Years ago, Pezon & Michel was one of the first manufacturers
of fishing tackle worldwide, not only by the quantities produced,
but also by the quality of its products for which market demand
was always greater than the company's manufacturing capacity!
Two to three hundred employees, busy running special machinery
designed and manufactured locally, flooded over forty countries
with rods and reels … then, not unlike many other French companies,
Pezon & Michel had to face its brand equity volatility and market
leadership erosion. Our purpose is not to dwell and indulge on
past glory, but rather to understand the very nature of these
high-end fishing products, still being used by todays fishermen.
Pezon & Michel never ceased its operations, should we precise.
For many years, split bamboo rod manufacturing was taken over
by Dominique Lucas, production manager. This restless man managed
to keep up with demand for products until Francois Hue acquired
the company in the spring of 1999. Using his experience of the
fishing tackle industry, Francois's goal is to rebuild Pezon &
Michel's image in the spirit of its long standing tradition. The
old Amboise factory, definitively shut down in 2000 was transferred
to Brittany where rods are now manufactured.
Gustave Pezon was a textile dealer in Bracieux, near Romorantin, in
the French Sologne region. He was born there in 1855. Business was
good during this period of the French "Third Republic," which
encouraged the ambitions of this good man who wanted to give his
family a better life than the one he had for himself. With their
understanding and support, he bought a fishing tackle company in
Amboise (Indre-et-Loire district), in operation since 1860. The
deal is sealed in 1895, and the company name is changed to "Pezon,
Serpette, Bourrelier & Heritier," after Pezon's partners who made
the purchase possible. Shortly after, Gustave buys out his partners,
to become the sole company owner, which is simply renamed "G. Pezon."
The production focuses on fishing lines, nets and miscellaneous
accessories. Pezon develops existing products and expands the size
of the factory by adding an ancient convent located nearby. When
Gustave dies from the flu in 1913, his youngest son, Pierre, and
his son-in-law, Jean Michel, take over the business. From now on,
the company is known as "Pezon et Michel." The business consists
in the assembly of fishing lines, performed by numerous women
working from their home. The two partners, who have to import
silk-worm gut from Murcia, in Spain, bamboo from Japan, hooks
from Redditch in England, cork from Portugal have a hard time.
Gratefully, they have local supplies of horse hair and linen
thread. At this time, only a few rods are sold to help market
An Exponential Growth
In 1920, Pezon & Michel acquires "Julio Rose," a company located
on Beranger Street in Paris. The company sells silk-worm gut (known
as "crin de Florence"), also used in surgical procedures. This
acquisition offers Pezon & Michel a Parisian head office, which
contributes to boosting sales. Gustave's second son, Andre Pezon,
manages this satellite operation. In 1924, "Sellier & Robillard,"
manufacturer of bamboo rods is sold to Pezon & Michel. Their
facility is transferred from Macon to Amboise in the early 30's.
Sellier & Robillard's Paris facility, located 25, Notre-Dame de
Nazareth becomes the new Pezon & Michel Paris head office. The
sales organization is divided in two regions: The Paris office
is in charge of the territory North of the Loire river (traditional
French divide), the Amboise factory takes care of the Southern side.
In 1929, Andre Pezon leaves the Paris office to join the Amboise
team as Director of Sales; He is replaced in Paris by Jean Pezon,
Gustave's third and last son. Finally, the company has the
opportunity to acquire the "Garreau" company, a very important
decision for the future of Pezon & Michel. In the 20's, Henry
Garreau (1880 - 1936) developed a split cane line of spinning
and fly rods based on British designs. Shortly after being
acquired, the Garreau factory is consolidated with Pezon & Michel
Split bamboo rod manufacturing is given a fantastic development
thanks to Edouard Planted, an engineer and very talented individual.
The Glorious Years
The 30's is a decade of opportunities for French businesses. Light
spinning rods and, more importantly, modern spinning reels create
a revolution in the small world of fishing, promoting the "sport fishing"
concept. Jean Huillet reflects on this development in his "light lures"
book, first published in 1935 and now a very sought after collectible
item: "If Schubert had known light spinning rod fishing, he would
had felt even worse for the poor trout. He can now be taken with no
disturbance to the water, and the distance at which he can be attacked
allows extremely favorable fishing conditions. This advantage should
not be abused however, but I am obviously addressing sport-spirited
fishermen, who will try their best to spare small fish below half
a pound, first by ethics, then to protect the future of our sport."
The first French "fixed-spool" reels, the Vamp and the Capta are
introduced in 1935. The arguments, developed by Henry De France
(descendant of the last French king) and published in la Peche
Sportive in favor of sport fishing had been heard! In April 1935,
the first issue of Au bord de l'eau, edited by Tony Burnand
is published. The immediate success of this magazine carries the
Pezon & Michel name throughout the country and across every social
class. Product demand explodes. Paid annual vacations, granted for
the first time to every French worker in 1936, contributes to
multiplying the number of fishermen, or at least the number of
hours they spend on streams. Pezon & Michel benefits vastly from
this social evolution. In the early 30's, Jean Pezon acquires a
house in Damville, Normandy. The Iton river, a famous trout stream,
crosses his property. He gets familiar with trout fishing, and
more particularly with fly-fishing.
In 1937, Jean Pezon inquires with Tony Burnand: "who is this Mr. Ritz,
who writes such interesting papers in Au bord de l'eau?"
Impressed with the man's family relationship with Cesar Ritz,
the founder of the Ritz Hotel, he barely dares asking Tony to
get introduced to him. Finally, the two men meet. This will mark
the beginning of a mutually beneficial cooperation between
Charles Ritz and the Pezon & Michel firm.
A very good relationship is immediately established between
Charles Ritz and Edouard Plantet. The two men work together
on the design of a number of very good rods, until they
finally develop the famous PPP (Progressive Pendulum Power)
Parabolic rod series, which includes the legendary Fario-Club
rod. The Amboise Huard company creates and builds magnificent
machinery, designed to produce the split bamboo rod elements.
Spinning rods and fly rods are no longer based on the English
design, but on Pezon & Michels own principles and technology.
This high level, semi-industrial product becomes a reference
worldwide. Charles Ritz hires his friend Pierre Creusevaut,
originally an accountant with Gibbs "converted" to fly rods
and an exceptional caster, which contributes to legitimize
his fly rod design authority with the Amboise factory.
On the eve of World War II, the now very successful Pezon & Michel
company buys the Perpignan based "Pujol" fly rod company. During
the war, the business slows down but never stops. Japanese and
Chinese bamboo supply problems are resolved with bamboo from
the Montpellier area. This material, not as good as Asian bamboo,
is used for the Gallia rod series. After the war, the business
picks up very rapidly. During the war, a ban on hunting
converted many to fishing, and the fisherman population
grew substantially. The company obviously took advantage
of this evolution. In the early 50's, 230 employees work
in the factory, then managed by five principals: Pierre,
Jean and Andre Pezon, Jean and Jacques Michel. Jacques,
son of Jean Michel and Jeanne Pezon, is hired in 1941.
He manages the Paris office for 20 years, in charge of
the Northern France markets. In the 60's, and despite
this spectacular growth, some signs announcing troubles
for the future are ignored. This "blue ribbon" ship is
still considered unsinkable.
The "factory" (name used by the management for the company)
has always been the center of both Pezon's and Michel's family
lives. The strong individualities of the many members of
management team, combined with an explosive mix of generations,
becomes a risk factor. Due to some intellectual property protection
mistakes, the company looses the "fixed-spool" reels, manufactured
under license by P. Mauborgne and sold under the Luxor brand name.
Dramatic changes in the business strategy result in the departure
of Charles Ritz, followed by Edouard Plantet. Company's operations
computerization, too quick and too massive, only generate huge
expenses. The increasingly aggressive competition is simply ignored
("the sun shines for everybody"). Market fragmentation and dangerous
sales drops should have called for a strong and rigorous business
plan. Common sense advises, often expressed by older employees,
find no echo with the management. Sales experts, hired to develop
the "miracle solution," only contribute to additional expenses.
Large distribution stores start competing with smaller, more
traditional retailers. Thinking they have found a cure to the
sale decline, the company management chooses to focus on this
type of distribution. This is a truly catastrophic decision:
high level and high price fishing equipment is not adapted to
the marketing concepts prevalent with this type of store. Small
retailers, feeling betrayed by the brand, react by refusing to
continue selling Pezon & Michel products.
The company, facing financial difficulties, is acquired in 1975
by the "Luigi Franchi" company, the hunting gun specialist who
wants to add a fishing department to his hunting market. Franchi
drastically reduces the company's personnel in an attempt to control
expenses. Unfamiliar with the fishing market, the new owner does
not succeed in its attempt to turn the business around. In 1979,
Pezon & Michel is sold again.
None of the successive owners were able to correctly address the
situation, which was made of a combination of many issues, none
of which were critical if taken independently. This failure was
the result of a number of mistakes, lack of vision, and inability
to adapt to a changing market. The Pezon & Michel success lasted
only a lifetime.
Pezon & Michel: A new era
In 1999, Francois Hue, impressed by the prestige attached to the
Pezon & Michel name took over the company. He is now working at
developing a new sales network. His first objective was to insure
the continuity of split cane fly and spinning rods production.
All the classics are either available or made to order and built
to the original specifications, thanks to a very well documented
system. A new rod series, "Comtesse," is added to meet new demands.
Parallel to split bamboo, a line of carbon fly rods is introduced,
including "La Loue" series. Carbon spinning rods are also part of
the new production program, as well as a collection of flies and
accessories consistent with the company's reputation. Repairs of
ancient and new rods is carried on by Dominique Lucas who has a
unique experience of over 25 years with the Pezon & Michel company.
In 2002, a distribution arrangement was made for North American markets.
Bamboo rods are presented through a new web site
and a distribution network is being rebuilt.
Pezon & Michel legendary fine rods, as good as ever before, are
now available again for the enjoyment of the discriminating
American fisherman. ~ Philippe Bourg
© 2002 Philippe Bourg for the English version