They saw the phones as prohibitively costly perks of professionals, moving and shaking their way down city streets while gabbing into hand-held Motorola, Philips or Nokia receivers.
But in the Paris and Strasbourg markets, the portable phone is not just for yuppies anymore-not since Marc Brussol, 46, general manager of France Telecom's mobile phone unit, realized their overwhelming appeal.
He helped FT build the pocket-size Bi-Bop and carve out a new market-any 18-to-40-year-old on the go, not just professionals. Since Bi-Bop's April 1993 introduction, FT has sold more than 57,000 units, and no company has challenged its grip on the market.
"The idea was to make the product accessible to everyone, and tell the normal, average consumer-that is, 95% of the French population-`This is not reserved for the elite or the business executive on the move. This is for you,"' Mr. Brussol says.
Bi-Bop initially retailed for $276, far less than the $535 cost of many cordless home telephones, and dropped to $183 in May. It carries a $10 monthly service charge and costs only 15 cents a minute to use in addition to standard rates. A standard cellular phone has a 69 cents surcharge per minute of use.
Part of Bi-Bop's appeal is its simplicity; it has limited preprogramming capabilities and a voicemail system, but none of the cellular phone's complex functions. Its limitations-users must stay within several hundred yards of a transmission box where the call was placed-don't bother casual users, although they prevent effective use as carphones by professionals. But the price is right: the standard cellular phone costs an average of $650.
Bi-Bop's introduction was supported by house-created print ads in national newspapers and magazines with models using Bi-Bop while walking dogs and going about their normal daily routines. By the end of last year, FT sold 10,000 more phones than the 30,000 expected, and Mr. Brussol expects sales to double to 80,000 by the end of 1994.
FT spends most of Bi-Bop's yearly $5.6 million print ad budget during the second half of the year to emphasize the Christmas season."Around one-third of our sales last year were made in December," Mr. Brussol said. "We get very good reaction to our campaigns."
Bi-Bop will enter a third market, Lille, by the end of the year, and Mr. Brussol is studying Bordeaux, Marseille, Lyon and Grenoble for possible expansion.
Bi-Bop's transmission system and technology has also been appropriated by telecommunications companies in the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Singapore, Finland, China and Canada, where service starts this year in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.
"It's not the most powerful or complex system in the world," Mr. Brussol said, "but people want it."