Zippo: Leaning into the wind

Zippo: Leaning into the wind

Famous flames simply don’t die. Signature cigarette lighter maker Zippo Manufacturing Company is contemplating bringing in a larger line-up of lifestyle products, accessories and merchandise into the Indian market.

To diversify its overall product portfolio in the country, the company in 2013, also plans a new men’s apparel line, which will be sold through dedicated retail points.

Zippo has already introduced India to its line of writing instruments, men’s watches, and only recently, fragrances, besides its hotselling, windproof cigarette lighters.

Citing India as the company’s third largest market after the US and China, Zippo Director (Global Marketing) David Warfel told Deccan Herald that the company is bullish on launching its product range in India, highlighting that it is collectively focussed on changing the public perception of Zippo as not merely being a cigarette lighter manufacturer, but as a major lifestyle brand.

For the past 12 years in India, the company has sold its products through a network of around 250 pan-India retail points, most of which function in a kiosk format, at malls and departmental stores. These kiosks display and sell a collection of its cigarette lighters in different designs.

Since the past five years, owing to the growing demand and popularity of its  brand, Zippo has decided to bring in its larger portfolio, simultaneously expanding distribution. These products, positioned between premium and super premium lifestyle, require a more elaborate means of retailing, with greater space and room for customers and enthusiasts to grab a taste of the brand.


Zippo and India

In this regard, the company has now decided to open concept Zippo boutiques in three cities; Mumbai and Delhi are already underway by 2013, while a third, mostly in Bangalore, is under consideration.

These trademark stores, built according to company-approved configuration, will house the company’s entire range of lighters, watches, clothing, wallets and more. “We are also planning shop-in-shop stores in several cities, wherein our products will be sold in dedicated areas as part of large retail stores,” Warfel said.

In future, Zippo, under licencing agreements, will also allow retailers to open stores under their own initiatives across India  to sell its merchandise. Travel retail, in the form of sale of Zippo products, at airports and rail terminals,  is also under consideration.

“Zippo will also be foraying into tier-II cities and opening stores there, as we have witnessed substantial economic boom in those regions,” Warfel said.

He, however, didn’t specify the number of these stores being planned nor the timeframe of their establishment, since they are still on the drawing board, besides declining to reveal any investment figures.

Old Flames

Think Zippo, think lighters. The windproof lighters’ story begins way back in 1932, when founder George G Blaisdell, at the Bradford Country Club, in Bradford, Pennsylvania, watched a friend awkwardly using an Austrian-made lighter.

Though the lighter worked well, even in the wind, due to the design of the chimney, it looked rather utilitarian.

Blaisdell decided to refashion the Austrian lighter, fabricating a rectangular case and attaching the top of the lighter to the case with a hinge.

Retaining the chimney design, which protected the flame, the result was a user-friendly and good looking lighter. Most importantly, it worked under adverse conditions, especially the wind.

The first Zippo lighter, which was produced in early 1933, was sold for $1.95.

Since then, the company has produced over 500 million lighters and sold them from its plant at Bradford. Even today, the plant manufactures over 65,000 lighters a day, Warfel said.

Along with the lighters, the company’s other products are also produced in the US, with certain raw materials being sourced from other parts of the world, Warfel said, adding, “The products we wish to sell in the Indian market, would all be sourced from abroad, by a dedicated distribution channel.”

Referring to overall sales, he said, “In 2011, we grew 21 per cent over 2010, and if we consider the period until September this year, we have grown 18 per cent over the same period last year. By the end of this year, we will be able to grow 25 per cent over last year.”

“A substantial part of our sales, at 60 per cent, comes from the international market, while North America contributes the remainder,” Warfel said, adding that India contributes around 10 per cent.

A sizeable part of that is through lighter sales. Zippo lighters are part of popular culture, having appeared in movies.

Besides, they are a ‘style statement’ and a collectible in over 160 countries around the world. They are famous in India too, owing to the educated, informed population, especially the youth.

With growing demand for lifestyle products, the company has decided to expand its portfolio here. Zippo has also set out on an aggressive marketing campaign, wherein the spend has grown over 300 per cent.

Globally too, Zippo is on an expansion mode, with its products, including outdoor gear, being launched and sold in different countries. “By the end of 2013, we will open 10 broad-based retail outlets worldwide,” Warfel said.       

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