Dauphiné I read that the beleaguered 'low-cost' ski hire business Ski Republic has finally be sold off to Danisports (already owners of the Precision Ski franchises and brands). Ski Republic was a brilliant idea, stared by Lionel Favre in 2006. Impressed by business approach of Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder of EasyJet, Favre realised that the complacent, overpriced and frequently monopolistic hire shops to be found in every european ski resort could produce even more profit if their costs were carefully controlled and they were more 'marketing driven'.
The main idea was stunningly simple: instead of holding large stocks of equipment in expensive resort retail premises the skis, board and boots etc. were warehoused in a cheap industrial unit in the valley (in fact just outside Bourg St Maurice). Servicing and preparation of the equipment was thus done centrally, making the best use of expensive machines and technicians, and the materiel delivered to tiny retail shops (hardly more than kiosks) by garishly-coloured eye-catching vans. In addition all the marketing and order-taking was done via a well-designed website. Unlike 'traditional' ski hire shops with their extortionate mark-ups, incomprehensible and randomly-applied tarifs you knew how much you were going to pay as you paid it 'up-front'. This was good for Ski Republic's cashflow, enabling them to keep their prices low and to offer their famous 'hire one get one free' deal.
But it all went badly wrong for Ski Republic a couple of years later. Despite quickly capturing an impressive share of the market with 150,000 pairs of skis and a turnover of nearly 5 million euros it didn't make a profit in its first two years of operation. With the 2008 'credit-crunch' banks panicked over backing even slightly unconventional businesses, and SR suddenly found its line of credit broken and unable to pay its bills. The french commercial legal processes of 'cessation des paiments' and 'redressment judiciare' ensued (designed to give a struggling business protection from its creditors while it tries to pull itself together) and M. Favre was forced to liquidate all his other assets (which included the Precison Ski brand) to keep the business going. Since then it's struggled on, with various owners and backers invloved. Finally the Tribunal de Commerce at Chambéry pulled the plug, forcing the sale and/or closure of the remanents of Ski Republic.
A personal ski-hire anecdote: I remember how, as a relatively inexperienced skier, I had hired a pair of skis at Courchevel 1650. After a day or so I realised that the bindings were wrongly adjusted for my weight and ability (the skis kept coming off) and the braking mechanism on one of them was faulty and never descended to stop the ski sliding away when the binding was open.
Saulire with La Grand Casse (3855m)
Predictably, as I was tackling the difficult, bumpy 'M' black piste below La Saulire, the ski came of on a bump and slid away, under the netting at the side of piste and fell 100m or so into the ravine below. I had to complete the remainder of 'M' on one ski and my backside, and take a series of lifts in the wrong direction to get back to the ski hire shop (closed of course, at 12). When it finally opened at 4.30pm I explained my predicament, tired and annoyed at having lost half a day on the mountain. The response: 'You lost ze ski? So you have to go and find it!' After pointing out the impossibility of this I was told 'OK, so you 've to pay for a new PAIR of skis'.
Too exhausted to argue I returned the next day to be told by the manager, 'Oh it's no problem, we give you another pair. I expect the pisteurs will find it in the Spring...' I was relieved, but also confused.