Established in 1985, BG Franck Bichon is one the world’s leading producers of woodwind accessories, with agents selling its products in 80 countries worldwide. The company thrives with mom and pop store values and continues to grow, partnering with Yamaha and American Way Marketing. MMR spoke with Franck Bichon, founder of the Lyon, France based company, and discussed his thoughts on the MI industry, and BG’s future and philosophy.
MMR: The motto of BG Franck Bichon is, “Details Make the Difference.” What are some of the small touches you put on your accessories to make them different?
Franck Bichon: It took 20 years of teaching and research experience for my father to design our best ligature, so we value taking our time to perfect each product. But we find that the choice of material is most important. Take the simple cleaning swab, for example. Everyone knows that there are different kinds of quality for cotton…the same is true for microfiber, the material we use for our swabs. At BG Franck Bichon, we tested over six different kinds of microfiber material and selected only one. Then we tested it for 12 months to ensure it was a long-lasting material before launching them on the market. The silk we use for our swab is 100 percent pure, made in Lyon, and is produced by the same supplier as a French high-fashion designer… with a different finishing. The swab’s edges are among the best on the market and that is usually the first thing experts comment on when they use our swabs and care cloths. We feel that high quality stands for respect and service to our customers. I could carry on for every BG Franck Bichon product if you want!
MMR: How did you get your start in the music industry?
FB: I have never told anyone this in an interview, but I have only had a boss for 3 months in my entire life. I immediately knew it wasn’t for me and that I wanted my own company and to travel worldwide. The least I can say is, “I did it!” But I got my start by creating an advertising agency and then one day my father, who was a very well regarded sax teacher in Lyon, came to me with a saxophone ligature project. My dad realized that sounds came from the vibrations of all the components of the instrument — not only the mouthpiece and reeds, but also the ligature. He started with a simple rubber band on his original Selmer metal ligature and started to work on fabric materials. We tested over 200 fabrics and decided to combine two different materials, instead of one. Our priority is getting the best possible sound and that is always the goal of our research.
I knew nothing about instrument production and the music industry when I started. You know when you are young, you just go for it. But I accomplished my goal of becoming recognized worldwide and 24 years later, I still work hard to keep BG Franch Bichon on top. I credit my competitors for keeping me motivated.
MMR: How was the recent 2009 NAMM show for BG?
FB: Because our booth was set up next to our US agent, American Way Marketing, it was the first time American dealers could see BG products and then go next door to see our agent. We felt that the 2009 NAMM confirmed that we have started to establish ourselves in the US market, which is the hardest market to break into as a quality accessory maker. A major wholesaler spoke to us about distribution through AWM and we are receiving more and more demand from famous instrument makers; working with original equipment manufacturers is always a win-win situation. I think good things about BG Franck Bichon have spread through word-of-mouth and the 2009 NAMM illustrated that.
MMR: Can you discuss the worldwide success of your accessories?
FB: Our success is due to the quality of the accessories; that is the first comment we always receive worldwide. We inspect each individual product two or three times and we do not sell what we would not buy – it’s as simple as that. I have also found it invaluable to welcome communication with end-users and repairmen to improve products. Packaging is something we take extra care with as well.
And I attribute a lot of our success to my love of shopping. Don’t smile! I love it; shopping helps me keep my eyes on what’s new, not just in music but with everything. That’s how I get some of my ideas for products, packaging, even documentation. It keeps me fresh. We’re always willing to try something new. Anyone can contact us anytime for prototypes or improvement projects.
MMR: Talk about some of the new BG products that you are excited about.
FB: I’m particularly excited about a new clarinet mouthpiece we have. It is made from Zinner blank, finished by Zinner, based on my father’s specifications, and each mouthpiece is play-tested, one by one. That particular mouthpiece is for B♭ and is available in two facings. I’ve found that it sometimes takes years to establish a new accessory in the market, but we pre-launched it at ICA and I think it’s an exceptional mouthpiece.
In late 2009, we are also launching a classic Alto sax mouthpiece, named for my father, Serge Bichon. He developed the original ligature that started BG Franck Bichon and he shared his passion for music with his students as a teacher. The mouthpiece is named after my dad out of respect and pride for his hard-work and love of music.
MMR: Tell me about your partnership with Yamaha.
FB: David and Goliath is the first image in my mind because of the difference in size, but that’s the only similarity in that analogy. It’s a great combination. Yamaha offers the largest range of instruments worldwide and BG offers the largest range of high-quality woodwind accessories. Because we are a small company, we can react fast to changes and needs in the industry and for individual musicians. BG Franck Bichon is able to quickly respond wherever Yamaha sees the market headed.
I have found that Yamaha Canada has some of the best salesmen in terms of marketing with accessories in mind. And our partnership in Japan has modeled great organizational skills for BG. My experience with Yamaha has taught me to give others time to react. I often change things too quickly because I have so many ideas. Yamaha is a huge company that is used to planning long in advance, so I have to anticipate more carefully when partnering with them. I have a lot of respect for Yamaha and we both learn from each other, I think.
MMR: Have the changes in the MI market affected company in the last year?
FB: We all know instrument sales are going down and everyone in the market is suffering. But BG ended 2008 the same as we did 2007, so we cannot complain. We’re very focused on 2009 now. Step-by-step, that’s what I always say.
I feel that the music industry is losing its way partly because of low quality products and imitators. Some companies are owned by people that know a lot about business, but not as much about music and musicians. Unfortunately, business and music do not always mix perfectly. I am happy to have my own company and to be able to focus directly on the musicians that use our products, just like the mom and pop stores. Despite the fact that the small size of my business has some disadvantages, I still prefer it this way…it offers me more freedom to move and change my thinking.
MMR: Do you anticipate any changes to BG in the future?
FB: To anticipate is part of my day-to-day job. We are continuously developing our Web site and we have started using Facebook.com to increase our communication with clients. Outside of the Internet, we have developed a 36-page color catalogue. We are also about to unveil some new packaging — and that is my signature! As we speak I am finalizing the new packaging look, to be pre-tested at the next USA show, prior to Frankfurt. The US and Japan are key places to test packaging concepts, so I’m very excited to see how they are received.
24 years ago I started launching an accessory line that favored comfort and concept, as well as basic function. Now BG is ready for the next step and we want to link fashion to music. Music is a way of life and musicians are humans who buy products not only for their function, but for their image as well. I love design and I want to offer something elegant because making a product merely functional does not allow me to share my passion through my work. I try to refresh myself and the market with my designs.
From a personal standpoint, I need to think about getting someone to take over some of my world-wide trips to promote our brand. I am 48 and I spend five months a year on tour: two in the US, mainly for conventions, two in Asia, and one in Europe.
MMR: Any final thoughts?
FB: I’ve always found that there are positives to take away from every crisis — they make you think twice. No matter what, BG Franck Bichon will always stick with quality, durability, design and fashion. Thank you to all our customers for their continuous confidence!