Italian Company May Fill Hole Left by Salomon's Departure
U.S. shoppers have had their choices limited lately when buying inline skates.
With Salomon abandoning the market, and Roces slow to get its skates to retailers, shoppers have essentially been left with only two choices: Rollerblade and K2.
But soon they may have a new option.
The giant Italian sports manufacturer Fila says it is planning to enter the U.S. market.
"We are receiving through the Internet a lot of request for Fila skates from the U.S.," Fila's Claudio Balconi told the Planet.
"We just need to find the right partner. As soon as we find it, we will enter the market."
Fila is best known for running shoes and sports apparel, but it also makes an innovative line of inline skates that are popular in Europe.
One of its innovations is a skate frame that can flex using what the company calls "Active Steering Technology." This makes for easier turning and cornering.
Another Fila innovation was putting big wheels (90 and 100 mm) on fitness skates.
"Nobody believed in this at first," said Balconi, Fila's skate product manager. "But then when our speed team (Fila International) was winning all the races, everybody followed."
Indeed this year, Rollerblade, K2 and Salomon all came out with Big Wheel models of their own.
"We are the most innovative brand in the field," Balconi said.
"The big brands are followers right now. We just need to find the right partner. As soon as we find it, we can start to work in the U.S."
The partner will play the role of Fila's U.S. distributor, Balconi said.
Skate retailers welcomed the news of Fila's possible entry into the U.S. market.
"We would be interested in selling Fila skates, but it has never been feasible in the past," said Stan Chaves of the Inline Warehouse.
"If they had a domestic distributor, we would more than likely bring them on."
Like Salomon and Roces, Fila positions itself at the upper-end of the skate market.
Like Roces and Rollerblade, it conducts its skate research and development in Montebelluna, Italy, the boot-making capital of the world.
Fila skates are now sold in Europe, Canada and parts of South America and Asia.
Balconi said the company has done very well this year.
"We are already completely sold out of the Active Steering models and the marathon model," he said.
(posted on July 28, 2005)
Copyright © 2005 by Robert Burnson
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