Zippo Manufacturing Co, known for its windproof metal lighters, will add more Chinese factors－including designs featuring a giant panda and golden dragon－into its product line, an acknowledgement that China has already become its biggest market by sales revenue in the world, said its head for Asian markets.
The company has experienced double-digit sales growth in China for the past six years, and also expanded its sales channels from traditional shopping malls to online platforms such as JD.com and Tmall.com.
Liu Jinghua, Zippo's managing director for Asia, said the lighter products with designs such as zodiac signs, love stories, famous paintings and military themes have become increasingly popular in China and the company has been busy sending information about cultural trends and related market information back to its global design centers in the United States.
"We rely on our own research and feedback from our dealers to tell us what sort of designs we should be adopting that will be appealing to Chinese consumers," Liu said.
Zippo is not a listed company, and Liu, who joined the company in 2011, didn't disclose the company's net income in China last year.
Still, lighters are clearly a key focus for the company. The company has staff at its U.S. headquarters to select and design various themes, series and limited editions for its lighters. It also sells outdoor products, men's cologne, watches and pens in other markets.
"We have notably received a large number of orders for personal tailor products, even though they need to be shipped from our U.S. plants, indicating the demand in Chinese market (is) diversifying with more disposable income," Liu said. "We certainly see China as a must-have and not a nice-to-have market."
Zippo currently serves more than 160 countries and regions in the world; besides China, other major overseas markets include Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, India and South Asia.
The company has manufactured more than 550 million lighters since 1932.
"Many foreign companies such as Zippo or U.S.-based motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson are proficient in launching promotional campaigns through music, art and other culture related themes. They have worked well in the U.S. and Europe," said He Jingtong, a professor of market management at Nankai University in Tianjin.
"As China makes progress on the path to an advanced economy, such promotional campaigns will be a practical marketing tool for global consumption goods manufacturers to use in China" for the long-term, He said.