. We have to use this heritage to set up the future of the brand. Five years, six years, ten years, we can have revolution, but with evolution.

Q: And the role, and importance, of Lacoste?

Nicolas Préault: “For me Lacoste is a brand with a huge heritage in sports. Rene Lacoste was a tennis guy. First of all it’s a brand which is very sport oriented, with unique positioning in terms of it being a premium sportswear brand with the famous polo with the crocodile. It was a perception of the brand I had before.

“I was too far away to imagine the power of the company. The logo in the tennis industry at least, it’s unbelievable. It’s really the key which gives you the possibility to open many doors. From the top players, the biggest events, and so on.

“It’s really unique.”

Q: It must be complicated for a small company to come together with one so large? What has that been like?

Nicolas Préault: “It’s really interesting to feel the spirit of the guys in the company. And we have to say that each time that we work with the Lacoste Group, it’s always the same. They know Tecnifibre, the reason why Lacoste bought Tecnifibre and what we can imagine together in collaboration, so it’s good for us. We are not just this small company which has been bought by the big company.

“The balance will not be created by the size of this company, it will be created by the size of Lacoste on one side and the level of expertise in the tennis of Tecnifibre on the other side, and this is the beauty of the synergy, and this is the reason why, at least until now, the synergies are working very well.


Tennis Express

Q: What was the motivation for Lacoste to make the purchase in the first place?

Nicolas Préault: “Thierry Guibert has been in place on the Lacoste Board for the last three years. And when he arrived he said they are very sportswear oriented but not very sports oriented. But the heritage of Lacoste is about sports, about tennis, about golf—first of all about tennis. And this is what Thierry has been doing during the last three years—to reconnect Lacoste with the DNA of the brand, this is the reason why he decided to invest in Novak Djokovic, and this is the reason why he finally decided also to buy Tecnifibre, to bring Tecnifibre on board and to let Tecnifibre bring to Lacoste all the spirit of the tennis sports performance business. This is our job, our mission to the Lacoste guys is to explain to them or to let them have an experience of the tennis sports and performance.”

Q: And so far have you felt a difference in the way Tecnifibre is perceived?

Nicolas Préault: “We can say that for example in the case of the top players without Lacoste it would be very difficult to ask a top player to move to a new racquet, for sure that would be impossible.

“In the business there are some really strategic customers but we are going to reinforce the collaboration with the arrival of Lacoste and there are many examples like this. We can open a lot of doors.”

Q: You have been involved with skiing and swimming and been in the sports industry for over 15 years. Where does this new experience with Tecnifibre rank for you?

Nicolas Préault: “I arrived at this company at the right time. Personally it’s more than exciting to be there.”

Q: And you’ve talked about a five-year plan to explore and develop these synergies, sign top players—what after that?

Nicolas Préault: “We know our long-term targets, and we know that we have to achieve these targets because there is another target right after the long-term target. Yes, there are a lot of opportunities. The main target of this five-year plan is to become the world leader in the string business, and the idea is to reinforce our positioning in the string business to put ourselves in all the other categorical products like racquets.”

Q: And already we see Lacoste influencing the new line of T-Fight racquets, which are due out during the U.S. Open?

Nicolas Préault: “I would not use the word influence, I would prefer to use the word inspiration. And this is true. When we started to work with the guys for the new cosmetic of the new T-Fight. We want to use that as an inspiration to really set up this new cosmetic approach for the T-fight but also for the future of our collection.

“We want to manage these two companies as two different companies, but with synergies. If we think on the Tecnifibre side that we have to use Lacoste as an inspiration for the racquet, we do it, but we do it by ourselves. We don’t do it because guys from Lacoste say you have to be as close as possible to the Lacoste group. It’s our own strategy. It’s like in life, everything is a question of balance. We want to be as close as we can to Lacoste while still maintaining our independence.

Q: That sounds crucial. Tecnifibre has developed a really special brand. Do you share working facilities with Lacoste?

Nicolas Préault: “Lacoste will move to another head office close to Paris. The team took the decision to stay independent, to keep their own working zone. But stay authentic. It’s not a jail for us. It’s just an additional means. A means which will bring to Tecnifibre much more power, much more efficiency, the possibility any time for any kind of subject.”

To learn more about Tecnifibre visit them on the web at www.tecnifibre.com or shop them at https://www.tennisexpress.com/brand/tecnifibre

 

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