Hiring skis in Chamonix is easier than ever now that you can pre-book online. The process seems so simple - log on, fill in your destination, dates, pick the right package for you, et voila - you turn up and everything is ready for you to go off and hit the mountain.
Simple? For us skiers maybe... but can you imagine how many there are of you each week in ski resorts across the Alps? Over the course of a ski season, literally hundreds of thousands of skiers will come to France for their ski holidays, a significant percentage of whom will be looking to rent skis for the week. When you start to think about the amount of boots, skis, shops, staff are involved, the mind begins to boggle at the numbers and logistics involved!
Before we got too confused about how the whole ski rental business operates, we decided to go right to the top and speak to the biggest guys in the online sector - Intersport Rental France and the man in the know: Website Manager Aurelien De Pierrefeu.
Tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from and what position you hold at Intersport?
When I was young my parents had a restaurant on a hiking trail in the Southern Alps so I started skiing early and have been a mountain addict ever since. When I was younger I did a lot of snowboarding and actually won the French Junior Championships in 1993. I studied at the Grenoble Business School and actually spent one year at Aston University in the UK which was a great experience but I really missed skiing. All there was locally was Tamworth snowdome!
Before joining Intersport, I worked in business development for a start up called net4ski which was bought by skihorizon. In 2001 I then took on the position of Regional Manager for the Intersport mountain network. Since 2006 I have held the position of Manager of the Intersport Rental Website. I work on many different aspects within the online rental sector including marketing and communication (our pricing is based on yield management which is totally unique to the ski rental industry), user experience (both off and online), business stragegy and shop and client liaison.
Intersport is a massive global company – tell us a bit about the department that you work for....
Intersport is the biggest sport retailer in the world with a turnover of €9.5 billion. Here in France, Intersport turns over €1.3 billion of which €106 million comes from the Mountain Network. Of this €106 million, €56m comes from sales and €50m from the rental sector. Our team is made up of 10 full time employees and we are joined by 2 more during the winter seasons.
How many shops do you have and in how many different resorts in France?
We have 206 shops across France in 130 different ski resorts.
How many pairs of skis are bought each year and who makes the purchasing decisions?
I'm afraid these are confidential figures but I can assure you that the numbers are significant! It is worth noting that in addition to Intersport's strong presence in all the Alpine countries (France, Austria, Germany and Switzerland), we are also on the ground in Scandinavia.
As far as purchasing is concerned, we have buyers who operate at both international and national level but at the end of the day, the final decision is made by the committee of shopkeepers.
On a local level, each shopkeeper can also adapt a part of his inventory to the specific demands of his particular environment which is important. Demand varies wildly between resorts depending on the kind of terrain and skier. Someone looking to hire skis in Chamonix will be after a totally different kind of product than someone renting in a more benign resort such as Super Besse in the Massif Central....
How many people do you employ across the French Alps?
Each of our 206 shops employs on average 3/4 people each which means we're looking at around 800 people in total.
How many online bookings are made during a ski season?
Again, I'm afraid the exact numbers are confidential but I can tell you that the figure is increasing and the whole process is becoming more and more strategic. In some resorts, the online market makes up 20% of the total rental figure but in others it can be 60% - it really depends on the week, the shop and the resort.
What happens to all the rental skis at the end of the season?
Well the maximum lifetime of a rented ski is 3 years but product turnover again depends on the resort and the category of ski. Our Premium skis normally last just one season and are then sold, usually in the B2B system. Our Red skis usually last for 2 years and our Blue products for 3 years. After this period, the skis are generally recycled or destroyed. We are really making a big effort to increase the amount of skis that are recycled.
Most skis rented in one week? And in which resort?
This may come as a bit of a surprise but it is Les Menuires and in one week they rented several thousands of skis. We have 4 big shops there.
What is the ratio of snowboards to skis rented?
Snowboard rental only makes up 6% of the total market and it is definitely a declining sector.
Fattest pair of skis available for rent?
Fat skis are for a particular kind of snow conditions, terrain and client so we normally only stock them in certain shops and resorts such as the Grands Montets in Chamonix. We don't usually have these kind of products available on the website - you really have to go into the store. The fattest ski we have online is the Dynastar Cham 87 which doesn't really fit into the 'fat' category.
What percentage of the rental market does Intersport own?
Intersport France has 16% of the total market and we are the leader in the online sector.
Lastly, what are your personal and professional goals for the future?
1. To always keep the passion for my work
2. To share my mountain addiction with my family, my friends, the shop tenders and more and more Intersport customers
3. To help introduce more people to skiing as it really is an experience of a lifetime and is the key to the future of the snowsports industry
4. Constantly enhance the experience for the holiday maker from the Internet to the shop and everywhere in the ski resort.
A big thanks to Aurelien and Intersport for taking the time to answer our questions.
If you'd like to find out more about renting skis with Intersport in Chamonix, visit our ski hire section.