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One of history’s most prolific inventions

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August 28, 2005

One of history’s most prolific inventions

One of history’s most prolific inventions

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August 29, 2005 Okay – hands up all those who know what this invention is? Though this invention has been around in very similar form for thousands of years, a major breakthrough in technology enable a new more convenient version to be produced in post-war Europe, first going on sale in 1950. Since that time, 100 billion have been sold – in every country, at the rate of 57 per second for 55 years. It’s one of history’s greatest business success stories and it is ...

Top marks if you answered the Bic ballpoint pen. BIC estimated that it sold its 100 billionth ballpoint pen this last week though when you’re selling 57 a second, it’ll no doubt be very difficult to pinpoint the exact pen and its buyer.

It’s one of history’s greatest business success stories and it all started in 1945 when Marcel Bich and his friend, Edouard Buffard, acquired at little cost an empty factory shell near Paris. They had no machines, no products, no customers and very little capital. Marcel Bich’s sound knowledge of the writing instrument trade enabled him to see the enormous potential of the ballpoint pen. Bich had been the production manager for a French ink manufacturer, and he knew how much ink was sold annually and hence the massive potential for a dominant product in the writing instrument market. He envisioned such an instrument – a precision pen which wrote evenly and reliably for a long time, and which would be sold for an affordable price.

Initially, the company made fountain pen parts and mechanical lead pencils. Bich then adopted and improved the process for making ballpoints invented by the Hungarian Laslo Biro. Together with Buffard, Bich launched this revolutionary writing product on the French market in 1950, calling it “pointe BIC” in a shortened and more memorable version of his own name. In 1953, he created SOCIÉTÉ BIC to produce and sell BIC ballpoints.

The product was right, the price was right, the time was right. The name became right - BIC – short, simple, attention-capturing, in any language. A simple, yet effective, award-winning advertising campaign led the new BIC pen and the young company to success.

The next year, BIC began to win foreign markets – by creating subsidiaries, taking over foreign companies, signing agreements with agents, and making licensing agreements with companies to produce part of the product. BIC Italy was created in 1954 and BIC Brazil in 1956, the same year the company launched the first retractable ballpoint pen. In 1957, BIC acquired Biro Swan in England, and Waterman Pen Company in 1958 to begin its conquest of the North American market. In 1959, BIC acquired Ballograf, Scandinavia’s leader in ballpoints and high-quality pencils, all the while pursuing its development in Africa and the Middle East.

BIC became a publicly traded company on the Paris Stock Exchange on November 15th, 1972 and in 1973 the company began a number of very high profile product diversifications, by launching the BIC Lighter with adjustable flame. With its quality and reliability, it became a major success.

Marcel Bich once wrote in a 1973 letter to shareholders that his success was " … not the result of a formal education received in a business school, American or French, it is the result of the tough school of business which I entered at 18 years old by the smallest door." This road to success has been built on well-informed risk-taking, technical innovation and the aggressive merchandising of quality, consumable goods.

Having conquered the writing and lighting habits of the world, BIC further diversified in 1975 with the launch of a one-piece shaver that offered a quality shave at a fraction of the price of more traditional systems. BIC Shavers now have a leading market share among one-piece shavers.

In 1981, recognizsing the growth of the leisure industry, BIC began a subsidiary called BIC Sport, to market sailboards. The diversification was a far greater gamble than the Fast Moving Consumer Goods markets which had become BIC’s traditional marketplaces but reflected the founder’s passion for sailing. Not only was Marcel Bich a great competitor in business, he also led the French challenge in the prestigious yachting race, the America's Cup, defending the colors of the French flag in the years 1970, 1974, 1977 and 1980.Today BIC Sailboards are the number one selling sailboard in the world.

Bic now owns a number of other global brands, such as Wite-Out, Softfeel, Tipp-Ex and Sheaffer, amongst a range of businesses most notably a line of diverse promotional products for the corporate advertising and gift business.

But it all began from one product – the classic BIC Cristal introduced more than 50 years ago. Since then, BIC has successfully expanded its range while remaining loyal to its core philosophy: offering high-quality, affordable products to all.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon After Editing or Managing over 50 print publications primarily in the role of a Magazine Doctor, Mike embraced the internet full-time in 1995 and became a "start-up all-rounder" – quite a few start-ups later, he founded Gizmag in 2002. Now he can write again.   All articles by Mike Hanlon
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