BIC is the number-one ballpoint pen manufacturer in the world, the number-one branded pocket lighter manufacturer in the world and number two in the world in one-piece shavers. As a maker of primarily disposable products, BIC is a French powerhouse worth almost 1.5 billion euros in annual sales—not bad for a company that specializes in throwaways.
BIC clicks with most of the world’s population, though its penetration is largely in Western countries. About 40 percent of BIC’s sales come from North America and 30 percent from Europe. Latin America accounts for over 20 percent, while the Middle East, Africa and Asia contribute about 5 percent. Currently, Latin America is the fastest-growing geographic area for BIC.
Pens and other stationery items make up about 40 percent of the company’s sales, lighters about 30 percent and shavers about 20 percent, with the remainder spread across other products.
The company’s name derives from founder Marcel Bich’s last name—he shortened it to make BIC more memorable when he introduced his ballpoint pen in Europe in 1950. By 1958, Bich had recognized the enormous potential for growth in the US market. He not only brought his pen to the United States, he also bought the renowned Waterman Pen Company and established a BIC headquarters in Connecticut.
The 1970s were years of significant expansion as BIC leveraged the low-price, high-value model from pens to lighters and then one-piece shavers. BIC also continued to make acquisitions that led it into other, mostly related, markets. In 1992, BIC acquired the Wite-Out brand, and in 1997, the company purchased Sheaffer, a brand known for premium writing instruments.
Some of its other business interests may be driven more by serendipity than strategy, however. In 1979, for example, BIC acquired a boat manufacturer, which eventually became BIC Sport. The reason was simple: Marcel Bich loved the sea and was taken with windsurfing. His fancy paid off: Today BIC Sport is the world leader in surfboards and also manufactures wind surfboards and kayaks. The BIC Longboard World Challenge is the first worldwide monotype surf competition, and BIC Sport team members have won two World Champion titles.
One venture that did not succeed was the ill-fated Parfum BIC. In 1988, BIC produced four French perfumes that were intended to combine quality with affordability. After three years of marketing the perfume primarily in Europe and North America, Parfum BIC was disposed of.
An occasional stumble has not prevented BIC from exploring new markets and stretching beyond its roots. In August 2008, BIC, in collaboration with telecommunications firm Orange, introduced the BIC phone. Targeting the youth market, the BIC phone was available in either citrus orange or lime green, came with 60 free minutes, and included a refillable “pay as you go” card. It was sold in supermarkets and convenience stores only in France. The company was careful to point out that the BIC phone was not a “disposable” phone. BIC used 11,000 billboards and posters, along with banner ads on websites, to launch the new product.
In all three of its key markets, BIC faces fierce competition. That’s why BIC is always looking for ways to differentiate its brand. For example, to separate its disposable shavers from those of Gillette and Schick, the company’s two major competitors, BIC introduced “BIC ecolutions” in early 2009. BIC ecolutions features an innovative bioplastic handle, green colorants of vegetable origin, and lightweight packaging with 100 percent recycled cardboard and ink of vegetable origin.
BIC has taken advantage of the online world to promote its brand in novel ways. A viral campaign called “Les perles du Bac” was introduced in 2006 and has been updated each year. This collection of mini-films with clever sayings won numerous awards in France and was adapted for use in Italy.
Despite the global economy, BIC shows no signs of slowing down, whether it’s new product introductions or acquisitions. This year, BIC joined forces with the famous Formula 1 racing team, ING Renault F1, to launch a limited series of BIC lighters. In March 2009, the company announced the acquisition of 40 percent of Cello Pens, India’s leading writing instrument brand.
In May 2009, BIC Consumer Products USA announced that its Comfort 3 Advance brand shavers will hook up with Major League Gaming, the professional video game league, in a deal that will integrate the shaver into MLG’s programming as well as put MLG’s logo on over 250,000 shaver packs distributed in the United States. By redeeming the unique code found inside these specially marked packages, consumers will receive 20 free credits on MLG’s GameBattles site, where they can compete against gamers from around the world in thousands of online tournaments.
Clearly, BIC is aiming to make a mark on both the virtual and the real world.