By Myles McCormick for Financial Times
Flagging sales of pens in India and lighters in North America knocked revenues at French stationery maker Bic at the beginning of 2019.
The company, known for its ubiquitous biros and razors, said sales had fallen 2 per cent on a comparative basis to €415m in the first quarter of the year as its overall trading environment remained “challenging”.
Pre tax income dropped 18 per cent to €55m as South American exchange rates and rising raw material costs weighed on its margins.
Shares in Bic fell as much as 10 per cent in early Thursday trading, making it one of the worst performers on the Stoxx 600 index — second only to Finnish electronics group Nokia, whose shares plunged after an unexpected first-quarter loss.
“After a strong 2018 fourth quarter, and while the overall trading environment remains challenging, 2019 started with soft results impacted by stationery in India and lighters in the US,” said Gonzalve Bich, Bic chief executive.
“However, we maintained or grew market share in our three categories, and regained momentum in shavers,” he added.
In India, Cello Pens, which Bic bought in 2015, saw a double digit drop off in sales as it sought to reduce shipments to so-called “superstockists”. Global stationery sales fell 6 per cent on a comparative basis, stripping out the impact of acquisitions and divestments.
Lighter sales fell 10 per cent in North America on the back of inventory adjustments by wholesalers and a declining market. Globally, lighter sales were down 6 per cent on a comparative basis.
Its shaver business did better, with strong eastern European and Russian performance driving a 10 per cent rise on a comparative basis.
The company expects first quarter “headwinds” to lessen over the year and retained its full year financial outlook of a slight growth in sales.
By Nico Gous for TimesLive
OMFG! This abbreviation‚ used in a cheeky advertisement for “sparkle pens” that could appeal to children‚ was not a mistake.
In fact it was used intentionally by stationary and gift shop Typo‚ in an advertisement emailed to customers that was regarded‚ by some people‚ as vulgar and insensitive.
The advert was the subject of a recent complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
Katharine Marsden and Sally Cruickshanks argued that OMFG (which stands for “Oh my f**king God” – an expression of surprise) was vulgar‚ insensitive‚ inappropriate and offensive to all religions. They added that children liked Typo stores and should not be exposed to this language.
But Typo disagreed and told the ASA: “It is definitely not its intention to offend. It is intended to be fun‚ in jest and perhaps a little cheeky.”
The advertisement stated‚ among other things: “Spend R400 and receive a free sparkle ballpoint pen.” It also featured a model who appeared to be astonished by the offer‚ accompanied by a speech bubble containing the offending acronym.
In its ruling the ASA noted that “the product in question is one that appeals to children – a sparkle pen – and the execution is one that would be attractive to children‚ the material is in an email that is sent to Typo customers‚ who are identified as aged 18 to 35. A child who could be harmed by expletives should not have unchecked access to email and should not be subscribed to a retail mailing list.”
The ASA was unanimous that the use of “f**k” or “f**king” would have been offensive and inappropriate for children‚ but has previously dismissed complaints about use of “OMG” (Oh My God).
A minority in the ASA felt that OMFG was offensive because it was different to euphemisms for the four-letter expletive such as “effing” or “frecking” and the religious connotation made it worse.
The majority ruled “by a narrow margin” that it was similar to euphemisms and inoffensive to adults.
The complaint was dismissed.
Despite the growing popularity of electronic devices among school-aged children, writing instruments are still a force to be reckoned with in the classroom, at least in the US.
According to research firm NPD Group, the American office and school supplies industry grew 3% in 2015 to $12-billion, with $1,2-billion stemming from online sales.
The bulk of the industry’s revenue came from the writing instruments category, which represented 20% of total industry sales, and was the thrust behind its growth in 2015; the category experienced dollar and unit growth of eight%, and seven%, respectively.
“From writing to adult colouring, a number of exciting trends emerged and re-emerged in 2015 which helped grow dollar sales for key players in the office supplies industry. These trends continue to have a positive impact on sales,” says Neen Nsouli, office supplies industry analyst at the NPD Group.
Amidst the digital migration being seen across industries, the traditional writing category has managed to grow and, at the same time, evolve with the times, as new products on the market show.
Traditional pen sales grew 5% during the year, and specialty pens by 11%.
In line with the adult colouring book trend, dollar sales of porous, gel, and multi-coloured pens were up by 28%, 9% and 8%, respectively.
Coloured pencils were also popular items, with sales up 40% for the full year.
Consumers are also spending on fine writing instruments, and increased their spending by nearly $2,5-million on fountain, gel, and ballpoint pens compared to what they spent on these products in 2014.
A small device made from household materials such as paper, pencil and a teflon tape can generate enough electricity to operate a remote control.
A team from EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne) in Switzerland, working with researchers from the University of Tokyo, used these everyday materials to make a tiny device that can generate more than three volts of power.
The simple, eco-friendly and inexpensive system can produce the same current as two AA batteries.
This is enough to power micro- or nano-sensors, which need only a little electricity to run.
“The one that we developed in the framework of this European project is the first one to use natural, everyday and environmentally friendly materials,” says Jurgen Brugger, a professor at the Microsystems Laboratory.
This could have applications in the medical field, for example. Ultra low-cost sensors made of paper for various diagnostic purposes, which would be especially practical for developing countries, are already being tested.
This paper system could represent the next step, since it would remove the need for conventional batteries. Another advantage is that it does not generate waste, as it can simply be incinerated or left to decompose naturally.