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Warfel 4215

MAXIM met David Warfel, vice-president of global marketing at Zippo for free-wheeling chat. He talks about the iconic brand’s plans and how Maxim and Zippo have an unusual connect.

And, Zippo is almost like a cult brand, right?

The brand has a lot of recognition in India and has become an aspirational product in most markets. A part of that aspiration is because it is an all-American product. There is a certain fascination attached to it. Such as the fascination people have for Harley-Davidson.

It’s not just about the lighter, of course?

We understand that the tobacco industry is facing a lot of pressure worldwide but that hasn’t affected our business even remotely. A lot of people who collect Zippo lighters are not necessarily smokers. It’s a lot to do with heritage.

Outside of the US, where does Zippo see maximum consumption?

We do 40 percent of our business in the U.S. and Canada. The remaining 60 percent is international, with the Asian market accounting for almost 70 percent of that international business. China is our single largest market.

Over the years, has your typical consumer changed?

Our target group is primarily youngsters between 18 and 23 years. In that age group, people are making life decisions—jobs, college, etc. If you’re going to drink, then what spirit are you going to choose? When you take brand decisions at that stage, it sticks with you for a while. Men don’t buy new products; they replace their old products. For example, they replace their shoes, they don’t buy new shoes. That’s why brand association becomes important. Zippo is a cool brand that has a bad boy image, on the lines of motorcycles guys having a few beers… That’s Zippo’s impression. And, of course, when you’re buying a Zippo, there is no bad decision. It’s a classic.

Zippo also retails at William Penn, which is a very sanitized retail environment. How come?

Actually, William Penn complements us in a big way. They are a premium brand with a high-brand recognition in India and worldwide, and that is one of the most important aspects of Zippo as well.

After all these years, what still sets Zippo apart?

Our products are flawless and that is why no other brand has been able to come close to developing similar products. It takes about 16 hours to make one Zippo lighter. And we make 60,000-70,000 lighters a day. Most of our lighters are made of brass, with some crafted in gold. They may have been dipped, worked on to give a different look but they are either made of brass or gold. The key is our decoration. The patterns and designs make it a piece of art. You don’t put it in your pocket, you put it on the shelf. In fact, we have a Taj Mahal-inspired Zippo that came out recently.

So, the idea of the club still remains? If you own a Zippo, you’re part of a special community?

Of course. Zippo lighters are all about heritage. Some are handed down through generations as collector’s items.

And actual clubs?

There was a time when we used to oversee an Enthusiasts’ Club. But now there are independent clubs that do their own thing. China has many active clubs, as does Japan… So, each market has its own clubs. The company has highly collectable items that we communicate to these clubs and interested enthusiasts get in touch. It’s very organic, to be honest.