Antismoking sentiment hasn't been hazardous to the health of Zippo, which has found new life in selling its iconic windproof lighters to collectors and fashion-conscious consumers. Zippo's refillable lighters (which come with a lifetime guarantee) are sold in more than 160 countries. Its Ronson unit makes cigarette lighters, lighter fluid, flints, torches, and more. Zippo also owns W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery (pocketknives) and makes key holders, money clips, pocket flashlights, tape measures, and writing instruments. George Blaisdell founded Zippo in 1932 after watching a friend try to light a cigarette in the wind. His daughters, Harriet Wick and Sarah Dorn (and her sons, George and Paul Duke), own Zippo.
In mid-2013, Zippo took over the distribution of its products in Europe from Polyconcept Investments B.V. The company acquired Polyconcept's stake in Austin. Benelux, France, and Germany. As part of the agreement, Zippo GMBH and Zippo SA, became known as Zippo Germany and Zippo France. Indeed, Zippo is looking to Europe and beyond for long-term growth. One country of focus is China. An online Chinese collecting club, Zippofans.com, boasts more than 40,000 members. Still considered a young, developing market for Zippo, it entered China in 1995 through a partnership with importer New Frontiers Ltd, based in Hong Kong. Since then, Zippo has opened more than 1,000 outlets in the country. It also counts China as its second-largest market outside the US in terms of sales, with an annual sales growth rate of about 10%. China, with its 320 million smokers, could represent some $10 million of Zippo's overseas sales. The accessories manufacturer believes that the popularity of its brand is fueled by the young Chinese consumers' desire to own a status symbol and become more fashion-conscious than their parents.
Because making money from only lighters for the long-haul is limiting, Zippo has diversified its business. As a result, it has become much more than a maker of tobacco accessories. The company now produces a variety of consumer products, such as candles, camping supplies, watches, fragrances, clothes, hand warmers, and small leather goods. Its leather items came with the acquisition of Italian leather goods company DDM Italia, creating Zippo Fashion Italia, which specializes in handbags, belts, and wallets.
Zippo has manufactured more than 500 million lighters since its founding. (The company's 5 millionth lighter rolled off the production line in Bradford, Pennsylvania in June 2012.) To ensure that the firm stays on top of its game, Zippo acquired the US and Canadian consumer products divisions of former rival Ronson in 2010 in a deal valued at about $11 million. The purchase eliminated a key competitor in the lighter and accessories business and added the Ronson brand to Zippo's portfolio, which already includes pocket lighters dedicated to Harley-Davidson, Playboy, the US military, motorsports, and more.