[originally published 2018-02-23; revised 2022-12-20]
. . . but then closes its U.S. stores in 2022.
Decathlon (technically, the Decathlon Group) is a world-wide chain of sporting-goods stores. It is, in fact, the largest sporting goods retailer in the world. It was founded in France in 1976. In the mid-1980s it started to expand into other European countries. In 2003 it started to expand into China, India, and Southeast Asia. Today, it has more than 1,100 stores (many of which are large superstores that stock a wide range of sporting goods) in 38 countries. There are about 40 stores in the UK, and one in Mexico. For petanque players, the interesting thing about Decathlon stores is that they stock petanque boules and other petanque equipment.
Decathlon has multiple research and development facilities in France dedicated to developing new designs for sporting equipment, and, since 1986, it designs and manufactures its own lines of sporting goods. There are now over 20 “Passion” brands, each dedicated to a single sport (or to one type of sport) for 70 different sports. The “Passion Geologic” brand, or simply “Geologic”, was created in 2008. It is dedicated to “target sports” such as darts, archery, pool, and petanque.
Early in 2018, Decathlon opened its first store in the United States, in San Francisco, California. The business plan was to open stores in other states in the USA, and then to expand into Canada. However, in March 2022 Decathlon announced that it would close all of its retail locations in the US in order to focus on other channels that distribute Decathlon products, including its website decathlon.com and a growing number of retail partners.
About Geologic boules
Geologic boules offer reasonable quality at a very reasonable price. Decathlon can do this by offering a very limited range of only the most popular patterns, weights, and sizes. Geologic offers three general types of boules: really cheap low-end leisure boules, a “Discovery 300” line of leisure boules, and competition boules.
LOW-END LEISURE BOULES
Verdict: Do not buy.
Geologic’s entry-level line of leisure boules seems to me to be seriously misguided. They are 70mm in diameter and weigh 560g. This makes them too light-weight to be acceptable for adult players, and too large for younger kids (junior competition boules are typically 65mm). A set of three boules (smooth, or single-grove-wide) costs around $13.
“Discovery 300” HIGH-END LEISURE BOULES
Verdict: Do not buy.
“Discovery 300” is a line of rather expensive ($50) hollow chrome-plated carbon-steel leisure boules. They are 73mm in diameter and weigh 660g, which is the same size and weight as Obut’s new line of stainless steel leisure boules. They cost twice as much as Chinese-made leisure boules, but less than Obut’s leisure boules. Three designs are available: “baseball”, “classic” (single groove), and “jester”. Their price is unreasonably high when for only a few dollars more you can buy a set of Alpha competition boules.
Verdict: Alpha is is an excellent, low-cost choice for your first set of competition boules… if the size and weight is right for you.
Geologic offers four models of FIPJP-certified competition boules. They are named after the Greek letters Alpha, Delta, Pi, and Upsilon. The purpose of having four models is to be able to offer carbon and stainless steel boules in harder and softer models. (You can read more about the hardness of boules HERE.) The Alphas that I purchased in September 2018 were manufactured in Taiwan. The size and the weight are engraved on the boules like this— “690-72”.
|carbon steel (chromed)|| Alpha
THE BOTTOM LINE
Alpha is is an excellent, low-cost choice for a first set of competition boules. Alpha’s size/weight/striation options are limited but adequate for beginning and moderately-experienced players. Those with specific size/weight/striation preferences will need to look elsewhere.
Will Decathlon cut into Petanque America’s business?
Petanque America’s bread-and-butter is leisure boules, while Geologic’s leisure-boules offerings are laughable. They pose no serious competition to Petanque America in that market. The situation is less clear with respect to competition boules. Alpha is the cheapest competition boule on the market, which will make it attractive to beginning players. Its range of options for size/weight/striation are limited, however, so players who buy Alphas as their first set of competition boules may look elsewhere for their second set. And the limited range of options will probably make some players look elsewhere even for their first set.
Review of Geologic recreational jacks
Geologic sells two models of jacks: recreational jacks, and wooden competition jacks. Customer reviews of the recreational jacks on the Decathlon site are overwhelmingly positive, with players praising the jacks’ durability, visibility, and affordability ($3.50 for a pack of 3).
The recreational jacks are designed for recreational use (like leisure boules) and are not authorized for use in FIPJP-sanctioned competitions. They are made of solid plastic which is reported to be very durable; paint will chip off of wooden jacks, but that won’t happen with these jacks. One of the strong points of these jacks is that their bright fluorescent yellow color makes them easy to see in poor lighting conditions, in twilight and at dusk.
The jacks are 29mm in diameter, which puts them on the small end of the range of legal sizes (30mm +/- 1mm). They weigh 11g, which puts them on the light end of the range of legal weights (10g-18g). Partly because they are so light, and partly because they are made of plastic, they are very lively; if you hit one of these jacks it is going to fly farther and faster than a wooden jack. My advice to Decathlon would be to make these jacks slightly larger and heavier and get them certified as competition jacks by the FIPJP— I think they’d have a real winner.
For more information about the rules governing jacks, including some of the issues surrounding synthetic jacks, see THIS.
Review of Geologic throwing circles
As of May 4, 2019 the Tucson Petanque Club has been playing with the Geologic petanque throwing circles for a couple of weeks. We are happy with them.
The Geologic circles are not as wide as the red circles made by FBT (the Thai manufacturer of La Franc boules). They are about 1/8″ narrower, so their outside diameter is a bit smaller, they weigh a little less, and they are more flexible. But they work just fine.
The Geologic circles are made of the same kind of tough plastic as the FBT circles, so I expect that they will wear as well too. (Technically, they are made of polyamide, a type of nylon.) We especially like that they are very visible and they cost about 1/3 of what the FBT circles cost.
Review of Geologic magnetic “red” jack
If you want a magnetic jack, the Geologic red jack is a real winner— sturdy, a good weight (17g), and brightly colored (unlike Obut’s black jack). Just as “leisure” boules are designed for social play (but aren’t permitted in competition play), so the red jack is designed for social play (but isn’t permitted in competition play).
Starting around 2009, Decathlon launched a chain of stores and brands called Koodza. Koodza stores are much smaller than normal Decathlon stores— you will find them in smaller towns in Britain, and in locations where it was difficult for Decathlon to find enough space for a full-size store. As of June 2021, in the USA, Decathlon’s low-end leisure boules are marketed as Koodza.
I have used the Geologic Alpha (72/690/0) boules for the last 9 months or so as my first set of competition boules. I have to say that it really gives you good value for money. My only pet peeve is that the coating is slippery especially if you choose the smooth “lisses” boule and tends to slip if your hands are smallish like mine. The striated versions are much better in this context. Since then, I have moved on to Obut Match IT (71/680/0) with a smaller size and lighter weight to suit my playing style. Nevertheless, the Geologic Alpha boules are great for training and you really cannot beat their pricing. It is almost ridiculous !!
Note that late last year, I wrote to Decathlon France and they informed me that beginning of this March (2018 season), they will introduce smaller sizes for their Geologic range – for Alpha boules, there will be 70.5 mm and 670 grams boule available. If you have petite hands, you may wish to wait.
As of March 10, 2020 I can verify that Alpha boules 70.5 mm and 670 grams are available via mail from the Decathlon store in San Francisco.
Decathlon may kill off the undiscerning beginner’s market (large volume) for many independent vendors but it will not be able to enter the higher end range of the market as its offerings are too limited. The key to all this is OBUT’s marketing strategy. If you have read some of the discussions in the reviews of Decathlon France website, you will note that currently Obut is limiting the availability of their boules to only Match and Match IT with limited combinations of size/weight to be sold by Decathlon. So long as Obut continues this position, I do not foresee any visible impact in the higher end boules market except for the La Franc boules. This is what I had experienced when I was looking for competition boules.
The current Geologic boules (2018 series), based on the videos I have seen on Youtube recently are now made by FBT Thailand, the maker of La Franc boules. You can compare the “identical” properties (HrC) between the new Geologic range and La Franc series i.e.
Alpha = SM,
Delta = Soft Pro,
Upsilon = SB and
Pi = SS-01 series.
So, in a nutshell, I think we can be pretty confident that we can get the same decent quality boules at affordable prices under different branding. 🙂 The problem is getting them. It seems supply cannot meet the demand. We are still waiting for these boules in Asia, so far, I have only seen them available for sale on French and UK websites.
Thanks for this interesting information! The boules that I received in September 2018 (from the San Franciso, USA, Decathlon store) were made in Taiwan. But in this Youtube video (starting at 2:12) and in this Youtube video (starting at 1:14) you can clearly see Geologic boules being manufactured in the FBT factory in Bangkok, Thailand.