The Babolat brand was originally known for being the first company to introduce natural gut tennis string back in 1875, but over the years they have proved to be much more than that with their innovating line of racquets including the Babolat Pure Drive.
In 1994, Babolat decided to enter the racquet market and has since become the fastest growing manufacturer in the world with racquet lines like the Babolat Pure Drive. After their U.S. launch some years ago, the brand is now competing with market leaders like Wilson, Prince and Head. In fact, 22% of the top male and female tennis players prefer Babolat tennis racquets.
Kevin Kempin, vice president for sales and marketing of Head/Penn stated, “Where it was once Wilson, Head and Prince, Babolat has come along and added a fourth competitor.”
In the late 90`s Andy Roddick was introduced to Babolat racquets by his coach at the time, former French pro, Tarik Benhabiles. “After about five minutes, I asked him to get me a couple more,” said Roddick.
Andy Roddick decided to switch to Babolat racquets and four months later he was ranked world No.1 among junior players. Roddick now has his Babolat racquet named after him; the Babolat Pure Drive Roddick GT.
The entrance of Babolat into the racquet market almost came to an end just four years into the racquet push. In 1998, Babolat CEO, Pierre Babolat passed away in the Swissair crash off Nova Scotia, making Eric Babolat the new CEO. He was only 28 years old and had just a few years of marketing experience under his belt.
“I can say that it was a tough time, but it was clear for everyone to push the racket part of the business,” Eric has said, but he proved successful. In 2006 he had a sales growth of about $116 million.
Babolat`s first big pro to endorse their new racquet lines was Carlos Moya, who won the 1998 French Open using the blue and while Babolat Pure Drive, however, the major step forward for the brand`s racquet line may have been signing Andy Roddick.
With superstar Roddick and other big hitters such as Rafael Nadal, the Babolat Pure Drive frame was No.1 in pro/specialty sales in September 2002 and remained at No.1 all the way through March 2006 with the exception of only two months in the four year period.
Although U.S. sales are continuing to grow, Babolat still has some challenges to overcome. “You keep wondering: Will [Babolat] Pure Drive keep selling?” stated John Swetka, owner Swetka’s Tennis Shop in Mountain View, California.
In the U.S., despite growing from about 150 to 900 outlets, Babolat has had distribution problems and has had to assure retailers about local exclusivity and competitors like Wilson and Prince have recently introduced new innovative racquet technology. “Right now they are kind of a two-racket company,” says Jon Muir, general manager of Wilson Racquet Sports, speaking about the Babolat Pure Drive and AeroPro Drive lines.
Despite some challenges, the Babolat Pure Drive and AeroPro Drive lines pose a threat to market competitors. With only 18 years in the tennis racquet industry, Babolat has made immense progress and will no doubt continue to grow.