Arnaud Banizette has had a busy year. He’s arrived in the UK from France, relaunched the Aigle brand to the UK gun trade, continued to grow the brand with swathes of advertising and successful trade show appearances, and racked up an impressive amount of air miles.
At the bottier’s new HQ in Cornbury Park – a scenic location on the edge of the Cotswold Market Town of Charlbury – Arnaud explains that the company has managed to grow over 10 per cent this year, despite the scorching temperatures and droughts that are more or less the opposite of ideal conditions in which to sell welly boots.
Arnaud cites a successful weekend at the Game Fair in July as key to this success. “We found the Game Fair really interesting,” he says. “Why? Because we were able to meet a lot of consumers in the UK, and it was the first time we were able to understand what they need. I really appreciate the feedback from the consumers as they let us know that we are well known for wellies and the Parcours in particular.”
Arnaud, Aigle’s country manager for the UK and Ireland, also confirmed that they will be returning to the Game Fair in Hatfield with their own 50sq/m stand. He explained: “We will capitalise on the customers that will be present. It is a really big investment and we need to increase our business in the UK.”
The first historic wellington boot brand, Aigle were founded by American-businessman Hiram Hutchinson in 1853, as Arnaud says: “The UK market know of Aigle, but they don’t know of its history. We need to push this and will invest a lot of money to make this well known. “British consumers surprise me all the time,” he confesses. “I come from France and over there you don’t have country stores; you will only have gun shops and ready-to-wear stores. They are impossible to find in villages or little cities. I don’t know why, because they would be really useful for the country citizen.
“I really appreciate the way countryside dwellers are retailed to in the UK. It’s really smart and at the same time, really practical.”
The British market is one of three key focuses along with Germany and their home market of France. In France things are different, with 60 stores bearing the Aigle brand itself, but in the UK the strategy is to grow through distributor John Rothery and a network of third-party retailers.
“We are capitalising on our customer and have a really good strategy to partner up with wholesale networks. This is why we will invest a lot in the promotion. Marketing budgets will increase for the next few years. And we will invest in trade shows, B2B or B2C, and the media, press, magazines and possibly TV adverts.”
For the coming winter months Aigle will feature in 10 magazines specialising in country and hunting. So far they have placed 26 adverts to increase visibility on the market, in the media and in stores. This is made easier, in part, due to the smaller team in place in the UK.
“In France it is more difficult because turnover is really important and there are a lot of networks. In the UK it is just one team for every distribution and we can set the strategy in one go. Sometimes it is difficult because there are not enough of us and we need more people to develop the brand quickly. Other times it is easier and we can decide quickly what the best way to work is, what are the best opportunities for Aigle and what is best for the end consumer.
“We can focus on that and say it is cool to develop the business – not easily – but with a lot of feeling,” he adds. Arnaud’s busy lifestyle sees him split his time between Aigle’s new showroom, his home in Oxford, Aigle HQ in Paris and with his daughter in the south of France. It is a lifestyle well-suited to his love of travel. “That is why my life is wonderful,” he explains.
“You can see that working in this location around Charlbury is beautiful. I have a good team and they are happy to work in Charlbury too; it makes you relaxed and you need to be relaxed to be creative.”
“ Good spirit, good inspiration, a good brand and good vibes ”
Indeed, most of Aigle UK’s marketing strategy originates in Charlbury rather than being dictated by France: “We discuss a lot as a team even if people don’t specialise in marketing or commercial skills; they still have a view on the market. Whenever I have an idea I share it with the team to have their feedback, because they know the market better than me, having lived in the UK all their lives.
“More brainstorming means more discussion which means more ideas. I am really open about that. We have positive vibes and that makes you feel better and produce better work. Good spirit, good inspiration, a good brand and good vibes – it’s all really positive. Aigle’s team of 10 includes Mitch Bremner, an exclusive sales rep in the north-east.
“He arrived at Aigle UK in January, just weeks after me,” Arnaud says. “We have a really good relationship. It is really cool to develop the business with him and he has great experience in the UK. He came from Le Chameau before this, and always has good advice for the wellington market.”
Arnaud is confident that wellingtons will remain their main market. “I think the high quality of the wellies will resonate with the consumer looking for comfort and durability. I hope we will become the top brand in the country and hunting footwear market. We are currently very close to Le Chameau – we may be five per cent off from overtaking them!
“We will be increasing our presence on the market and will increase our partnership with John Rothery because we need to have more availability for our products,” he adds. Aigle do not currently have a UK warehouse but there is a focus on increasing ‘numeric distribution’: the number of styles on sale in each store. Aigle will also concentrating on growing brand engagement, highlighting their heritage and family-friendly image.
“Its the style of Aigle,” explains Arnaud, I love the brand and I’m trying to forward that love on to the consumer. “It is important to love the brand. I used to wear Aigle Lollipops when I was young. They are easy to recognise because of the dark navy colour and two white bands on the top of the welly.
“If you don’t have enthusiasm, then the job is not for you. We need to spend a lot of time talking about shooting with friends – after that you have a good knowledge of how to sell the best product. We try to have this relationship with our partners.”
Next year the new showroom will undergo remodeling, and will benefit from the addition of a modernised lifestyle room. “We are developing the style in each store, which is how we optimise our range,” says Arnaud.
“Hopefully we get the opportunity to grow more; I am confident of that. I think the brand can tell as really nice story about the game shooting industry, which is why we focus on the nice country retailers. And I love the brand for that; there is a strong knowledge and a good story to tell. We are winning!”