For over 2 years Peter Durham has been the director of BIC SUP (Stand Up Paddle) division and is refusing to temper any efforts to keep the French firm’s position in among the biggest players in the world market. Always smiling and open, the friendly New Zealander gave us a warm welcome to his office in the company’s headquarters in Vannes to talk to us about his work and reminisce about his own personal odyssey. Here’s our meeting with a businessman who’s as invested in his field as he is passionate about it.
Hello Peter, thank you for welcoming us to the BIC Sport factory, would you be able to tell us a bit about how you came to be here and how long you’ve been working for the company?
I came from Wellington in New Zealand where I did a lot of windsurfing in my younger years. I arrived in France in 2001 where I started working for Neilpryde at its headquarters up north, and then I joined BIC Sport in 2006. I started working in the windsurfing division on the O’pen BIC monotype-class board, then I went on to take over everything to do with procurement, meaning sourcing in Asia, and after that I moved on to the Stand Up Paddle division where I currently work. I worked with Patrice Remoiville, and after he left in spring of 2015, I took over from him and now I’m in charge of all of BIC SUP products.
As head of SUP products, a role at the heart of the company, what does your job entail?
It’s a pretty big job [laughs]. I manage all of BIC’s SUP products from their conception to their arrival in our warehouses, and from then on, it’s the sales teams that take over. You could say there are 2 main responsibilities to my job. Firstly, it entails developing products in each product line, identifying what new equipment we need, what kinds of board shapes, what price range… That’s a job requiring coordination with market players, retailers worldwide, board shapers, boarders who test the prototypes… I’m a bit like the conductor of an orchestra leading everyone else. My other responsibility is planning the production of different board models, managing purchases and procurement, logistics, process organisation…
How did you manage to continue the design and development work started by Patrice, for over two years, despite not having any experience as a shaper?
When Patrice was still here, I had already done a lot of work on the planning and logistics aspects, so the change wasn’t too jarring. We called in a new shaper from California, Jon Henderson, who was in charge of designing new models in close cooperation with BIC team riders such as Eric Terrien and Alexis Deniel who helped to ensure that the transition after Patrice left was as smooth as possible. Their work on the water and invaluable feedback help me greatly to do my job. They play a huge role and even if I, as an individual, am able to pick out different things about certain 8-10ft board models, I think it’s more important to let more experienced people than me step in to have their say – especially when talking about the top-of-the-line models. I am responsible for identifying which sizes of board we would like to have and for writing the specification for each one. In a product outline, I define its broad limits and they work on every little detail of the board. Everyone knows their place now and after two tough years, I think everything’s going well.
Although a big part of your production work takes place here in France, another part is all to deal with inflatable SUPs and top of the range carbon-fibre boards is based in Asia – does that require you to be out there a lot as well?
Jon spends about 3-4 months out in Asia every year, and I have to go there once a year to see how production is going and meet suppliers, not just for boards but also for all BIC SUP accessories. I spend another part of my time (around 1 month a year) in the USA, given that it’s unquestionably our biggest international market, accounting for 2/3 of our total SUP sales. I observe market trends out there and I try hard to find out their needs both in terms of products and quantity. I get the maximum amount of information possible from our local partners, which I then have to weigh-up with the needs of the rest of our international market, because you can’t leave anyone out. We want to offer products that suit all varieties of boarder, not just those in America. The global trend is moving more towards equilibrium at the moment. The American market is in a unique place right now; it’s almost saturated with products as there are so many brands and rigid boards available to consumers. Prices are therefore being driven down and the market is very competitive.
In terms of board selection and preferences, are the US and European markets massively different?
Yes, certainly the Americans gravitate much more towards rigid boards, however cumbersome they may be, as the board itself is part of a boarding culture that has existed forever thanks to their established surfing culture. In Europe, inflatable boards have a much bigger market share – customers value practicality in this regard.
What is the best-selling BIC board?
No question, it’s the All round Performer Ace Tec 10’6 rigid board. It’s a board that anyone can use for a leisurely paddle, but it can also be used on the waves as it’s equipped with real surfboard rails and has a shape that belies BIC’s many years of experience in surfing. Even if it’s a lesser selling board, the Wing 12’6 is still undeniably a stalwart in our range, an accessible touring board that we've been making for a good few years and which enjoys a pretty solid reputation on the market.
BIC SUP is definitely evolving, last December we found out about your collaboration with Oxbow, how did that go?
We generally work on product lines which we renew every two years, and at the start of this partnership with Oxbow which came about quite quickly, we took inspiration from models which already existed in the BIC catalogue. For 2018, there will be advances with the development of new Oxbow race boards designed by Martin Vitry and the Teulade brothers, but there will also be new, wider and more beginner-friendly SUP-Surf boards, as well as other even more high-performance models. We’re also working on new paddles.
Another development is that, at the end of May, we found out about an agreement which made a worldwide rollout of the SIC brand official – have you had a part in this new venture?
Yes, it’s a big change but we hope that it will help better differentiate the two brands, and we certainly don’t want to change the essence of what the SIC brand is and what made it: its reputation, its quality and its Hawaiian ‘downwind’ roots. I won’t be directly involved in developing SIC, I’ll still remain focused on BIC SUP.
Hidden behind your role as one of the big economic figures in the SUP industry is a real SUP enthusiast – what can you tell us about your own SUP habits?
I started SUP a fair few years back when BIC started to make its first “Jungle” boards – it hooked me pretty quickly because it opened up new perspectives compared to kayaking and surfing. I’m really lucky, as the factory is only 30 minutes from the waves and 15 minutes from a lake, so I always try to be on my SUP or windsurfing board as much as possible when the conditions allow. I might paddle about on the calm waters or enjoy the waves at Sainte Barbe, near Quiberon. I also like going out to test the majority of products we make for myself. I think that it’s important to keep this constant connection with the water.
What are the major pros and cons of your job?
The main advantage and disadvantage are actually the same thing, insomuch as you have to be very versatile. You go from managing purchases to product development… etc. On one hand, it’s exciting, but it’s also very demanding, as you always have to try and be good at everything you do. It can be frustrating at times to not have the time to go into something in depth, or to be unable to work on a single product from start to finish. One thing I do like about my work for BIC SUP is that I can offer the gear that’s best adapted for everyone but that can also be used for more specific things. It would be a shame to spend so much time working on overly specific or elite boards that can’t be fully enjoyed by everyone.
Photo and Interview credits to L. Nevarez