Glissexpo ’98: ASR French Style

Three-hundred exhibitors representing 700 brands met under the soggy and wet skies of La Barre in Biareitz France for the sixth Glissexpo trade show.

Ever since Michael Barland and his contemporaries brought the surf culture to this southwest corner of France in the 1960s, the surf, bodyboard, snowboard, and skateboard markets have continued to thrive. Today, the Biarritz area is the epicenter of the action-sports culture in Europe.

Not surprisingly, Glissexpo bears a strong resemblance to the ASR trade shows in the United States. The surf and bodyboard markets dominate the show, with snowboard and skateboard companies playing an important, but less visible, roll.

According to Pascal Joubert, head of Rossignol’s snowboard program, Glissexpo has gained importance over the years as a place for snowboard companies to be seen-but not write orders.

On the surface the show is similar to ASR in many ways, but the cultural differences are also very evident. First, the Reef Brazil girls were drinking cappuccinos. Cigarettes were en vogue. But most notably, the public is allowed to attend the show. While this diminishes Glissexpo’s business climate, it adds an interesting element as French grommets swarm the floor, plastic bags full of loot, eagerly looking for the next chance to score swag. At this show, image and market visibility are king.

And with torrential rain and howling winds outside, this was even more apparent. Usually the Glissexpo crowds split their time between surfing the breaks (literally steps from the show) and trolling the aisles. However, this year the focus was entirely on the eight large temporary pavilions housing the show-and it was packed during the weekend.

Like the ASR show, Glissexpo seems an awkward fit for some snowboard companies. Although 27 snowboard brands were there, only a few had a big presence.

Rossignol, Salomon, Scott, A Snowboards (now a part of Hot and Hammer), Westbeach, Northwave, and Mervin Manufacturing all had good visibility. A few brands, including K2, Nitro, Sims, Morrow, Santa Cruz, and Limited were on the program but nearly invisible in the isles.

Regis Rolland of A Snowboards says business is good, but Glissexpo is a better place to see fellow members of the snowboard industry and get product in front of consumers. Laurent Chabert, sales and technical director of Freesurf, agrees that this show is very image oriented.

Others, like Jean Dutrilh of Quiksilver’s Winter Sports Division say this show is good to get momentum for brands. Since Quiksilver acquired Mervin last year, Dutruilh says sales and visibility for Gnu and Lib Tech have increased-thanks to shows like Glissexpo.

Due to Glissexpo’s partnership with the Fair Team Group (new owner of SEHM Paris-the international men’s wear trade show) the Gliss agency hopes this will give the show new international stature. For example, the Glissexpo winter show will move to Disneyland Paris and will include a big-air contest on a 25-meter-long, 80-meter-high jump.

With growth like that, perhaps it won’t be long before the ASR show is compared to Glissexpo and not the other way around.

-Sean O’Brien