The lighter side of zippo

American classics they may be, but the Zippo lighters sold in Thailand through distributors ever since the 1950s have featured limited variety, sold in standard display cases with room for only 96 of them.

‘‘Half our customers buy Zippo lighters to perform tricks with them,’’ said Mr Rangsun.

Until recently, that is. Zippos are also becoming just as known for the hand tricks that can be performed with them as for their original selling point 79 years ago of being windproof, which means you no longer have to smoke to own one.

Rangsun Chanvorawit, founder of the 10-year-old Zippo Club Thailand and owner of a shop called Zippadeedoo, is enhancing the way that Zippo products are sold by providing detailed information and selling more than lighters.

“Half our customers buy Zippo lighters to perform tricks with them,” said Mr Rangsun, 39, whose passion was sparked when he received his first one at age 20.

He considers his shop a gallery, where members can sit down and chat over a cup of coffee.

Starting out as a website, the Zippo Club earned its reputation by selling the lighters online, which led to opening the shop.

Today, only 10-20% of the store’s sales come from the website, mostly from upcountry.

The club now has 3,600 members, up from just 50 a decade ago.

Mr Rangsun said Zippo users are a much more diverse group these days.

“Nowadays, more and more people are collecting them who don’t even smoke. There are younger buyers who like to perform tricks with them, working people who do smoke, travellers who take them to the outdoors _ but my main target group is collectors,” said Mr Rangsun.

He purchases 300 to 500 Zippos a month from wholesalers who used to sell them on eBay.

The Zippadeedoo store at Major Ratchayothin aims to also be a gallery where collectors can browse and relax.

“We offer our customers the same official Zippo lifetime guarantee backed up by the trademarked motto ‘It works or we fix it for free’,” he said.

All Zippos are manufactured in Pennsylvania, but their largest market is Japan, and special designs are created for that country.

They used to be relatively cheap at just 80 baht apiece, but then 20 years ago higher production costs and tariffs bumped them up to 300 or 400 baht, considered expensive at the time.

Average prices today range from 600 to 1,500 baht apiece for a US-made Zippo and 2,000 to 6,000 baht for a Japanese-designed one. Limited editions can range from 50,000 to 60,000 baht.

Mr Rangsun said 80% of his customers purchase American Zippos, although sales from the two sides are equal since customers purchasing the unique Japanese designs tend to buy in large numbers to augment their collections.

Next month, Zippadeedoo will hold its grand opening at Major Ratchayothin, where it recently moved after selling in JJ Mall for two years.

The new location has space to display 2,000 lighters, double the capacity of the old location.

And who says cigarette stores don’t practise corporate social responsibility? “Since you can’t stop people from smoking, they should be encouraged to smoke responsibly,” said Mr Rangsun.

He plans to hand out up to 1,000 free Zippadeedoo ashtrays at the grand opening to help keep people from disposing of their smokes on the ground.

“Dumping cigarette butts is not a huge problem, but it’s difficult to grab the ashes that are floating in the air,” said Mr Rangsun.

With sales increasing by 40% annually, Zippadeedoo’s future looks bright, and Mr Rangsun is planning to open two more stores _ one in Chiang Mai next year and the other in Khon Kaen in 2013.


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About the author

Writer: Nanchanok Wongsamuth
Position: Business Reporter