Firms thrive on the facts PSION & FILOFAX


Perhaps it is something to do with the national psyche, but British companies seem set to organise the world.

Filofax, the well-known personal organiser, and Psion, its popular electronic equivalent, are both included in this year's export award winners.

Robin Field, chief executive of Filofax, which has seen overseas sales double since 1990, said he suspected that there was a greater tendency to write things down in Britain, compared with many European countries, but that the population was not as ordered as the Scandinavians.

"We have the highest sales per head in Denmark, Norway and Sweden," he said. "The image of Filofax as part of the 1980s culture was always much more a cartoonists' phenomenon than the truth. Throughout the 1980s we never sold more than 200,000 units. We are now selling a million units a year."

Geoff Kell, International Sales Manager at Psion, which sells its products in 32 countries and has translated the operating system of its organisers into 14 languages, points to user-friendliness and comparative simplicity, as a key factor in Psion's success: "One of the reasons why we are successful is that we don't just produce an electronic organiser, but an organiser that is easy to use," he said. "Perhaps we understand what people want to be organised and how best to do it."

Although the Filofax is often perceived as one of the essential accessories of the 1980s boom, Mr Field said that sales - likely to be well over £20m this year - were more than 50 per cent higher than the previous peak of £14m in the late 1980s. Much of the growth has come from exports, although domestic sales are also rising.

Export sales have been increased by changes to the distribution network in Europe and, ironically, by the developments of electronic organisers.

"The strange thing about the publicity that electronic organisers have been getting is that it has been good for our own sales," he said.

Psion has seen dramatic increases in export volumes as a result of the sales of the company's 3A computer, the development of which won a technology Queen's Award last year. More than 500,000 units have been sold since its launch last year and Psion is recognised as a leader in the miniature technology which allows computers to operate from conventional small AA batteries.

"We believe that the industry is growing phenomenally and will continue to grow," said Mr Kell. "People have just started to understand what hand- held computers can do for them and their businesses."

Electronic organisers, which now have the ability to communicate easily with other computers in the home and office, represent about 50 per cent of Psion's business, with industrial applications making up the remainder. All their machines are manufactured in Britain and the company has a target of increasing export sales from 50 per cent to 80 per cent.

Recently, the company has won a contract with Swiss Railways to supply hand-held ticket machines and exports machines around the world to read meters, monitor parcel deliveries and record sales transactions. Psion's turnover last year was £61m, up 49 per cent on the figures for the previous 12 months.

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