Groupe Royer Rolls Out Growth Plans

NEW YORK — A diverse business model is paying off for Groupe Royer.

From a recent distribution deal with New Balance and its expanded ownership of Charles Jourdan to the debut of Kickers in the U.S. , the company has forged ahead with a number of big initiatives this year. And Chairman Jacques Royer has major plans for 2011, starting with New Balance, which the company is now distributing in France, Germany and the Benelux nations.

“This is a great family brand story. We’re really going to push it,” Royer told Footwear News during a recent visit to the company’s headquarters in the Brittany region of France. “The fashion here is moving back to running, and we have a real opportunity to grow the brand.”

Jonathan Ram, managing director of New Balance EMEA, said the move would help expand the athletic brand’s market share overseas, as well as boost its profitability. He added that the two companies — both privately-owned and managed — share a similar vision. “[Our joint approach] will lead to … significant and sustainable development in challenging, complex and fiercely competitive marketplaces,” Ram said.

The New Balance deal marks the latest U.S. brand partnership for Groupe Royer, which also distributes Converse in France, as well as Collective Brands Inc.’s Keds, Saucony and Sperry Top-Sider brands. Royer said the firm continued to grow its portfolio in the recession, thanks, in part, to France’s resilience. “It’s been more stable here than in other areas,” he said.

Dan Brausch, VP of international for Collective Brands’ Performance & Lifestyle Group, said France is a priority for the firm. “Groupe Royer is expert at multibrand management and is well connected to all the right retailers.”

While the company continues to grow its distribution arm, it also is pouring a lot of energy into its own labels. After buying the global rights for Von Dutch last year, Groupe Royer upped its stake in the high-end Charles Jourdan label in October and now owns the rights globally, except for the North American market. (Titan Industries and BBC International formed a joint venture last year to buy Charles Jourdan here.)

Royer said he has met with the U.S. team to discuss ways the companies can work together, but for now he is focused on growing Charles Jourdan in other areas of the world. For example, his firm is moving forward with plans to pair Jourdan with Stephane Kélian in co-branded boutiques that will highlight both brands’ French heritage.

“These are well-known, famous labels,” said Royer. “That’s why we wanted to buy them.”

The firm also is playing up its roots with the Kickers children’s brand, which has a strong market position in France but is still in its infancy in the U.S.

The label, which turned 40 this year, has been steadily growing its retail base since its stateside launch for spring ’10. But executives said they are taking a cautious approach.

“The idea is not to be everywhere,” said Antoinette Dagobert, VP of North America for Kickers. “Our price points are higher than many kids’ brands, so we’re really competing with the European players.”

One new initiative in the works is a co-branded Kickers/Lego line, which will launch exclusively on Zappos.com during the next few months.

“It takes time for any new brand to establish itself in America,” said Sonny Shar, president of Pentland USA, which is handling back-office operations and logistics for the brand. “But Groupe Royer is very efficient and very dedicated to what they do.”

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