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2010 International Person of the Year: Nicolas Paillot, BIC APP
By Michele Bell
May 2010

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As the head of the largest supplier in the North American marketplace, BIC APP, Nicolas Paillot – this year’s Counselor International Person of the Year – may not be well-known in the market – yet. But his influence on the industry right now and moving forward is unmatched.

Born and raised in France, Paillot joined the BIC Corporation – publicly traded on the French stock market – in 1993 at the age of 23, holding several sales and marketing positions in the U.S. until 1996. At that point, he was promoted to marketing manager for the French market and held management positions in Europe until 2009.

Then, Paillot came back to the promotional products side of the business and currently holds the position of CEO for BIC APP (Advertising & Promotional Products), overseeing both BIC Graphic (asi/40480) and Norwood. So, the obvious question for the head of the largest supplier organization in the market: What’s next? Paillot points to good times ahead for the industry and for BIC APP.

"If we look five years down the road I’m very convinced, and there’s not one single doubt in my mind, that it’s going to get much better," Paillot says. "I do know it’s going to be a slower process than we all would have liked, but we will get back, positively."

Paillot, a global executive who splits his time between France and BIC’s U.S. headquarters in Florida, notes that the European market has been mirroring North America’s in terms of the detrimental effects of the economy. "The European advertising and promotional product business in 2009 was down about 20%-25% depending on which segment you’re looking at, but I would say that 25% is the average," he says.

When asked to look forward and give his prediction on how the industry will fare in the next few years, Paillot shows his optimistic side and believes the tide is turning. "I think we’re improving, slowly, but we’re definitely improving and it’s going to get better," he says.

And, Paillot is acutely aware of not only the challenges ahead for the new incarnation of BIC/Norwood, but also for the opportunities and the impact the supplier has on the market as a whole. "We were very happy and fortunate to acquire such a strong brand as Norwood Promotional Products," he says. "We now have a company – BIC APP – that can provide you with an answer for pretty much any of your promotional product needs, whether you’re in the U.S., Canada or Europe. So we’re very excited with the complementary team between the businesses."

In response to the question of whether the sales forces of BIC and Norwood will be combined, Paillot says his plan is to merge the strengths of the two companies. "Our stopping point is the customer," he says. "So whatever makes sense for the customer, we’ll do – we’ve been in this industry for 40 years and we’re in it for the long term. So for execution steps, we’re taking things one by one. Our goal is to become clearly the number one global supplier of advertising and promotional product in terms of customer focus and operational efficiencies."

Global Differences

Paillot acknowledges that while there are differences in the North American and European marketplaces – such as suppliers doing their own decorating – there are some aspects that must be consistent and cohesive. "Product compliance, product safety is key," he says. "We need to constantly improve the image of our industry. We cannot afford to put products on the market that are not of high quality and compliant. Sustainability is also a growing trend that’s going to be around for the long term, and it’s a strategic avenue and really key."

 The other component of a successful company that doesn’t change no matter which continent you’re on, says Paillot, is excellent service. "The service has to be great, fast and also very consistent," he says. "And, when I look at the impact of our 24-hour program – free if we miss the delivery date – that had a very strong impact on our business and on our relationship with our customer. With Europe being a bit more fragmented, it’s a 48-hour program or free. You want to give great service to your customer and bring value to the market."

Paillot does admit that there’s one area of stark difference between the U.S. and European markets: "America is about efficiency," he says. "In Europe, people don’t care so much about that, but the product has to be great looking. Especially in the south of Europe, it’s about the design; in America it’s about the efficiency."

Paillot, who’s not yet 40 years old, grasps the importance of both. – MB

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