Quick, Reach For A Pen! (The Bic Pen)

In the 1950s a French businessman decided that the world was about to enter a “throwaway culture.” By focusing on inexpensive, reliable and disposable products he was betting on the fact that his anticipation of this consumer trend could build a business empire. Marcel Bich won his bet.

Bich began his career at 18 selling flashlights door-to-door in Paris. A few years later he went to work for a large ink manufacturer until he entered the French Air force in World War II.

Following the war, Bich and a friend spent $1,000 and bought a leaky shed where they manufactured ink refills for ball-point pens that were just beginning to appear in France.

At the time, the French pen market was dominated by the traditional inkwell models. Bich was convinced that if he improved the quality and made it affordable he could compete against inkwell pens with a ball-point.

Bich began experimenting with different ball-point designs in 1949. Unlike the ball-points then on the market, virtually all of which were refillable, the prototypes that Bich developed were intended to be used only until their ink ran out and then thrown away. The farsighted business man believed that this disposable feature would increase his pen’s appeal to the convenience oriented consumer of the post World War II era.

After four years of research and development, Bich finally produced a pen that met all his requirements. The simple stick shaped writing instrument was rugged and dependable; and because it consisted only of a thin plastic tube, a tiny metal ball-point, and a rigid plastic outer tube, it could be made and sold inexpensively. Bich christened his new disposable pen by slashing a letter off his name to create the catchy “Bic.”

As its inventor had expected, the Bic pen was an immediate hit with the French public. Three years after introducing the pen in 1953, Marcel Bich was selling a quarter of a million ball-points a day in France.

In December 1958, he entered the US market by acquiring the Waterman Pen company. Disposable ball-points were all but unheard of here at the time, but the handy Bic fit comfortably into the American lifestyle, and within a decade of its introduction the French product accounted for half of all retail pen sales in the nation, more than one and a half pens for every American.

Encouraged by the success of his pen, Bich test marketed a disposable cigarette lighter in Sweden in 1972. A year later, he introduced the lighter to America, where it challenged the already established leader, the Cricket lighter, made by Gillette. Bic’s “Flic my Bic” advertising slogan made it another winning product for Bich. In 1976, Bich brought yet another of his throwaways to America – the Bic razor.

Building a successful business based on customer’s throwing away your product demonstrates the power of visionary leadership in anticipating the direction both culture and consumers will take.

Now, what type of pen are you holding in your hand?

Source: Entrepreneur by Joseph & Suzy Fucini

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