‘Design Innovations’ Part 6 : Franck Bichon

You will probably already be familiar with and have seen the ‘BG France’ brand around. It is huge and has a great reputation for quality. However, you may not be aware that they now do a great range of trumpet accessories to go alongside everything else. I caught up with Franck Bichon to find out more about his design processes.

Please could you give a little background behind BG France, and how you came to be where you are now?!

I was born in 1960. Since i was 14 I knew that I had the ambition to travel the world and have my own company. I later worked for less than 2 months for someone else, which was enough to confirm that it was not for me! I was too much out of the box to follow rules… I like to do what I like…and like what I do.

I was raised in a musical environment. My dad, Serge Bichon was a renowned classical sax player (he studied with the maestro Marcel Mule). When I was 10 my dad asked me if I wanted to play music, to which I answered, “I want to play drums!”. My dad wanted me to pick a ‘real’ instrument, so I ended up playing trumpet and studying with the great Guy Touvron at Lyon Conservatory. I then stopped playing at 17 and focused on partying and studying, ending up in Teeside Polytechnic (U.K.) for a year learning European management. A great time again!

Years later I started an advertising agency and one day my dad came to me with a ligature concept, asking me if I wanted to take care of it… I said, “OK, but if we do it, I want them to be the best quality musical accessories in the world.” At that time already I knew we had only 2 options:

– offering DURABLE QUALITY like Rolls Royce, that last generations 

– offering DISPENSABLE / SHORT LIFE GOODS, like BIC pencils

Being in France, I knew that it would be too expensive to compete in the ‘low price’ market. The only option left was the ‘quality’ market. Back in 1985, there was only really an availability of functional accessories… So BG created a new market for ‘comfort’.

We focused at first on saxophone, then clarinet, then double reed and flute. And now, because I am a funky, disco, rock n’roll guy (!), I have also started a guitar range focusing on high quality, to be launched in early 2020.

This takes us onto the next logical step! …our Brass Accessories are also now available!

Brass is the link between classical, marching bands, rock, etc. We also have created over the years, a ‘goodies’ collection to be available in 2020 on our website.

What has been the primary purpose of, and the inspiration behind your designs?

I love to think outside the box. I can share my secrets! : 

It all started with a UK trip as a child. I went to York to visit a ‘key’ museum… and had something clicked… I saw different ways to design and solve a simple problem and understood that there is always  a different approach possible.

I always first speak to repairmen… they know so much and have so much expertise and ideas to share… for them it is either good or not… they are Cartesian. Once you identify a problem you can consider options, and they will tell you if it works or not. Of course I show it to and listen to musicians… but mainly once I have developed my concept. 

Putting together simple “me too”  copies is not in our DNA. Our moto is “WHEN DETAILS MAKE THE DIFFERENCE”. If you have it already, I am not going to fight on being cheaper but being better and longer lasting with aesthetics in mind… because this is  what musicians deserve!

Ask around and you will found out that a lot of musicians have used BG products that have lasted for over 15 years… so this is not something new to BG design thinking ! Indeed the ONLY complaint I do receive from time to time from dealers is that BG products last for too long 🙂 I take this as a positive and a strength.

We sell in 80 countries, we export 85% and produce 1 product per minute every year. Not too bad for someone who created a market from his garage with no knowledges and experience! It is also important to mention that I own the company so I go at my own speed and according to what I feel is relevant .Last but not least, I am passionate and love criticism to keep improving. We never wait to improve when we found out ways to make things more durable. And design is a wonderful challenge that Chinese fakes cannot match for quality. BUY CHEAP BUY TWICE…or MORE ! When you buy quality you only cry once 🙂 This is what I love.

What challenges have you faced along the way?

Fakes of course. The first time you face it, it is like receiving a knife in your heart I am too respectful to do this. Challenges are what makes you grow. Every time someone comes to me asking for something, I like to work on it and have my team involved. We always learn something that will be useful eventually. These days our brains are not used as much as they should due to computers and internet.

Every time I travel, visit stores, do shows, I like to buy fakes and competitors to show my team where we are, to keep challenging us for perfection!No doubt that is why we have been selected as EPV ( entreprise du patrimoine vivant ) just like LOUIS VUITTON, HERMÈS etc. There are just 1200 firms who have this recognition.

Generally how long is the process from initial conception of a new design to the product reaching the market?

Research and testing are the most important part. We do sourcing research for raw material if not already in use for existing range. We keep the same suppliers for decades because of reliability and consistency. This research can take us weeks, months, years… no big deal. I am my own boss.Our DUO ligature took us 7 years. The Brass swabs took us 6/12 months for design and prototypes. It also depends on artists availability to do testing and exchange feedback for the next improvement. Until it is as close to perfection as possible, it will not be launched. WE HAVE ONLY ONE CHANCE TO GIVE A GOOD FIRST IMPRESSION. If you deliver something average, it is all of your brand that will suffer! I take a very patient approach and make sure that I listen.

What have been your main methods of launching and marketing these products?

Back in the old days (I speak like a dinosaur!) the Frankfurt show was THE place to show new items. After 25 years we have added NAMM, Shanghai… and touring the world was a must. At one time I was traveling 5-6 months a year visiting customers and doing all the trade shows. This is how you learn and can see what is missing in the current market. This is how I learn and what keep my passion the same as day one. I am keen to do the ITG conference for the first time soon… I am eager to do it and meet more artists and passion!

For our current brass collection, I must thank the guys who have made my job easier. I have been working closely with Peter Pollard – besides his great advice we have visited many  key brass stores who have been very kind taking time to test and share feedback. I have been very happy to welcome dealers at BG and also NAMM members for a tour of the BG factory.

I am also lucky to have great local artists like “Les Trompettes de Lyon” who are active partners and always eager to help us to design exactly what they need. As well as other French artists (Eric Mula, KAKO and others) and look for further exchange with UK artists and from all other the world of course.

What would you do differently if you had these processes over again?

You learn by your mistakes and I am glad that I did this a lot 🙂  I took the time to enjoy first meeting different cultures, players, and to travel. That is my real privilege and the best thing about this business.

I would take more adverts, as I was not aware of the power of our brand. I could be 10-time reacher 🙂 but it has never been my goal. It is only to offer the best and work to be the best. Today I would have more geeks at BG because these days people rely more on what they see on social media.Kind reminder: stores are your best advisors; they can share their own feedback and you need them for your instrument maintenance. If tomorrow, everyone buys on internet, they will close and no one will take care of you as they do! But in the end, I will keep meeting artists and repairmen… still the best way to do things right in design and collecting concrete feedback!

What new developments are you working on?

GUITAR straps & accessories, GOODIES. For BRASS I obviously keep it secret and always have space for new ideas – We launch a new catalogue only once a year to have time to check them.

Go and check the website « BGFRANCKBICHON.COM » and also the JHS website – they are a great supporter of BG and my UK exclusive agent.

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