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Pezon& Michel
History of a Century

From an original article in French by Pierre Chavagnac (Peche Mouche No. 14)
Translated and adapted by Philippe Bourg


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.

Modest beginnings

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 fishing lines.

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 in Amboise.

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 Decline

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 (www.pezonetmichel.com) 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


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