Return Of The Fish Man: Gotcha’s European-Based Comeback.

It was déjà  vu all over again. Hanging proudly over the aisles of ispo and ASR Europe this summer was Gotcha’s fish man—a logo last seen during the brand’s heyday in the 80s and early 90s.

But this Lazarus-like move symbolizes a slow and patient approach Quiksilver Europe has taken with the Gotcha brand since it bought the European license for the brand in 2000. Couple that with Malik Joyeux’s now-legendary Teahupo’o wave, and we might be seeing an unlikely comeback scenario where the licensee is far more relevant and interesting than the owner of the mark. We caught up with Gotcha Europe CEO Kenny Jacob at ASR Europe for his view on the past, present, and future of the Gotcha brand.

Gotcha has fallen off the map here in the U.S. How’s it done in Europe?
Kenny Jacob:
In 1985 I was the first person to introduce Gotcha to France, and then went on to set up its distribution in seventeen countries through 1990. At that point we became the licensee until selling the company and the European license to Quiksilver Europe{Napali S.A.S.} in 2000.

The integration into Napali re-centered us with our ‘core surf roots. Martin Potter was brought over from Australia to claim his unique position as “face of the brand, and we built the strongest surf team living in Europe: Martin Potter, Robby Page, Didier Piter, Malik Joyeux, Patrick Beven, Emmanuelle Joly, and many of the leading groms. We completed this with French tow-in specialists Vincent Lartizien and Michel Larronde, Europe’s premier freestyle motocross rider Manu Troux, and a handful of freestyle snowboarders.

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Today we’ve come full circle, relaunching Gotcha’s legendary fish man logo for our new Spring/Summer ’04 European line.

Did Gotcha’s situation in the U.S. affect what you’re doing in Europe?
In the mid 90s, when things started going south for the brand, we always seemed to be insulated from the U.S.A. image and reality—probably due to the geographic distances separating the markets. Of course, industry-leading retailers knew what was up, but we were already into larger distribution channels by then.

The bankruptcy and ensuing press releases were more damaging but again only reached a minute segment of the industry here. We were treated well by the local press and business magazines that barely mentioned the bankruptcy—for which I was very thankful.

The real difficulties came when the product was held hostage by legal disputes. Then we were on our own to develop all the product we needed—from logos and print direction to complete collections.

At the time of the bankruptcy, we had lost the Gotcha Tahiti Pro event, Rob Machado, Shea Lopez, Derek Ho, and every single rider sponsored by the brand in the U.S.A. This would not go unnoticed!

We were fairly happy to be making our own product, but every brand in Europe or any licensee needs product to feed off of and develop—at very least it needs international riders and events to ensure its image.

Our costs shot up. We needed freelance artists to develop tees and trunks, and our business model was not set up to finance international riders. All this while we paid royalties to the U.S.A. Often, it feels like we’re assuming the role of both licensee and licensor.

Currently, Gotcha U.S.A. is beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. During the tough times Gotcha U.S. was able to use our designs, riders, shots, and ads for the benefit of the brand both domestically and internationally.

Today the problem is that the new U.S. strategy—going into the mid-mass distribution level—doesn’t translate well to the European market. There just aren’t the huge chains of mass-market outlets here. Outside of the U.K., the mid-mass business is done in hypermarkets and supermarkets—which doesn’t correspond to the expertise of this company.

What do you hear about the status of the brand in the U.S. moving forward?
All the positive things I hear about Gotchha U.S.A, I hear from Gotcha U.S.A. Let’s just say I know the realities of the status of the brand in the U.S. I’m American and have been with the brand for eighteen years, so when I’m at home or when I go to L.A. it doesn’t take long to find out what’s up.

Today we’ve accomplished our initial strategy, which was to integrate Gotcha Europe into the Napali group. Quiksilver and Gotcha enjoyed fifteen years of rivalry, and my background was one of pure entrepreneur. Since integration is the most critical part of any acquisition, more than a few people figured it would never work.

It was an amazing challenge, and I embraced the opportunity to work with the absolute industry leader. To learn Napali’s methods, and to integrate the Gotcha brand into the system, was a major challenge that today has positively transformed both companies.

With all the negativity and uncertainty going on in the U.S.A. with Gotcha, our only feasible long-term strategy has been to be totally self-dependent and to use the strengths of the group wherever possible.

Malik scored what most are calling the biggest wave ever at Teahupo’o, has that had some resonance for the brand?
We call Malik “Slim Shady, because he’s a skinny local who has no jet, no board, and no life vest of his own—but he had all that he needed downstairs on that wave. Raimana {Van Bastolear} towed him in, and Malik was using all of Mana’s Billabong gear.

Here’s a marketing 101 anecdote. In the photo we bought, Raimana’s Billabong logos aren’t visible. We ran a full page or spread ad with the shot and the Gotcha logo, thus claiming the photo for the Gotcha brand. Unfortunately, this was not done internationally, so the company didn’t always benefit.

Meanwhile, Malik is a hero in Europe. We’ll be running his wave on our new MTV Europe ad campaign for back to school. Didier Piter is completing the Gotcha Europe DVD called Mana, which will be released worldwide for Christmas and features both the full European team and Malik’s wave.

What are your long-term aspirations for the Gotcha brand?
Now that we’re established and comfortable within Napali, we can adopt a strategy of growth. Our strategy is one that can coexist with Quiksilver, while remaining authentic to our roots.

Competing directly with Quiksilver is thought for fools—today we’re content to maintain our position and our high visibility in the surf mags. It looks like it will only get tougher for our “same size competitors to maintain their positions.

What would surprise U.S. retailers the most about Gotcha Europe?
I think the fact that we exist and have a substantial business here in Europe. The Gotcha brand, from its success in the 80s and 90s, is a brand with history, integrity, and values. It’s a brand known all over the world. We intend to spread our message, the message that has kept the brand alive through both fast and furious times.