23 December 2019

Organising Pays Off At Filofax - A look back in history

I was hunting around on Google for historic information about Filofax in the 1980's. May be even to try and find the original article I read I think in The Times or Sunday Times that made me aware of the Filofax, which I don't think I would have known about unless I had read that article!

Remember print media was our main source of new product information without websites back in the 1980s.

Sadly I didn't find that article... the search carries on! However, I did come across an article in The New York Times business section from 8 April 1987.

 Organizing Pays Off At Filofax by Steve Lohr, Special to the New York Times.

The text of the article is reproduced here for education/research non-commercial needs only.
The product has been around for three-quarters of a century and can lay claim to no proprietary technology. A generous estimate of the cost to make it would probably be $30, yet the company has the cheek to charge Americans an average of $160 apiece for its product. 
A sure-fire formula for failure? No, just the opposite: The story of the product in question - the Filofax -is an extraordinary saga of business success.
In recent years, the loose-leaf personal-organizing system - a bulky address book and diary, brimming with options - has become a cult product among the upwardly striving professional classes worldwide, earning it the nickname of ''the yuppie handbook.'' Public Offering in Britain
Indeed, with Britain still accounting for more than two-thirds of sales, the leaders of Filofax P.L.C. think there is plenty of room for expansion overseas. To finance that global push, Filofax today went public in London, selling four million shares to outside investors at 120 pence, or $1.93, a share. Trading in the company's shares will begin in a week.
By now, Filofax enthusiasts are legion and sometimes famous. Movie-making users include Steven Spielberg and Woody Allen, who reportedly organizes his hectic life among 20 Filofaxes. Diane Keaton invented one of the options, a detachable insert for carrying cash and credit cards. Several of the organizers are in use at Buckingham Palace.
Young lawyers, bankers, doctors, advertising executives and others from London to New York to Tokyo swear by them. ''It's highly organized and I'm not,'' said Lauren A. Gorter, a Chicago-based writer who finds the Filofax ''especially useful for traveling because everything is in one place.''
In Japan, the Filofax craze has spawned a hot-selling how-to book, ''The Filofax Manual,'' which is no doubt helpful to Japanese users, since the Filofax diary, maps and other inserts are printed only in English.
But no language barrier, imitator or competitor has slowed Filofax's recent growth. In four years the company's sales have jumped 22-fold, to $10.8 million last year, while pretax profits have climbed 24-fold during the same period, to $2.3 million.
''In years to come, people will look back at Filofax as one of the great marketing phenomena of the 1980's,'' said David Collischon, the immodest 49-year-old chairman of Filofax P.L.C.
Mr. Collischon has a vested interest in the product's success. Even after the stock offering, he and his wife, Lesley, the director of personnel and administration in the 145-person enterprise, will own about 70 percent of the company.
The United States, where sales reached $1.2 million last year, looms large in Filofax's hopes for the future. Last month, the company recruited John Wallis, who was formerly with Cartier and American Express, to set up an American operation. Originated in United States
What became the Filofax organizer originated in the United States in 1910. It was invented by one J.C. Parker and first produced by a Philadelphia company, Lefax. In its early days, the biggest customers were power plant engineers whose technical handbooks had grown too big to carry.
In 1921, a London printer and stationery marketer, Norman & Hill Ltd., began importing the organizers, called Lefaxes. Several years later, after being persuaded by an enterprising typist, Grace Scurr, the London firm began to make the personal files itself under a name Ms. Scurr thought up, Filofax. Norman & Hill eventually took that name as its own.
For its part, Lefax, which was bought out a few years ago by London Wood Partners, a British firm, is also enjoying a renaissance. Lefax still makes its own organizers and has seen its sales increase roughly ninefold in the last three years.
Yet no competitor can rival the rise of Filofax, the clear industry leader thanks to Mr. Collischon's marketing acumen. A former publishing executive, he recognized Filofax's potential and in 1976 began to market the product by mail order from his home. In 1980, the Collischons bought 76 percent of the company and picked up the rest over the next five years.
When they took control in 1980, Filofax had no sales force and the organizers were sold in 40 shops, mostly British stationers. Today the products are sold in 2,200 retail outlets worldwide, including such leading British stores as Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Fortnum & Mason and such American vendors as Neiman-Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale's.
Under Mr. Collischon, the Filofax range has also been drastically expanded to 600 product types, up from 250. The binders range from a vinyl low-budget version that sells for $21 to the top-of-the-line crocodile offering at $940.
But most of the variety is in the paper inserts, costing $2 to $5 each. These include planners that schedule days starting at 6 A.M., city guides with vital data (such as where to eat after midnight in New York and Paris) and a wide selection of specialized information inserts for activities that include cooking, golf, windsurfing, bridge, wine tasting and bird watching.

It lead me on to wonder what happened to David Collischon?  Sadly he died in May 2016 at the age of 79 after a long illness, I believe he had Parkinson's.

Since we originally reported his death back in 2016 (in Web Finds) there are a few more obituaries that I've managed to track down. They give a more complete picture of one of the key figures in the history of Filofax.
As far as I can find his wife Lesley is still alive. Lesley Collischon was the HR Manager at Filofax when they were based in Ilford.


  1. Thank you for this article! :)

  2. According to the obituary published in the Telegraph, David used a £500 legacy from his aunt in 1976 to set up the Pocketfax mail order business from his garage.
    And it also cites a classic tale suggesting a rather sleepy enterprise pre-1980:
    “At one of his first encounters with Filofax’s elderly manager, Collischon was told: “Someone has ordered a hundred pieces today, but of course we can’t possibly supply that many so I’ve put the order in the bin as usual.”