Black Diamond and Scarpa part ways after 18 years

Black Diamond Equipment Ltd. and Scarpa have announced the termination of their 18-year working relationship effective at the end of 2005.

Black Diamond Equipment Ltd. and Scarpa have announced the termination of their 18-year working relationship effective at the end of 2005.

“I have a philosophy of life and business,” Peter Metcalf, CEO of Black Diamond, told SNEWS®. “In business, business paradigms, business relationships, employee relationships are a bit like arcs and everyone’s arc is a bit different. Sometimes the arcs track in parallel, but at some point they part.

“With Scarpa, our relationship had a birth and a death. It prospered and waned a bit. At this point, the parting is amicable,” added Metcalf. “Where we are going and what we want to do as a company has matured, as it has with them. Scarpa has always been, but even more so lately, all about footwear. Our passion is for skiing, mountaineering, climbing. They want to be selling sandals, approach shoes, hiking shoes, in addition to the climbing and ski boots — and that is not us.”

With Black Diamond no longer distributing Scarpa, the company has decided to go it alone, setting up a wholly owned subsidiary, Scarpa North America Inc. — Andrea Parisotto, son of one of the Italian brothers with an ownership stake in Scarpa, will serve as president. Chris Clark, whose resume includes stints with Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder, Colo., as well as consultant gigs with Black Diamond and Backcountry Access, will operate as the company’s new sales and marketing manager.

In a statement released to the press, Parisotto, said: “We believe in the North American market and hope to better recognize and serve their specific demands. Scarpa will open Scarpa North America Inc. in Boulder, Colo., effective immediately. Boulder’s access to the mountains and availability of industry veterans will complement Scarpa’s vision of quality service and product design to meet North American needs.”

Effective immediately, Scarpa NA will begin assuming all sales responsibilities for the spring 2006 Scarpa line, which will be shown at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. For winter 2005/06 product, Black Diamond will continue to sell and service the Scarpa line through the end of the ski season in April 2006.

We asked Metcalf if Black Diamond — a company that has been clearly passionate about backcountry skiing and the ski boot it developed in partnership with Scarpa — might look to go it alone too, with its own line of tele ski boots.

“Yes, it is likely we will be back into the ski boot business. Ski boots is in our DNA. Telemark and AT — it is just a matter of time,” Metcalf told us.

Metcalf also told SNEWS® that the company would not be pursuing any more distributor relationships in the future, choosing instead to develop a product line itself, or not at all.

“Though we are very pleased with Fritschi and Beal, we have no interest in getting into any more of those distribution partnerships moving forward,” said Metcalf.

SNEWS® View: Reading the press release and listening to the players chime in, we have to smile. Like so many European companies before it, Scarpa is playing a very familiar tune: We should be selling better in the U.S. and our distributor is not getting it done because they are not representing our product properly. Some choose to simply switch distributors, and others, like Scarpa, choose to set up their own company. The route to success, however, is littered with the debris of many European brands that have suddenly realized that making it in the United States isn’t as easy as assumed. Like the Tour de France running right now, most who try to go it alone are left gasping for air on the climb. Only a select few make it to the summit with the leaders.

Insiders tell us that the Scarpa family — all quite wealthy and owners of significant land investments in and around the Italian village of Asolo — are going into this change with eyes wide open. According to our sources, the Italians are saying all the right things, and so far doing all the right things — committing to investing in establishing the brand, realizing that the investment will be long term, setting up a U.S. sales force with experience, and giving the U.S. team carte blanche.

However, we would be remiss if we didn’t offer up a bit of a reality check. True, Scarpa has an advantage — if you can call it that — by being able to hopefully leverage existing product relationships with retailers who are currently carrying the ski boots. However, we are in an age where retailers are choosing product assortment very carefully, and buying very conservatively. And for a retailer to give up wall space to a brand, well, it has to have a better reason than the ski boots sell well.

Scarpa product is legendary for its quality and its traditions. Traditions that include Italian craftsmanship, leather, long break-in times, models that don’t change much for eons, and an old way of doing business where you place orders with the company sometimes as much as a year in advance. IF Scarpa is going to be successful in the United States, that will have to change, and quickly. The company needs to take a page from the namesake of the town — Asolo footwear — and look to change production to be more ASAP, create designs that are more colorful and progressive, embrace athletic silhouettes, and inject a bit of fashion into the function. Otherwise, the Scarpa name will remain synonymous with old school leather boots and classic styles that inspire smiles with the memories, but do little to inspire retailers to open up shelf space in return.

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