Pilot opens DC in France

Pilot is poised for growth as it doubles its capacity with new DDC.


Pilot officially opened its new European distribution centre on 9 April. The writing instruments manufacturer has upgraded its main facility in Allonzier-la-Caille just outside Annecy in the east of France “at a cost of several million euros”. The site – first occupied by Pilot in 1996 – now has a warehouse of 6,400 sq m (64,000 sq ft) as well as 4,900 sq m for production and 2,200 sq m for offices.

Pilot’s President Hiromoto Watanabe flew in from Japan for the occasion, which was hosted by Marcel Ringeard, Managing Director of Pilot Europe. After a press conference and tour of the site, the day concluded with an official opening ceremony attended by local business leaders, reseller partners and high-ranking politicians from the Haute Savoie region. There was a strong turnout from Pilot subsidiaries and distributors – from Europe, but also from as far away as South Africa and Australia – as they gathered for their annual conference.

The changes to the distribution centre have been made with growth in mind. Pilot’s sales in Europe have grown by 56% in the last four years to reach €147 million ($192 million) and the company now has the capacity to double the number of products shipped from Allonzier. Ringeard explained that growth has been achieved by two main drivers: expansion into new markets in Central and Eastern Europe and the “phenomenal success” of new products such as the FriXion erasable pen. Exchange rates have also boosted the reported figures.

Danone partnership

Production from the Allonzier site accounts for around 20% of Pilot’s sales in Europe and it produces high-volume pens and innovations such as the B2P pen. In fact, Ringeard gave details of a new partnership with global food giant Danone regarding the collection of plastic bottles used to make B2P pens. Danone has committed to a collection programme for empty bottles of its Evian and Volvic brands and will ship these to Pilot’s supplier, ensuring the traceability of B2P’s raw materials. Pilot and Danone will run a joint communications campaign to raise awareness of the initiative, which is initially being run for 12 months in the French market.

Pilot also made eco-responsibility a priority as it expanded the Allonzier site. The logistics buildings have been given the French HQE environmental label for aspects such as insulation, and almost 80% of waste generated from building work was recycled. Pilot is one of only 27 companies in France to hold the EMAS (Eco Management and Audit Scheme) certification.

A major part of the Allonzier upgrade has been the deployment of a state-of-the-art warehouse management system. This has just become fully operational after a transition period from the old system designed to minimise disruption for customers. It has been quite a big change for the warehouse staff, but Ringeard said it was necessary to ensure high service levels both now and in the future. He noted the increase in smaller, more frequent orders from internet resellers such as Amazon and the need to have an efficient and economical solution.

New developments for Pilot this year include a campaign to promote FriXion pens in the office channel. The pen is already the best-selling product during the back-to-school period in France and Pilot wants to widen its appeal. Journalists at the press conference were shown a humorous new video aimed at young office workers.

Pilot is also testing a new direct-to-consumer website. Before resellers get too excited, Ringeard underlined that this is not a move to replace existing sales channels, but rather to provide a customer service, especially regarding the availability of refills.