BIC sparks Gate’s sales
Bob Westendick’s business is tobacco and cigarettes, and he likes anything that pushes that category. Which is why he is so enamored with BIC. As the merchandise assistant for Gate Petroleum (Jacksonville, FL), Westendick keeps tabs on the profitability of the chain’s product mix for its 150 stores. Since signing an exclusive agreement with BIC Corp. (Milford, CT), the chain’s general merchandise category isn’t just meeting customers’ needs; it’s turning a pretty profit.
BIC Corp. is synonymous with pens, pencils, razors and, of course, lighters. The lighters made their introduction in the U.S. 30 years ago—and Gate has been a loyal seller of its products for 25 of those 30 years. The company carries just about everything BIC sends its way, but the lighters are its top seller.
Considered part of Gate’s general merchandise category, the lighters are merchandised separately, but their sales are what set them apart.
“[General merchandise] doesn’t produce the same kind of sales that snacks and drinks do, but it’s essential to our program,” says Westendick. “Lighters are impulse items, so they carry a different kind of weight than other [GM] items do. They sell great in our stores and we turn a nice profit.”
Lighters are merchandised on the counter in Gate stores in three- and four-tierdisplays that take up about 6-sq. in., but collectively they rank as one of the most profitable segments Gate carries. The chain makes more than a 40% margin on that tiny space, which Westendick calls a “three-finger sale.”
“If you’re using three fingers [on the register] then you’ve got a multiple sale,” he says. “People don’t come in just to buy a lighter, but they’ll pick one up when they come in to get their cigarettes. And I like anything that goes with cigarettes.”
Gate sold BIC’s competitors’ products at one time, but since signing an exclusive agreement all other lighters have been removed and cut off from re-order—allowing Gate to economize space and capitalize on sales.
“We carried other lighters but found that BIC is what our customers want. Its products are top of the line,” says Westendick. “BIC stands behind its products and is a great company to work with. We communicate with our [sales] representative once a month, and they’re willing to work with us should we have any concerns, which we’ve never had.”
One of the reasons Westendick feels lighters sell so well is because smokers desire change. They rarely use the same lighter until it’s “dead,” so even though BIC lighters are long-lasting, customers will buy another one strictly for an aesthetic change.
To that end, BIC constantly refreshes its mix. Along with offering logo lighters with popular tie-ins like NASCAR® and World Wrestling Entertainment® and Major League Baseball®, it has introduced three new lighter designs for its 30th anniversary:
- Child-resistant. BIC has developed a new, more convenient mechanism for its child-resistant electronic lighters.
- “Retro” line. The limited edition “retro” line of lighters is a traditional style BIC lighter, but with vibrant colors and designs. While the lighter is eye-catching, it is priced in line with the traditional BIC, increasing its perceived value for consumers.
- Comfort Lite™. BIC’s hip answer to mini lighter purchases. The Comfort Lite is a mini lighter with an attractive casing that makes it easy to hold and handle (see top left). Westendick says this is the most popular lighter “not in his stores” because they sell so quickly.
“BIC provides a lot of different styles, which really stimulates my customers,” says Westendick. “When they’re ready for a change, there’s always something new for them to reach for.”
BIC wants to work with the c-store industry-to capitalize on lighter sales, but it would also like to expand the segment from impulse items to destination purchases.
“Our goal is to make lighter purchases more top-of-mind for consumers,” says Darryl Arnette, marketing director for lighters at BIC. “We have some impactful POP materials to promote our lighter line, and coming in the near future will be new designs.”