BIC Cello rewrites India story, pushes its presence both online and offline

BIC Cello refuses to be penned down by competition. In the cut-throat stationery market in India, where margin of error is thin, BIC Cello stands tall. It is the leader in the ballpoint pen or ball pen market, ahead of rivals such as Reynolds, Lexi, Linc and Luxor, company executives said. 

To put things in perspective, the branded writing instruments market in India is estimated at Rs 2,200-3,000 crore. The ballpoint pen segment constitutes the largest chunk, at 70 per cent, followed by gel pens at 20 per cent and fountain pens at 4 per cent. The balance 6 per cent is luxury pens, say industry experts.

BIC Cello was formed after French stationery major Société BIC acquired Mumbai-based Cello  Pens in 2015. Since then, the BIC-Cello combination has allowed the firm to stay ahead of archrivals such as US-based pen maker Reynolds, which split with partner and India licensee GM Pens (based in Chennai) in 2016. Reynolds is now distributed by Flair Pens, based in Mumbai, since 2017. The two compete head-on globally as well.

Industry experts say that the strategy by BIC to retain local brand Cello, which has high recall value, has paid off. India remains one of the top focus markets for BIC, with 10 per cent of its stationery business coming from the domestic market, Peter Van Den Broeck, BIC's senior vice president, Middle East, Africa & India, said. The size of the market, in addition to a growth of 8 to 10 per cent annually, makes it very attractive from a business perspective, he said.

Having tasted success with the Cello acquisition so far, BIC, say experts, could leverage the brand further as the pressure to sustain sales momentum increases. The ball has been set rolling with BIC Cello setting up its largest stationery plant in the country this month in Vapi, Gujarat. With the launch of the factory, the firm will now have a total of seven units in India — five in Daman, one in Gujarat and one in Uttarakhand.

“Our core strengths lie in manufacturing. And what we want to do is to industrialise the making of high-quality pens in India,” Broeck said. Globally, BIC is known for its attention to detail when producing pens. BIC Cristal ballpoint pens, its flagship brand, are recognised for their ease with which consumers can write from the start to the end. The precision comes due to founder Marcel Bich, who, alongwith business partner Edouard Buffard, redefined the pen market  in Europe and the US. This precision in manufacturing will make its way to India as well, said experts.

The global major’s newer range of products such as markers, gel pens and mechanical pencils have also found their way into India in the last three years, targeting college students as well as office goers. However, school students remain BIC Cello’s backbone, something it is conscious of and has no plans to move away from despite pressures to trade up and target older age groups.

“India is a young market with 310 million students. This segment is growing at 1.7 per cent per annum, which is equal to the population of the US. Education is part of BIC’s DNA and brand ethos. Our focus on this category also ties in with the larger interest of the Indian government on education,” Broeck says.

The drive to increase topline has also seen BIC Cello focus on distribution aggressively. In the last few years, the firm has increased its presence both online and offline and intends to build its network across both channels. While Cello remains the bigger brand of the two, the company is paying heed to BIC too. Besides targeting regular stationery outlets, the company is also pushing up in-store branding, in its drive to improve recognition at the point of sale. Battle lines for BIC Cello have clearly been drawn. 

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