Roland Garros Plans to Turn Products Into Web-Based Brand

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PARIS - Roland Garros Productions, the merchandizing subsidiary of the French Tennis Federation, plans to turn its family of products into a Web-based brand and push year-round online sales beginning this spring.

Rolland Garros is the stadium that hosts the French Open every year and the production company has been in business since 1987 selling equipment, sportswear and tennis lifestyle items by mail and in stores.

It opened a Web site in 1996 but sales have generally been linked to the tournament itself. Now Jeremy Botton, who runs the company, wants to "deseasonalize" sales with products that won't damage the Open's image.

He is looking for 3,000 orders in May and June this year with 450 coming from the Web and paid for online. The site would then become permanent so that people would talk about it all year long.

Internet customers would be drawn from fans of the French Open all over the world, not only from France, with two "collections" issued every year, one for spring and summer, the other for fall and winter.

Back in 1998 Botton started mailing a 12-page mini-catalog to 200,000 fans and members of the French Tennis Federation. He got 9,000 responses and made 200 sales. This year's offering is more ambitious.

He commissioned a designer to conceive a collection of tennis-related products, comparable, he said, to that of Ralph Lauren who is a model for him.

Currently the Rolland Garros label is carried by some 800 products, notably tennis apparel and accessories for men and women, the majority created expressly for the company, the rest made under license. Worldwide turnover has been around 1.5 billion francs ($230.7 million).

Web-based sales have grown slowly since the site opened, rising from 20 order in 1996 to 1,800 last year. Average orders online totaled 450 francs ($80) compared to 350 for items bought at the stadium during the Open.

The new Web site is to open on June 15 and will evolve into a permanent fixture. Surfers will find institutional and product information but not the scores of tennis matches.

The site will be in French and in English, with German and Spanish to follow later. Goods can be paid for in francs and in Euros through credit cards.

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