Cigarette lighters drag Ronson sales down by 31% to £3.5m

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The Independent Online

Ronson, the ailing British cigarette lighter company rescued by the veteran entrepreneur Victor Kiam, yesterday said sales have slid as the result of restructuring, including an extensive overhaul of its product lines.

Ronson, the ailing British cigarette lighter company rescued by the veteran entrepreneur Victor Kiam, yesterday said sales have slid as the result of restructuring, including an extensive overhaul of its product lines.

Many of the company's lighters, particularly the disposable models, hold "limited appeal to today's consumer" and its gift lighters have proved uncompetitive in international markets, it admitted. Sales fell 31 per cent to £3.5m in the six months to 30 June, with the company making a loss of £473,000, increased from £223,000.

The ebullient Mr Kiam, who is in his 70s and famous for his gadget-promoting television appearances, stepped in as chairman in 1998, following the ousting of the chief executive, Howard Hodgson, the previous summer, a year in which the company made a loss of £11m. Shares in the company yesterday remained unchanged at 1.15p.

Pam Hulme, the finance director, said: "The company has obviously gone through a very traumatic period. Last year was about stabilising and stopping the leak, and this year is about repositioning. It's about removing products that are not part of the Ronson heritage."

She was confident the second half of the year would see improved sales and said links with distribution partners who lacked commitment or muscle had been severed. An e-venture was also axed after a feasibility study showed funds would be better spent on partnerships and product development.

Ronson has now switched focus from distribution to brand management and plans to become a design-led consumer products brand, having hired the New York designer Karim Rash to develop an identity, which it wants to extend to products other than lighters.

The company, founded in the late 19th century, saw losses escalate in the mid-1990s, when fire destroyed its warehouse in Newcastle and the launch of a range of lighters failed to re-ignite the brand.

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