MANTES-LA-VILLE, France (Reuters) - Its saxophones are played by the most famous jazzmen around the world and have even been sent into space, but growing competition from China pushed the French family company Henri Selmer Paris to sell a majority stake to an investment fund.
The saxophone maker, founded in 1885 and based in the same factory in a western Paris suburb for nearly a century, still solders, assembles and polishes manually the 700 brass pieces that compose the woodwind instrument invented by Adolphe Sax.
The family hopes the sale to Argos Soditic will allow it to modernize its outdated machines and face down Chinese pressure on a brand known for saxophones played by jazz legends like John Coltrane, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter.
"There's still going to be a Selmer at the helm of the company," said chief executive Jerome Selmer, the founder's great-grandson, as he strolled along an assembly line. "But we agreed for a sale to this fund because we agree on the strategy, we know it will remain French and there will be no layoffs."
Henri Selmer Paris, which also makes clarinets, is a market leader among rivals including Japanese instrument makers Yamaha and Yanagisawa.
The prices of Selmer's saxophones range from 2,700 to 20,000 euros, with an average of 4,500 euros. Coltrane played a Selmer Mark VI tenor on his classic "A Love Supreme" album. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton played a Selmer for a sax solo during the 1992 election. More recently, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet played one on the International Space Station.
"Actually there's more demand than supply right now," said Louis Godron, a partner at Argos Soditic. "We need to better respond to that demand by improving productivity," he added.
Godron notably pointed to a need for better stock management and faster production methods. The company, which is profitable, generated revenues of 35 million euros ($42.82 million) in 2017. It employs 500 staff.
(Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain; Editing by Richard Lough and Peter Graff)