People are writing less and texting more - but BiC says SA still loves its pens

South Africa's economy may have taken an especially heavy battering recently, with some analysts expecting a dip in business confidence. But Societe BiC SA - best known for its disposable pens, lighters and razors - is banking on young customers in both SA and the rest of the continent, viewing this as a potentially game-changing market.

BiC manager for the south, east and central African region Marc D'Oliveira told Fin24 the firm was resilient to many of the market changes occurring with digitisation of the professional environment, and that consumers remained loyal to its products, especially in Africa.

The French company's share price took a knock after in 2017, having peaked in 2015. This has been interpreted as jitters from investors regarding the long-term profitability of Bic’s products, particularly its lighters and pens.

Even though the Euronext-listed company's share price climbed to €97.50 in November of 2018, it is yet to recover to the levels of €155.50 it reached in 2015. However, the company has a vision for 2022 and the next 75 years of its existence, as it hedges its bets on market dominance.

D'Oliveira, who was appointed into the position of south, east and central African regional manager in February, has been with the company for over a decade.

Writing less, texting more

"I joined 11 years ago in the position of finance director for Southern Africa. I spent six years with the team and then moved to Dubai for the finance division for the reporting line of Africa. We have included east and central Africa," said D'Oliveira.

D'Oliveira said BiC's market on the African continent remained loyal and consistent. The company said the large youth population on the continent meant demand from school-going children would continue to stand the company in good stead.

"In the area of central Africa and Africa as a continent, one of the things we are presented with is the fact that people are writing less and texting more. We don’t see that in the demand for our products.

"In this region we are selling a higher volume of pens. The school-going population still need to use a writing instrument. The whole BiC business has a strong focus on education, and we try to align ourselves with education," he said.

"Our group performance in 2019 was softer than initially expected, due to continued volatile and challenging environment, but in spite of market headwinds we grew and maintained market share in most of our geographies. I would like to note that in the Middle East and Africa region saw a positive performance last year," he said.

He added that BiC was seeing positive results in the blade unit for both male and female customers, and that it remained the number one player in that sector in terms of value. The disposable category is competitive, but Bic accounts for 30% market share in both gender categories, D'Oliveira said.

"BiC has been in South Africa for much of the 75 years that it has existed. We are confident of our growth for the next 75 years as well.

"I remember being driven past its factory in South Africa thinking that it was a local business. It is a really important place not only for business but to supply other markets," he said.

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