High-quality, innovative, reliable, available for everybody everywhere – that is what the products of the French BIC Group stand for – a global market leader in writing instruments, cigarette lighters and razors. The listed brand manufacturer has also been active on the promotional products market for 50 years under the name BIC Graphic – and thanks to its modern, sustainable structures and must-have brand ambassadors the company is proving to be well-equipped for the future.
The BIC Group sells 20.3 mil. writing instruments worldwide – every day. Together with 4.4 mil. cigarette lighters and 7.3 mil. razors sold that makes 32 mil. products that the French company turns around day in day out in 160 countries. The brand enjoys international acclaim and is also extremely popular. In France and many other countries its name is actually used as a synonym for a ballpoint pen, even though meanwhile the lineup encompasses virtually all writing instruments from the classic ballpoint, to fineliners, gel pens, highlighter and rollerballs, through to pencils and crayons. The ball kicked off with one single product, which has in the meantime a fixed place in the New York Museum of Modern Art as a designer icon: the BIC® Cristal. In 1950, the Frenchman Marcel Bich introduced the ballpoint pen with a transparent, hexagonal barrel and a coloured cap onto the market as a high-quality, yet affordable writing instrument for everybody and after that the triumphal march of the classic took its course. Up until 2006 alone, over 100 bil. copies of the writing instrument were sold – lined up in a row the distance of the pens would stretch from the earth to the moon 40 times.
The Clichy-based company and its respective brand were named after the company founder – however in the shorter, more concise form “BIC”, which is easier to pronounce in other countries. After all, the international alignment played a major role from the very beginning. Accordingly, in 1951 the company began expanding into further European countries as well as to the USA, Latin America and South Africa, mostly with the intention of manufacturing locally. Up until today the BIC Group, which is currently being run in the third generation by its CEO, Gonzalve Bich, achieves 92% of its annual turnover with products made in its own factories. The group has 26 production sites on four continents, including 16 plants for the production of writing utensils, five for cigarette lighters and four for razors – two categories that have belonged to the product range since the mid-1970s.
Furthermore, another factory in Tarragona, Catalonia is dedicated to individual designs of the line-up for the promotional products market: BIC Graphic. “Already at a very early stage in our corporate history, French companies such as La Poste and Pernod Ricard wanted to be supplied with ballpoint pens that were branded with their company logo, that could be used for example to sign for deliveries of post or spirits. International companies quickly followed suit,” reported Miguel García, Sales and Business Development Director at BIC Graphic. Since its foundation in the year 1969, BIC Graphic has been officially offering companies the opportunity to advertise their brand using the brand products. The “BIC® Boy” logo designed in 1961 and the typical lettering of the company always additionally decorate the products. The co-branding underlines the high-quality image of the item that is familiar from the retail market, including the cult, fourcoloured ballpoint pen BIC® 4 Colours, which has been impressing the target group of avid writers since the 1970s in new executions again and again.
Five decades, several changeovers and numerous innovations later, BIC Graphic is one of the leading suppliers of the promotional products market. “In 2018, the BIC Group turned over approx. 1.95 bil. Euros,” confirmed García. The factory in Tarragona that spans approx. 13,500 m² employs 300 of the around 13,700 employees that work for the company worldwide. In addition to the writing instruments, cigarette lighters and adhesive notes the company manufactures and embellishes on-site, the company also sells individualisable razors from the BIC® range as well as notebooks and selected bags. Technical accessories by the French partner brand, T’nB®, Sprout® pencils and Skross® travel adapters are also offered on the promotional products market. One thing all of the items have in common is the observance of high product safety standards. For example, the razors that are produced in a certified factory in Greece, undergo 30 quality and safety controls and the lighters produced in Tarragona 50 checks before they leave the company premises. Furthermore, according to company accounts, all of the lighters fulfil or exceed the European safety norms.
Thanks to the most recent reorganisations, the traditional company is well-aligned for the future. In the scope of the modernisation of the company division that was completed in 2018, BIC Graphic implemented a new IT system, which encompasses ERP, warehouse management, production and CRM. “This enables us to cover the rising demand for high-quality, customer-specific products within the shortest space of time and at the same time guarantee the best customer service,” noted García. The process optimisation didn’t stop at the production hall either. In order to make the production and customising processes more economical, three previously separate divisions were merged together. “The warehouse, production and packing areas are not only connected by a continuous conveyor belt, what’s more the machines can be observed and controlled centrally. Information as to which item is being produced and embellished on which machines is passed on to the ERP system to ensure an all-round efficient controlling procedure, random samples are sent directly to the quality management,” reported García. To ensure fast order processing even in the case of large order volumes, BIC Graphic stocks numerous products directly on-site, the specialist also offers a free 48-hour printing service for orders of over 100 items. The partly self-designed machines that are adapted to meet the production requirements were also further developed and the main focus was placed on digital printing for embellishing the items: “britePixTM Digital” is the new full-colour printing technology by BIC Graphic, which impresses with its high print accuracy and vivid colours. “Thanks to the new technology, we can even realise true-to-detail, full-colour motifs on a coloured background in 360° print – even for small order quantities,” explained Cristina Bonet, Marketing Manager Europe/MEA at BIC Graphic.
Show responsibility, write the future
BIC Graphic is also state-of-the-art in terms of sustainability, the focus on an eco-friendly and socially-compatible method of operation is however not new. In the scope of the “Sustainable Development Programme”, the BIC Group has been aligning its production and line-up to meet strict criteria since 2003. In this way, over the past ten years, savings of around 15% in electricity and 50% in water have been achieved and the CO2 emissions have been reduced by 15%. What’s more, 80% of the employees work in production sites that are certified in accordance with the environmental norm ISO 14001 – this also applies for the Tarragona location. “Furthermore, we are a Sedex and amfori BSCI member and were distinguished with the gold status by the international organisation EcoVadis,” added Bonet. In 2018, following the motto “Writing the Future, Together“ the group set itself new goals up until 2025 and among others intends to promote the sustainabile product development under the implementation of alternative materials, implement forms of renewable energy, guarantee a safe working environment, involve all of the suppliers in the measures and support educational programmes. “At BIC Graphic as well as at our factories in France and Brazil we already use 100% green energy from renewable sources. Furthermore, we use FSC-certified packaging that is produced in Europe and support the environmental programme Treedom, which plants trees on behalf of BIC Graphic,” Bonet noted. “A programme that is also a matter very close to our hearts is ‘School Success’. In the course of this education initiative we support children from the region of Tarragona and help them complete school successfully.”
Making old beautiful
And once the ballpoints, rollerballs, fineliners and co. have served their purpose, they can be recycled and made into attractive outdoor furniture. UbiciutyTM is the name of the programme initiated by the BIC Group, which breathes new life into the pens following the upcycling principle. In collaboration with TerraCycle, Govaplast and Plas Eco, companies that specialise in plastic recycling and reusage, in France tree benches, raised flower beds, tables and benches are created out of recycled BIC products. A bench can be made out of approx. 5,000 pens and a table out of around 16,000 pens.
It is difficult to say how many thousands of pens were needed for the wall-high ballpoint installation of the BIC® Art Collection, on the other hand. The piece of art is one of over 150 exhibits by 101 artists that were on display at the Le Centquatre-Paris Culture Centre in spring 2018. The pieces of art inspired by BIC® models ranged from photo-realistic motifs drawn using classic ballpoints through to a dress made of the well-known lighters. Visitors were able to purchase merchandising items, which were decorated with the designs of the exhibiting artists, in the related pop-up store, including also pens like the BIC® 4 Colours. With a creative approach, the cult item of the French writing instrument specialists is proving once again how inspiringly timeless a seemingly simply ballpoint pen can be.
// Claudia Pfeifer
photos: Claudia Pfeifer, © WA Media (1); BIC Graphic (5)