Rautureau Apple Shoes, which markets Free Lance, Pom d’Api and four other lines of shoes, is doing much better than the majority of the French shoe companies, including Charles Jourdan. It is budgeting a sales increase of 22 percent to €38-39 million for this year, including the revenues of its own stores. It is also expecting a higher profitability after a couple of difficult years.

At least in terms of operating results, Apple Shoes has been profitable since the year 2000, the year after Michel Jonchère, a former executive of VF Corp., stepped in as managing director and took over the company together with the brothers Guy and Yvon Rautureau, who had sold it to an investment fund in 1996. The last two years have been tough, plunging the company into the break-even zone, largely due to the weakness of the dollar, which undermined the strong business that the Rautureaus had developed in the USA for Free Lance, their creative brand of rock & roll-inspired women’s shoes.

The overall turnover went down in 2003, leading the company to lay off 20 employees. However, the originality of this relatively high-priced line is apparently paying off now in many European markets where trendy customers are looking for an alternative to Italian design in good-quality materials. Free Lance has become particularly strong in Japan and in Russia, where a new distributor adopted the brand two-three years ago. Another more affordable brand of the group, No Name, is also doing well in Japan.

Springcourt, a fashion sport brand of tasteful vulcanized shoes developed by Apple Shoes, more than doubled its sales this year. As for Free Lance, the brand’s sales are up by 22 percent at the wholesale level, heading for a turnover of €16 million, and a similar growth rate has been recorded in the Free Lance stores so far this year.

Apple Shoes’ children’s line, Pom d’Api, is recording a small sales increase that will take it up to a level of about €12 million in 2005. Like Free Lance, Pom d’Api has 15 corporate stores in France. Both brands are adding new doors, but a Free Lance store in Los Angeles has been closed down. The two other brands of the group, Jean-Baptiste Rautureau and Schmoove, continue to generate relatively marginal revenues, but they help to support the company’s fixed costs.

The management attributes the relatively good scores achieved so far to the creativity of Apple Shoes’ 15-strong design team, run by Guy Rautureau, and to the marketing and sales skills of his brother Yvon. However, part of the success comes also from the fact that the company has been outsourcing a large part of its production to Thailand and other foreign locations since 20 years ago. Only the Free Lance is assembled in France, with 60 factory workers turning out some 100,000 pairs a year. The children’s shoes are still made at the company’s two 10-year-old plants in Tunisia.