At the beginning of the Century, Pixika was one of the first French companies to place their bets on USB products. The Paris-based company is still successful in this segment that is in the meantime toughly contested.
Among all of the trends and innovations that the promotional products market has seen over the last decades, there are few products that have experienced such an unprecedented boom as the USB stick. Whereas the portable storage media were a coveted innovative gadget when they first came out, today, a good ten years later, they are an indispensable everyday item on the promotional products market. Laurent Olivier realises that all too well – after all the CEO of Pixika has followed this development. “In 2004, the USB boom reached our sector, today USB storage media account for an estimated 7 to 10% of the entire promotional products market. The item has acquired this huge market share within just a few years. The claims were already marked out in 2008, and the market shares have remained pretty constant ever since.“
When Olivier entered the USB business, he had already experienced another boom and had already collected merits within the industry. “At the beginning of my career, I worked for a Paris based publishing company, which is where I came into contact with promotional products. In 1987, I founded my own promotional products import company, which specialised in custom-made designs. Our customers were large French advertising agencies and companies and we expanded very quickly. I sold my company to PF Concept at the beginning of the 1990s and subsequently it was merged with the corporate division adm.“ After serving on the Executive Board of PF Concept for the following seven years, Olivier decided to invest in the rapidly expanding online business in 1998: “We were a typical dotcom start-up company and lost a lot of money, but then as luck would have it, USBs came onto the market. I didn’t hesitate, after all, I had got the right programmers and engineers already working for me. The first USB stick that I sold on the promotional products market had the incredible capacity of 8 MB.“
Fast market development
In 2006, the project was given a name: Pixika. The young company soon became the talk of the town because of its innovations – not just in France either, also beyond, because from the very start the Paris firm penetrated the neighbouring foreign markets with the help of sales agents. USB products were in the meantime big business: A multitude of market players and copycats made it a toughly fought out segment, especially since the product ranges were often very similar. An interchangeability that in some cases led to the goods being sold off as cut-price items: “Today, successful models such as the Twister are literally sold by the kilogramme on some markets,” reported Olivier. “Decisions are made exclusively on the basis of the price. Quality is of secondary importance. You can’t see whether a stick has sophisticated technology inside or not.“ Marketing Manager Jérôme Deschamps added: “Naturally, a distributor doesn’t understand at first, why an apparently identical product costs one Euro from supplier A, two Euros from supplier B and three Euros from supplier C. We are supplier C – because our product is better quality. And this is precisely what we have to explain to the customer. We never got involved in the low-price trend.“
Instead, Pixika positions itself as a specialist that offers non-mainstream products: “The USB market has no longer been a niche market for a long time,” stated Olivier. “But in order to exploit the potential of the product segment, one has to delve deeper into the subject matter. People have drawers full of everyday items, today all of us have several USB sticks. It is the wow effect that counts. Our line-up isn’t too extensive, but it is unusual and precisely tailor-made for diverse fields of application.” Incidentally, this is a corporate philosophy that Pixika follows jointly together with other specialists: The company is one of the six founding members of the French supplier group alliance “Les Specialistes“. Each of the in the meantime 22 members covers a different product area.
Pixika subdivides its range of USBs into three categories: “Advertising”, “Design & Fun” and “Marketing”. The first category offers favourablypriced models for implementation as give-aways, which however do offer surprising, useful and unusual features – for example the USB-Card, a fullsurface imprintable storage medium in credit card format. The “Design & Fun” segment comprises of innovative ideas such as the Funkey People and Mini You: USB sticks in the form of small figures that can either be chosen from a range of standard models or freely designed, which means they can be adapted to suit countless industries and fields of application. Finally, the “Marketing” line encompasses products that act as interfaces between print and digital or between the sender and recipient: Stick-USB for instance is a small data storage medium, that can be attached to paper documents and the P@per USB Card that won the Promotional Gift Award 2013, is a credit card with an integrated USB memory.
“Even in the era of clouds, USB sticks are still the perfect option for conveying information – simply because they arouse curiosity. And they offer possibilities that reach far beyond the storage o information.“ The Webkee is an impressive example of the communicative potential of USB media: The stick in the shape of a key doesn’t have any storage capacity, instead it contains a link to contents of the customer’s choice. As well as being responsible for the programming, data handling, Pixika also tracks all activities, evaluates them and delivers this information to the customers. “The webkee offers a more targeted tracking process than QR codes on posters for instance, because the user knows much more accurately, where and when he distributed the stick,” explained Deschamps. “Measurability is essential in today’s marketing world. It becomes more and more important to collect and evaluate as much key data as possible. We can’t guarantee that the customer’s campaign will be successful, but we can provide the infrastructure and help to keep friction losses down to a minimum.”
Service and quality
Of course, such products and service require a lot of explanation. Hence, Pixika offers corresponding websites for many of its items, which offer detailed explanations and case studies that can be implemented by the trading partners. An effort that pays off: “Once companies have understood our products and have implemented them successfully, they always stay loyal to us,” commented Deschamps.
Especially since quality is never compromised at Pixika. “We exclusively use high-quality chips and don’t buy from traders, but work together exclusively with our own producer in China, whom I have known since working at PF Concept,“ said Olivier. “This enables us to control the entire process. Incidentally, the factory is just in the middle of expanding.“ The reason for this is a product that developed into a mega new trend last year, which is also a new growth market for Pixika too: Powerbanks. Olivier: “Whereas just a few years ago there were only a few hundred energy storage cell factories in Shenzhen, in the meantime there are several thousands. A paradigm shift is occurring. Today storage chips have huge capacities, but due to the increased high performance of the products, more and more energy is required. So, energy storage devices are replacing data storage devices.“
Apart from that, history seems to be repeating itself: “The market development is similar to how it was a few years ago in the USB sector – and equally dynamic. Once again, countless suppliers are offering interchangeable products, explained Olivier. “Which is why in the end only one criterion counts: quality.“ And nothing has changed here, since Pixika launched it 8 MB stick onto the market.
An interview with two French service providers can be found here: “Good opportunities for foreign suppliers”