|ZIPPO ANATOMY||ORDERING||ZIPPO HISTORY||COLLECTIBLES OF THE YEAR||ZIPPO SUCCESS STORY||COMPLETE A-Z
|FREE REPAIRS||ZIPPO LINKS||LIFETIME GUARANTEE||DATING CODES|
AMERICANS purchased 29 billion packs of cigarettes in 1985, and last year they purchased only 24 billion. Despite this decline in cigarette smoking, Zippo continues to sell more and more of it’s famous cigarette lighters. Cigarette smoking seems irrelevant to the health of the Zippo Manufacturing Co., the maker of these dependable lighters.
The Zippo Manufacturing Co. will sell 18 million lighters this year, more than twice its production of ten years ago. This is a respectable 40% of the U.S. market for refillable lighters. Zippo prices most of its lighters to sell at $12 to $35 each, while Scripto, Bic, and Cricket fight it out for a share of the 99-cent disposable lighter market. Sales of this privately owned company have rocketed from $30 million in 1985 to $150 million, and recent net profits were reported at $15 million.
Zippo was created in 1932 by George Blaisdell, an oilman who watched a friend struggling to light a woman’s cigarette on a breezy day. In the small town of Bradford, Pa. (pop. 10,000), Blaisdell tinkered away, and built a small chimney around a wick to produce a windproof lighter. He gave it the famous lifetime guarantee and called the company Zippo.
During World War II Blaisdell, a very smart promoter, shipped hundreds of Zippos to generals and war correspondents. Word of the lighter's durability and dependability spread, and the U.S. government ordered every lighter the Zippo Manufacturing Company could produce between 1943 and 1945.
In 1978 Zippo went to his two daughters, Harriett Wick and Sarah Dorn when Blaisdell died. They knew the business quite well having grown up stuffing cotton wicks into Zippos, but they entrusted the company to longtime employee Robert Galey rather than try to run it themselves.
But Zippo's sales stuck at around $30 million a year into the mid-1980s despite its familiar brand name. For many years Zippo had relied on its "made in the USA" image and just advertised in two magazines, TV Guide and Reader's Digest.
Galey retired in 1986 and Zippo got fresh leadership in Michael Schuler, the previous controller. He took over as chief executive officer and in 1991 put James Baldo in charge of sales and marketing.
Says Baldo, "The company was stuck in the 1950s," "We were manufacturing - focused; we needed to become marketing-focused."
Baldo began running ads in trendy, primarily male-oriented publications like Sports Illustrated, Spin, Playboy and GQ. After completing a batch of new customer surveys, very much to his surprise, Baldo discovered that almost 1/3 of U.S. Zippo owners considered themselves "collectors." Other buyers reported giving Zippos as gifts and that they bought five or six lighters at a time.
Using this information, they began aiming at the gift and souvenir market, and putting out Zippos that targeted these markets. Licensing was obtained for popular brands such as Corvette and Harley-Davidson, and tourist attractions such as the Empire State Building and Niagara Falls. These fancier, higher-margin gift/souvenir models sell for a price of $19 to $40, a marked increase from the $13 Zippo gets for a plain chrome or brass lighter. These gift lighters were also packaged in tin or wooden boxes.
In 1992, with the gift sets selling well, they began producing "collector" Zippos, produced in limited quantities and aimed at the collector market. Each year Zippo’s designers create over 100 new and different case designs. Geared towards collectors, these are produced for a limited time or quantity only, and are generally replaced by newer designs the next year.
A new design generally sells about 20,000 units, but with so many designs available there is room for variety. The 1996 collectible lighters featured five pinup girls starring "Joan," a blonde bombshell who adorns the box cover. Zippo sold about ½ million of these pinup lighters. They retailed for around $30 a piece, just like the other collectible models.
To fan the flames of interest, Zippo put out a collectors' guide specifically geared towards the Zippo collector. Since 1993, every July the company has held a swap meet in Bradford at company headquarters. Last year over 7,000 collectors from around the world attended. Also last year the Hôtel Drouot auction house in Paris auctioned over 400 Zippos, which brought $60 to $15,000 each.
Judith Sanders has collected about 4,000 lighters, including some 700 Zippos over the last 20 years. "I've paid up to $700 for a 1937 Zippo with lots of engraving," says Sanders. Sanders even began a club for fellow Zippo fanatics and it now has a membership of around 900 members from 18 countries.
Is she concerned that the decrease of smoking may harm the value of her collection? "This isn't about cigarettes," she says. "These [lighters] are pieces of history and miniature art."
Both Baldo and Schuler agree. One of the company's recent advertising campaigns offered 101 ways to use your Zippo. Warming your hands and de-icing car locks were on the list; lighting a cigarette was not.
Smoking is still an expanding business in some countries overseas, and Zippo does target smokers with much success. Recent exports have gone up from 40% of sales in 1997 to 65% last year.
A few years ago Schuler decided to expand the Zippo name to other products. Zippo bought W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery Co. in 1993, a manufacturer of pocket and hunting knives who did about $15 million a year in sales.
There is a large amount of crossover between Zippo's customers and Case's. Baldo and Schuler hoped to increase the sales of both lighters and knives by producing multi-packaged gift sets that included both a Zippo lighter and a Case knife. Prices of these sets ranged between $50 to $200. Currently many lighter/knife gift sets are available and are selling well.
The latest expansion is a major change from Zippo's past. In 1993 Schuler licensed the Zippo name to Itochu Fashion System Co., a large clothing manufacturer in Japan. Zippo leather jackets, Zippo jeans, and Zippo gloves are now available in Tokyo, and Zippo may soon license clothes in the U.S., too.
And what of George Blaisdell's daughters? At 69, Sarah Dorn still comes to the office to keep abreast of management. Harriett Wick, 72, after many years of overseeing employee relations, retired last year.
Their four children, each in their 40s, all work at the company in Bradford, but follow orders from Baldo, now 48, and Schuler, now 46. Schuler says there is much opportunity for the founder's grandchildren. "There's still a lot of unplowed markets out there for us," says Schuler, sitting low in his office chair and snapping a Zippo in the air.
|Zippo and the Zippo logo are registered trademarks of Zippo Manufacturing Co., Bradford, PA USA. All Zippo Manufacturing catalog images and text, as well as preceding years' images and text, are sole property of Zippo Manufacturing Co., Bradford, PA USA. Used by permission of Zippo Manufacturing. All rights reserved.|